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Geopolitics

How Laughter Saved Tunisia

Essay: Who says that all revolutionaries should be grim and gloomy? It certainly wasn’t the case in Tunisia, where humor has always been used as a political weapon.

Tunis (Womeos)
Tunis (Womeos)
Hakim Bécheur

During the last regime, the name of our former ruler Ben Ali was never said out loud in public places for fear of omnipresent snitches. But this didn't stop people from calling him all kinds of names: from "Tarzan" (a link with gorillas?), "Ammar-404" (for the Internet error message displayed every time some item of information was censored), to "the hairdresser's husband" (Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali's much despised wife had indeed practiced this noble art). The good people's imagination knew no boundaries.

And yet, the fear of a backlash was all too real. Laughter could come with a high price, for as ignorant as dictators may be, they know that laughter can be dangerous. Still, laughing succeeded in making people forget -- even if for just a little while – the freedom that was missing. Since laughter, as some have claimed, is the property of man, Tunisians rapidly understood that it was only humor that would help them cope with the reality of having an "under-qualified president" deciding their every move.

And then came the moment when laughing was no longer enough. Muhammad Bouazizi's burning himself to death (which launched the Tunisian revolution), followed by the deaths of those felled by the snipers' bullets, transformed the laughter into rage. Not everyone has a sense of humor, after all, and certainly not a killer who shoots at his own people. When the people finally shouted for Ben Ali to "Get out!," the time for jokes had passed.

But ever since he fled, Tunisians have been smiling again. To see this, one just needs to walk in the country's towns or villages, or to go on Facebook or Twitter. The problems Tunisia faces are still enormous: high poverty and unemployment rates, a bumpy road towards democracy, and a process of writing a new constitution so challenging that the most optimistic of persons would instantly lose their sense of humor.

No such thing in Tunisia, though. Between a rally and a sit-in, people there still find a way to crack a joke: about the provisional Prime Minister Beji Caid-Essebsi's advanced age (he is 84), about the new political parties popping up like mushrooms from nowhere, about Ben Ali's former henchmen now suddenly reconverted into democrats, and about the Islamists who swear (imagine that!) they will be as good as their Turkish counterparts. That reminds me of the one about Ben Ali vs. Bin Laden. Don't stop laughing now!

Read the original article in French

Photo - (Womeos)

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