Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

New National Discourses: Tunisian Women Write the Revolution

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

New National Discourses: Tunisian Women Write the Revolution

Article excerpt

This article examines how three Tunisian women writers--Amel Mokhtar, Fatma Ben Mahmoud, and Messaouda Boubakr--set out to write the revolution. In doing so, they transform the space of the novel for the first time in women's contemporary literary history from apolitical to political, and consequently assert their political engagement and hyperconsciousness. By writing the revolution, women take agency in the postrevolutionary praxis of writing through the production of new gender discourses that overlap with national discourses. This practice unfolds through the intervention of the authors as characters in their narratives as well as the creation of an amalgam of politically engaged male figures.


I do not accept that Tunisia should develop into a massive

prison surrounded by fallacies and Wahhabi religious thinking that threaten to destroy the accomplishments Tunisia has achieved during half a century as a modern Arab Muslim republic.

--Amel Mokhtar

Prior to the 2011 Revolution, Tunisian women's texts--such as Amel Mokhtar's (1) novels, Fatma Ben Mahmoud's (2) poetry, or Messaouda Boubakr's (3) short stories--were nearly devoid of the topic of politics and, when mentioned, it was often a distant matter that took place far from home, such as the war in Iraq or the Israeli occupation of Palestine. For Amel Mokhtar to interfere in the midst of her novel Dukhan al-qasr (Smoke of the Palace, 2013) and make a political statement with such vehemence as the one quoted above reflects her intention to participate in the formation of a new national and possibly nationalist post-revolutionary discourse. While Mokhtar glorifies the accomplishments of the past, she condemns the possibility of Tunisia developing not into a democracy, but a theocracy. (4) Mokhtar inserts herself as a character in her own voice to give a personal account of the Tunisian Revolution that took place from December 2010 until Ben Ali's sudden departure to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011. Likewise, Tunisian authors Fatma Ben Mahmoud and Messaouda Boubakr set out to accomplish a similar endeavor by transforming their literary space into a political space. In exploring the way in which these formerly apolitical authors turn into politically hyperconscious authors by intervening in their texts and creating patriotic nationalist male figures, I argue that they have shifted from political silence to political engagement and, by doing so, they appropriate the authority of writing the post-revolutionary national discourse, henceforth establishing a new geography of gender in Tunisia. This post-revolutionary writing genre is unique to

Tunisian women, especially in comparison with Egyptian and Libyan women who did not benefit from the coeval Revolutions in terms of civil liberties and gender equality. According to Mustafa Dike?, it becomes important to think spatially about politics because "systems of domination impose orders of space [and time], and that space often appears as a means of control and domination" (671). Hence the post-revolutionary novel mutates into an explicitly political space where new geographies of gender and politics are intertwined and mapped.

Under both Bourguiba's and Ben Ali's post-independence regimes, intellectual conversations and scholarly studies focused on women and their emancipation in Tunisia, for Bourguiba believed that Tunisia could not develop if Tunisian women were not "modern." Ben Ali followed Bourguiba's national feminist propaganda, as it made Tunisia appeal to the West's agenda. In fact, the Tunisian government states the Personal Status Code (PSC) as one of Tunisia's proofs of developmental success in the Arab world. The uniqueness of Tunisian women's texts is rooted in the national educational system which affirms the history of Tunisian women's emancipation and highlights the "feminist" achievements of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. An examination of the latest literary works of these three prominent Tunisian women writers, Ben Mahmoud, Mokhtar, and Boubakr, reflects a state of political hyperconsciousness that developed within the space of the novel or short story after the 2011 Revolution. …

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