Since their country's 2011 revolution, cynical Tunisians say a laundry list of ills have plagued them: an incompetent president who refuses to wear ties; a self-interested Constituent Assembly that is charged with creating a new constitution; high inflation and a rapidly devaluing currency; and a deeply uncertain security situation. But Al Jazeera has recently reported about yet another dismal national problem: a "remarkable" increase in drug consumption and addiction.
The Al Jazeera report ties the increase in drug consumption to Tunisia's rising unemployment rate, and to the disappointment of a population that expected great things from a revolution that has so far yielded so little.
Al Jazeera takes its viewers through Tunisian back streets and into the homes of drug users, including that of a man who hides his face with a Guy Fawkes mask and tells how his once-occasional habit spiraled into an addiction. When this anonymous Tunisian was later jailed for marijuana consumption, he says he imagined he would stop. Instead, he found himself smoking more pot in prison than he had ever been able to get on the streets.
According to Al Jazeera, marijuana comprises a full 92% of the drugs consumed in Tunisia. Popular culture seems very much attuned to this statistic. A recent, wildly popular Ramadan series, Mektoub, featured the story of a promising young man imprisoned for seven years after police officers found him trying pot — for the first time. After getting caught up in dirty prison politics, the young man ends up with even more years added to his sentence, pushing him to suicide at the very end of the season.
Mektoub displayed the most graphic portrayals of drug use, police abuse and prison corruption ever seen on Tunisian television — outraging some, prison guards in particular, who called a strike to protest the show's broadcast. Watch expand=1] an excerpt here.
Civil society has not, in the meantime, remained silent. Tunisian activists in the post-revolutionary moment have been pushing for the repeal of what they regard as an overly strict, repressive "Law 52," staging protests and flooding twitter with hashtags (such as #FreeAzyz), urging the release of those imprisoned for minor drug-related offenses.