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Tunisia: “We have lost our illusions, our dreams are realistic”
by Rim Ben Fraj , Milena Rampoldi
14 February 2016

Rim Ben Fraj, 31, is Tunisian, a blogger, a translator, a publisher, a precarious graduate, a member of the translators network Tlaxcala. She works as a freelance journalist. She happily agreed to answer our questions.

Milena Rampoldi: What are the main problems of the younger generation in Tunisia?

Rim Ben Fraj: Economic, social and thus political and cultural marginalisation.

The youth who took part in the revolution have no parliamentary or governmental representation, and there are at least 250,000 unemployed graduates.

Unemployment is hitting up to 80% of young people in some regions.

The only alternative that presents itself - illegal immigration - has been made impossible by the Frontex electronic wall in the Mediterranean.

For young people who refuse to be recruited by “Daesh”, their only alternative is to revolt.

But even if they revolt, the state is not able to meet their demands: one of the conditions imposed by the World Bank for loans to Tunisia is blocking any new hiring in the public sector.

In addition the level of many unemployed graduates is rather low, because of the policy of Ben Ali, which facilitated the transition from high school to university to improve Tunisias ranking in the human development index. The gradual privatisation of education and widespread corruption have aggravated the situation.

Two sectors benefit from this situation: multinational companies, which are mainly from Europe, and Western foundations, which are mainly German and US.

The first found a cheap skilled labour force to work in factories close to the European market, the second recruit Tunisian agents to implement their programs of influence (in the name of: human rights, citizenship, empowerment of women, entrepreneurship, citizen media etc).

Practically, this means that if you are 25 years old, a baccalaureate +3 level and you are looking for work, you have the choice between working in a call centre 6 days out of 7 for 300 euros per month, or for a subsidized association, without a contract or social security coverage, for 400-500 euros per month. Daesh pay about the same wages. Our MPs have voted for a raise in salary, they will earn €2,000 per month.

The marginalised youth is constantly harassed by the police, the police practices of the Ben Ali era have hardly changed: violence, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, in a word HOGRA (contempt for the deprived).

An example: a youth from Kasserine or Gafsa or Jendouba (inland cities), finds himself on Avenue Bourguiba in downtown Tunis, he is arrested by the police and as soon as they see on his ID card where he comes from and that he is not from Tunis, in the best case they simply insult him and order him to return “home”, but often he will pass a night in a police cell. As my father said, “to go anywhere in this country you need a visa.”

Second example: a 30 year old woman goes home by taxi, alone or accompanied, around midnight: she is stopped by the cops who ask her: “Why are you not yet at home at this hour?” and harass her if she is coming back from a bar, acting as morality police. The interrogation begins: “Your parents, do they know that you drink alcohol? Who’s that guy with you? Are you going home with him? Give me your father’s phone number, we’ll tell him that you’re drunk, you know we can stick you with a prostitution case.” One of them pretends to write to impress the victim. The latter, if she has one, brings out a twenty dinar note and they go away happy. If she has no money, she will spend an hour begging them to let her go.

MR: What would a real revolution in Tunisia look like? How to change this country?

RBF: That is the 100,000 euro question!

Before it happens in the streets, revolution is born in the soul. And it happens through the liberation of the body. It is a long process; school trained us to become “specialised idiots”, indebted consumers and compartmentalised individuals. Society locks us in cages.

Bourguiba’s project - “I will transform this nebula of individuals into a modern nation” - failed, an intelligent people finds itself oppressed by a caste of ignorant bastards.

Whenever this people rebelled, it was crushed by those above and betrayed by those who claimed to represent us. We must resolve a contradiction: in us coexists a libertarian feeling and a great conservatism, so we have to educate and re-educate ourselves, again and again.

MR: What are the best strategies to make heard the voices of the oppressed in the country?

RBF: Develop cooperative and horizontal projects that create viable economic alternatives that allow people to live in autonomy. Communicate widely about successful projects and necessary tools.

Many young citizen journalists of the new generation seem more concerned about their material survival than the dissemination of information to those who really need it.

We must develop independent and alternative media in Tunisian Arabic, as French and English are not easily understood by the majority of Tunisians. And do not restrict ourselves to Facebook, we have to find the way back to direct methods of communication.

MR: How can we refer to Islamic egalitarianism for the fight?

RBF: Most parties posing as Islamists, from Turkey to Morocco through Tunisia are only heterogeneous groupings led by a business bourgeoisie wanting to replace the police and bureaucratic bourgeoisie in power. Their references to Islam are only masks for their class interests. The Islam practiced by the lower classes, without ideological talk, is more egalitarian.

It is a part of natural reflexes of which it is not necessary to speak in order to let them work.

MR: How can we link the Marxist struggle for social justice with the Islamic struggle for social justice?

RBF: Ideologies have created enough deaths like that.

The struggle for social justice must not stop at artificial boundaries, it must be built on the basis of needs common to everybody, and in defence of the commons.

MR: What are the three strengths of the Tunisian youth that give you hope as you continue your fight for justice, solidarity, freedom, work?

RBF: Optimism despite everything, loss of illusions, replaced by realistic dreams, and “Sumud” (toughness, tenacity).

Translated by Jenny Bright

Rim Ben Fraj

Rim Ben Fraj, 31, is Tunisian, a blogger, a translator, a publisher, a precarious graduate, a member of the translators network Tlaxcala. She works as a freelance journalist. She happily agreed to answer our questions.

Milena Rampoldi

Dr. Phil. Milena Rampoldi is a freelance writer, book translator and human rights activist. She was born in Bolzano, Italy in 1973. She comes from a bicultural and bilingual family where from childhood she has understood the importance of multilingualism, multiculturalism, music, art, and cultural exchange and dialogue.
She founded the association ProMosaik e.V. in Leverkusen, Germany in 2014 with the objective of promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
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