Magazine article The Spectator

Summer of Hate

Magazine article The Spectator

Summer of Hate

Article excerpt

The Arab Spring has left Tunisia a poorer and far less liberal place

For the past half a century, the Tunisian film director Nadia El Fani would have had no problem showing her new documentary, Neither God Nor Master , which explores her atheism and disdain for radical Islam. But before the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia was the most socially liberal country in the Muslim world. Its Islamist extremists were where they belonged: in prison. A few weeks ago, however, during the film's premiere, hundreds of bearded zealots smashed through the glass doors of the capital's CinemAfricArt cinema, attacked the audience, and threatened 'a massacre' if the screening continued.

Six months after the overthrow of the Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, an avowed secularist and hardly the tyrant he is portrayed as having been, such incidents have become frequent. In May, Nouri Bouzid, another Tunisian director and critic of Islamist extremism, was stabbed in the head. Hundreds of hardline Islamists now prowl the streets of Tunis seeking converts. Radicals have firebombed the city's legalised red-light district, demonstrated outside the local synagogue, killed a Catholic priest, hounded a teacher out of his job for saying something deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, forced the interim regime to block all internet pornography and caused widespread chaos by rioting to demand that the veil, previously banned, be made compulsory.

The intellectual elite threw their support behind the revolution, in which only a tiny percentage of the population participated.

Now they complain of a lack of police protection. But the laconic policeman in charge at a local station, in response to a plea for help from a member of the CinemAfricArt audience, rather hit the nail on the head.

'Ben Ali was protecting you, and you kicked him out,' he reportedly said, and shrugged.

In April, Islamist volunteers took control of Ettadhamen, the working-class suburb of Tunis that was the centre of the revolution. It now looks like a microcosm of what lies in store for the whole country. These days, only the Islamists are happy. Tunisians belonging to the country's once vast middle class, who shunned the uprising, have sunk into a collective depression. Many are openly stating what recently was considered sacrilege: the revolution was a terrible mistake.

Tourism revenue, once the primary pillar of the economy, is down by more than half.

The second pillar of the economy, foreign investment, has also crumbled. The entire south of the country was dependent on trade with Libya, and now sits idle. The poverty rate was 4 per cent before the revolution, but has increased to 40 per cent. The crime rate in this once remarkably crime-free country has skyrocketed. Few venture out after dark.

In May, I was caught up in one of the capital's periodic riots, and saw a young man beaten to death. It came as no surprise that the foreign media, for whom Tunisia is once again an irrelevance, did not report the incident;

but even the local media ignored it. Editors who once sprouted pro-Ben Ali propaganda have thrown their weight behind the interim regime, a watered-down version of what existed before the uprising.

Tunisia's political outlook is as dismal as its economic performance. …

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