The Tunisian Experience: An Example to the World or an explosion about to happen?

Once again, demonstrations have erupted across Tunisia against the government’s ineffective economic policies. Prices of basic goods are skyrocketing due to tax raises and austerity measures applied under the 2018 Finance Act, which took effect on 1 January 2018.

Among all the countries that went through the 2011 Arab upheavals, Tunisia is seen as the only country that has successfully sustained fair levels of democracy, peace and stability. On the economic and social development side, however, the country has witnessed continuous failure. Prices and taxes, poverty and unemployment, and inequality were, rather, in a rapid increase.

It is a success, in fact, for the Tunisian people to maintain peaceful protests this long; in spite of the chaos that have swept the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa. There is all of the hope in the world that Tunisia will continue its way in being an example for peace in the region and the world.

For the past six years, protests have become a norm at this time of the year in Tunisia, which marks the anniversary of toppling President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali as well as the death of Bouazizi. During this week’s protests, however, some people acted with violence, burning down the country’s national security building in Thala.

The government, ruled by coalition parties, led by Nahda and Nidaa, has decried the protests as “destructive” and “chaotic”. The police have retreated in some Tunisian cities and the army was deployed in several others. More than 300 protesters were arrested and at least one person’s life has been claimed during the demonstrations.

At this point, gloomy predictions on the outcomes of the protests usually start with the question: will the security apparatus turn to violence? Reassuringly, among the factors that made the 2011 Tunisian experience unique is that the security apparatus defied orders to suppress protesters.

Leaders of the opposition party, the Popular Front, called for the protests to continue until the new financial laws get dropped. Thus, the people plan to continue taking to the streets in the coming days. It is important too that everyone knows, the government and the people, and the international community as well, that there is still plenty of time to keep the peaceful momentum going.

  1. The people should continue to peacefully voice their demands; be it lowering prices, cutting taxes, reconsidering some of the privatization decisions, creating efficient welfare programs, or all of the above.
  2. The government has to be responsive to its own people and deliver effectively. Nine political transitions in only six years, although peaceful, does not necessarily indicate progressiveness and raises many questions about the sincerity and legitimacy of the ruling elites. What is required is a balanced response that takes into account immediate political and economic concessions and transparent long-term development plans for the country.
  3. The international community also has the responsibility to invest in the success of this unique situation, rather than pushing the country into the edge of chaos. This week’s unrest erupted in response to austerity policies that are being pushed for by foreign lenders, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is worth a reminder that the IMF and the World Bank have pushed for similar policies in the past, and, in fact, have had praised Ben Ali’s liberalizing policies since 1987. Preserving Tunisian democracy by safeguarding the country’s development and setting a progressive, stable and peaceful example for the world is in the interest of the international community.

#tunisia

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf

 

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

Tunisia’s new counter terror-law halts Tunisia’s democratisation

Prime Minister Habib Essid

In the wake of a spate of deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia this year, the democratically-elected Tunisian Parliament has adopted a new anti-terror law aiming to counter any future threats from Islamist militants and extremists. The introduction of this law is harsh and a step back in Tunisia’s ongoing journey to democratisation. However, the Prime Minister, Habib Essid, maintains that the law is a necessary step forward in order to tackle the rise of terrorist activity in Tunisia.

The legislation comes after the attack that claimed the lives of 38 tourists, 30 of whom were British, on June 26th on a beach resort in Sousse, a heavily tourist populated region in Tunisia. The terrorist organisation ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack, and isn’t their first attack in Tunisia. Back in March, ISIS took responsibility for an attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital of Tunis, leaving 21 tourists dead. These two attacks have had a significant effect on Tunisia’s tourism sector, which provides roughly 400,000 jobs to Tunisians and accounts for 14.5% of Tunisia’s GDP.

The legislation re-introduces the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism charges and jail sentences for those whom express support for terrorism. The bill also provides an increase in phone tapping powers for investigators and authorities. Suspects of terror offences can also be detained for up to 15 days without access to a lawyer; which inevitably minimizes their lawyers’ ability to put forward an effective defence. This comprehensive increase in power, bestowed to authorities, has been heavily criticized among sectors of Tunisian society. The bill has been debated in parliament for many years, but was only put forward following the recent attacks. The legislation was rushed to parliament too quickly to have a proper debate with adequate scrutiny. After just three days of debate, the bill passed with 174 votes (at least 109 votes were needed to pass it) and only ten abstentions. With the bill now in law, it will act as Tunisia’s new counter-terrorism strategy.

Tunisia, a rare success story of the Arab Spring, has been in a peaceful transition to democracy ever since the overthrow of President Ben Ali, however, many NGOs and advocacy groups have condemned the legislation, arguing instead that it threatens the already fragile democratic structure of Tunisia. Many concerns have been raised regarding the return of capital punishment after a lengthy moratorium in Tunisia, as well as the undermining of civil liberties due to the increased power in citizen phone tapping. While Mohamed Ennaceur, the President of the Assembly, maintained that the newly adopted law is a historic moment for Tunisia and is a reassurance for citizens and tourists in Tunisia. What is clear about this legislation is that it is sacrificing Tunisia’s democracy for its safety and security.

Despite Tunisia’s successful uprising, the Tunisian army and security forces, have had to tackle with the rise of Islamist militancy. Tunisia is concerned about the vast security vacuum that has been left to grow in Libya due to the ongoing civil war between two rival governments, which has given groups such as ISIS an opening to spread chaos in Libya. More than 7,000 Tunisians have left their country to fight for ISIS in Syria, more than any other country in the world, which poses a significant security challenge for the Tunisian authorities. Along with the new law, Prime Minister Essid has proposed an unrealistic plan to build a sand barrier along the Libyan border, as a strategy to counter a potential Islamic State spill over.

Tunisia is in a critical phase of democratic reconstruction and this regressive law will certainly derail Tunisia’s long path to democratisation. The law no longer safeguards the rights of defendants and the significant increase in power among authorities and security services is likely to reverse Tunis’ effort to rid the country of authoritarianism. It is clear that the elected leadership in Tunisia has forsaken their democratic mandate and opted for short-sighted authoritative power over long-term state-building. It is worth noting however that prior to the new law, there wasn’t a significant effort or measures in place to address extremism in Tunisia. Nonetheless, the perennial question remains. Is it necessary to curtail democracy for security measures in order to fight extremism?