Rachid against the machine

 

In the past fortnight I have noticed two opinion pieces in the British media concerning the Arab Uprising.  Incidentally, the ‘Arab Uprising’ seems to have become the BBC’s new term for describing what had formerly been called the ‘Arab Spring’.  Presumably this is because the political and economic sunshine in North Africa and the Middle East has not been summery, or even particularly spring-like, since events in Tunisia kick-started the thing nearly two years ago.

 

One was by Gerald Warner, who is described in his now-defunct Daily Telegraph blog as ‘an author, broadcaster, columnist and polemical commentator’.  Some, especially those who have to grit their teeth whilst wading through his columns in the Scotland on Sunday every week, would translate ‘polemical commentator’ as ‘right-wing tosser’.  In his December 2nd column in the SoS, he used recent events in Egypt to pour scorn on liberals who’d dared to believe that the Arab Spring / Uprising would produce anything other than chaos, bloodshed and hardline Islamic oppression: “Old Middle Eastern hands could have told the starry-eyed Guardianistas that democracy on the Nile does not produce the same outcome as on the banks of the Thames.”

 

(http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/opinion/comment/gerald-warner-after-the-frenzy-of-the-arab-spring-comes-the-harsh-islamic-winter-1-2671175)

 

The other piece was authored by Mehdi Hasan, a journalist involved with the Guardian, New Statesman, Al-Jazeera Television and the UK edition of the Huffington Post.  One of Warner’s despised Guardianistas, Hasan is something of a punch-bag these days for Britain’s right-wing commentators – only rarely, it seems, does the Spectator columnist Rod Liddle write the name ‘Mehdi Hasan’ without preceding it with the words ‘the idiotic’.  A Hasan-penned article appeared in the New Statesman on November 29th, wherein he conceded that “recent events in Egypt don’t help those of us who desperately want to be optimistic about the future of the region”.  Nonetheless, he declared defiantly: “But do you know who I trust? The Egyptians. And the Bahrainis. And the Jordanians. And the Syrians. Whatever the season, spring or winter, they will have their freedom.”

 

(http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2012/11/ignore-neocons-i-refuse-give-on-egypt-or-arab-spring)

 

Now in my entire life I have never agreed with a single word that Gerald Warner has written, and if I ever did I would probably rush to the nearest clinic to check if I was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  I find it particularly ironic that Warner should mouth off about the horrors of Sharia law, considering that in the past he’s excused the murderous regimes of Franco and Pinochet on the grounds that because both fascist dictators were devout Roman Catholics (as he is) they couldn’t have been that bad.  The moral code Warner would like us all to live under might not go as far as advocating the death penalty for the sin of apostasy, but it certainly wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs either – I imagine it would be as much fun as living in Eamon de Valera’s Irish Free State circa 1935.  Still, the recent antics of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi have made my heart sink.  Morsi seems to have split his country down the middle with a giant political chisel in his haste to approve an ambiguously-worded constitution that would allow Islamists to make life miserable for Coptics, Sufis, pesky liberals and uppity women.

 

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/09/egypt-hopes-betrayed-mohamed-morsi)

 

Where does that leave the other country at the forefront of the Arab Spring (sorry, Uprising), Tunisia?  By a coincidence, Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahdha, Tunisia’s supposedly moderate Islamist party and the biggest player in its post-revolution government, also turned up in the British media lately.  He was interviewed in the Guardian last week by the firebrand (though on this occasion noticeably deferential) left-wing journalist Seumas Milne.  Interestingly, Ghannouchi identified the ‘Scandinavian’ model as the one he was most eager for Tunisia to follow.  But don’t worry, all you devout Salafists out there, he wasn’t talking about Swedish permissiveness or Danish pornography (‘hot love and cold people’, as the saying used to go), but the Scandinavian economic and social model, where more than a little of capitalist society’s profits goes to a creating a decent safety net for the less well-off.  Folk in hard-pressed parts of Tunisia like Siliana and Sidi Bouzid would tell Ghannouchi that there’s a hell of a long way to go before the economic and social climate there is anywhere near as comfortable as it is in Scandinavia.

 

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2012/dec/04/rachid-ghannouchi-scandinavian-economic-model-tunisia-video)

 

Meanwhile, it’s disappointing that Seumas Milne, whose past articles in the Guardian have included The Problem with Unions is they’re not Strong Enough, Five Reasons Public Service Workers are Right to Strike, The Return of Anti-Union Propaganda, The Right to Strike is being Threatened by the Courts, An Assault on Unions is an Attack on Democracy Itself, and A Generation on, the Miners’ Strike can Speak to our Time, didn’t ask Ghannouchi about why his government has fallen out so badly with his country’s trade union organisation, the Union Géneralé Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT).

 

The UGTT has been vitriolic about the Tunisian government and Ennahdha in particular.  It blames the country’s political leaders for the violent police handling of protestors, including trade unionists, who were demonstrating about the lack of jobs in the town of Siliana in late November and early December.  It also blames them for a recent assault on trade unionists in Tunis while they commemorated the assassination of UGTT founder Farhat Hached (killed in 1952 by La Main Rouge, a French paramilitary group seeking to prevent Tunisian independence).  The attackers were allegedly members of the League for the Protection of the Revolution, a faction supporting Ennahdha that had already been accused of responsibility for the death of opposition party Nida Tounes activist Lofti Naqdh back in October.

 

In fact, so incensed was the UGTT that it had planned a general strike in Tunisia today, December 13th, though the strike was called off yesterday after last-minute negotiations between it and the government.  As yet, I haven’t seen any details of what was agreed.  (Knowing the keen sense of rivalry that Tunisians have with the Egyptians, I can’t help suspecting that the UGTT and the government agreed to compromise only because they didn’t want Tunisia to look as hopeless as Egypt looks at the moment.)

 

Ghannouchi, and Ennahdha generally, must be feeling lonely at the top these days.  Not only have they earned the ire of the UGTT, but the ultra-religious Salafists – a group they’d spent the last year trying to be civil towards – have been saying beastly things about them too, most notably Nasreddine Aloui, the Salafist imam of Ennour Mosque. This followed trouble in late October in Tunis’s Manouba district, which resulted in two Salafists being shot dead during a confrontation at a local police station.  Interviewed on a live TV show, Aloui called for a jihad against Ennahdha, whom he denounced as puppets of the US government.  He even waved a kafin (a burial shroud) in the air while he called on young Salafists to sacrifice themselves in the upcoming war on Ennahdha.  Predictably, his call-to-arms didn’t impress government minister Samir Dilou, who happened to be appearing on the show at the same time.

 

(http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/11/02/imam-incites-salafist-youth-to-fight-ennahdha-on-live-television/)

 

Hindsight is both a wonderful and a worthless thing.  However, Ennahdha could have done things better in the year or so since it became the main party of power.  It could have paid less attention to political wrangling and bickering and focused more on the economy, which many would argue was the real driver for the revolution.  Poor folk – including many unemployed young men – living in the country’s interior rebelled against the old Ben Ali regime because they faced shockingly grim economic prospects.  Richer folk living along the Mediterranean coast rebelled because the Mafia-like way in which the country was run – if you had a business, Ben Ali’s gruesome in-laws, the Trabelsi clan, invariably came calling looking for a cut of your profits – whittled away the money you already had and deterred entrepreneurs from setting up new operations and generating new money.

 

At the same time, Ennahdha was over-lenient with the Salafists, whose behaviour gave outsiders the impression that the country was unstable, discouraging tourists from visiting and making potential foreign investors think twice about putting money in it.  Some viewed the appeasement of the Salafists as being part of a secret, sinister plot by Ennahdha to gradually move Tunisia towards being a hardline, Sharia-controlled state, and I’m sure Ennahdha politicians, as Islamists, would like to see Tunisians being a bit more Islamic than many of them are at the moment.  But I’m inclined to think this was more down to political naiveté and inexperience.  They tried to be reasonable towards the Salafists, assuming that they’d be reasonable back.  This didn’t happen.  The Salafists seemed to believe that having the right to express their opinions and to protest peacefully also give them the right to attack TV stations, galleries, bars and embassies.  And as Nasreddine Aloui’s TV outburst showed, they didn’t take it well when, finally, the authorities ran out of patience and began to meet force with force.

 

Wiser heads will say that a revolution is never an event and always a process.  One Tunisian acquaintance of mine, who’d been schooled in France and therefore knew all about the French Revolution (which is credited as lasting a decade, and led to Napoleon, the Bourbon Restoration, the July Monarchy and two more revolutions in 1830 and 1848), told me: “We will set up a new government…  And if they are no good, we will throw them out and set up another government…  And if they are no good, we will throw them out too…”  Unfortunately, this fact has not been appreciated by some other Tunisians, who expected their living standards to rise the morning after Ben Ali and the Trabelsis had fled.

 

It certainly wasn’t appreciated in the West, where the modern news media is obsessed with catering for short TV-conditioned attention spans.  Every news item becomes a narrative, invested with a quick, easy-to-digest structure that has a beginning, middle and end, and receives a title as catchy and glib as a politician’s sound-bite.  Thus, what happened in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 became the ‘Arab Spring’ – an event, not the first stage of what was likely to be a long, gruelling and torturous process.  Liberal Western commentators were only too happy to hail it as the day that Arab societies shook off their oppressors and turned into democracy-loving, equal-rights-for-everybody Shangri-Las.  And when this didn’t happen, right-wing Western commentators were only too happy to pronounce the whole thing a catastrophic failure that would usher in a new Dark Ages to North Africa and the Middle East.  A lot of people would be advised to hunker down, study their history books and exhibit a little patience.

 

What happens next in Tunisia?  Elections are supposedly due next year and it’s conceivable that Ennahdha could lose power.  If they do, will they – and their fans in the League for the Protection of the Revolution – accept defeat gracefully?  Or will there be a massive schism and a potentially destructive stand-off like what’s happening in Egypt just now?  I think there are grounds for optimism, because Tunisia isn’t Egypt (and despite what the narrative-obsessed Western media has told people, the Tunisian Revolution is a very different beast from the Egyptian one).  Tunisians are better educated, their country (thanks to the myriad outside influences that have figured in its history) has always seemed more outward-looking and the Tunisian army – which would have a major role to play in solving a constitutional crisis – has, until now at least, behaved with integrity.

 

One thing is for sure.  The West should get over the idea that it’s sensible to support the likes of Ben Ali, Mubarak or even (the rehabilitated) Colonel Gaddafi on the grounds that “Okay, he’s a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard.”  Gerald Warner, for example, sings the praises of Mubarak, who “was the best friend the West had in one of the most tinderbox areas on Earth; he made uneasy peace with Israel, kept the lid on smouldering fanaticism and was a reliable ally.”  Maybe so, but he was still a bastard, a corrupt bastard who robbed his people blind.  As did Ben Ali, his wife and her kin.  And sooner or later, with such bastards running (and robbing) the show, the general population will rise up and get rid of them.  I often think that if, back in the days of the Blair government, Cheri Blair had been following Leila Trabelsi’s example, siphoning off Britain’s wealth and dishing it out to her relatives like the actor Tony Booth and the journalist Lauren Booth, incensed Daily Telegraph readers and Spectator readers would have been the first to storm the barricades.

 

Of course, if Western powers have been backing this or that dictator until their moment of departure, they needn’t expect any love from the population afterwards.  It might seem realpolitik to support a bastard, but surely it’s even more realpolitik not to support an eventual loser?

 

If anyone qualifies as an ‘old Middle Eastern hand’ that Warner mentioned in his quote at the start of this entry, it’s Robert Fisk, the Independent’s correspondent for the region.  He made a pertinent remark about the Arab Spring / Uprising phenomenon in an article a month-and-a-half ago: “It is a slow business: every reader of this article will be dead of old age before the Arab ‘revolution’ is complete.”  Mehdi Hasan may be optimistic about it, but I’m afraid he’ll have more than a few grey hairs before he finds out if his optimism was justified.

 

(http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/regardless-of-whether-obama-or-romney-wins-americas-relations-with-the-arab-world-will-change-8229921.html)

 

Robert and Rachid – friends again

 

Straight after my last blog entry about Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s main governing party Ennahdha, comes news that Britain’s Independent newspaper has apologised to him for publishing an interview with Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, who cast aspersions over Ennahdha’s funding.  He claimed that the Emir of Qatar had pumped money into Ennahdha prior to last October’s Tunisian elections.  Ghannouchi was incensed that the Independent printed Muallem’s claims – for one thing, had they been true, Ennahdha would have broken funding laws for political parties in Tunisia.  (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/corrections/rachid-ghannouchi-8203500.html)

 

What surprised me was that, so soon after this apology, the Independent should publish an interview with Ghannouchi: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/rached-ghannouchi-says-he-doesnt-want-an-islamic-state-in-tunisia-can-he-prove-his-critics-wrong-8225092.html.  What surprised me even more was that the interviewer was the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, who’d conducted the interview with Walid Muallem that’d caused all the bother in the first place.  When he announced that he was suing the Independent, Ghannouchi had made a point of describing Fisk as an ‘honourable man’, but even so – I’d assumed that Fisk would be off Ghannouchi’s Eid al-Adha greetings-card list for a while.

 

Perhaps mindful of the bad blood that just passed between his newspaper and Ghannouchi, Fisk went easy on his interviewee and allowed him to do most of the talking.  However, I would like to have seen a little more debate and argument from Fisk (which he is capable of providing).  Ghannouchi claims that the attack on the American Embassy and International School on September 14th was carried out by common criminals and not by religious-extremist Salafists blaming all things American for the anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims.  However, this goes against what I read in one eyewitness report at the time – and the eyewitness was a pretty convincing one, the American School’s principal, who was on his premises trying to ward off the attackers.  (The kids, thankfully, were not in classes just then.)

 

According to the principal, the attackers came in two waves – first, religious extremists, who broke into the school grounds and made a point of setting fire to the school library, and then a shower of opportunist looters who ran in and helped themselves to computers and other school equipment.  Given the Salafists’ track record of attacking TV stations, art galleries and theatrical performances, it sounds wholly in keeping with their character that they should burn a roomful of books.

 

The principal’s story appeared in a news article on the site Tunisia Live Net.  Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I find it a little suspicious that the article has recently vanished off their website, so that it can no longer be used to contradict Ghannouchi’s claims.

 

Ghannouchi’s defence of the Salafists on September 14th is based on the following logic: “There is footage of people looting the contents of the US school and the embassy, including the canteen that sells alcohol in the embassy, and many of the attackers helped themselves to the alcohol. I don’t think these were Salafis.”  But just because there is evidence that one group – the ordinary criminals – was present, behaving unlawfully, it doesn’t mean that the other group wasn’t there and wasn’t breaking the law too.  In fact, the principal’s account describes how both Salafists and ordinary criminals broke into his school at different moments and did damage.  And indeed, Tunisia has just sent Salafist leader Abu Ayub to prison for inciting the embassy attack – which suggests the Tunisian judiciary disagrees with Ghannouchi’s belief that the Salafists were innocent bystanders.  (http://gulfnews.com/news/region/tunisia/tunisia-jails-salafist-leader-1.1093819)

 

Elsewhere, Ghannouchi peddles his usual line about why it’s necessary to take a softly-softly approach with the Salafists, to reason with them rather than penalise them for bad behaviour: “We understand democracy not just as a tool of government but also of education. I was in Paris in ’68 and these were revolutionary times.  But one of its leaders, Cohn-Bendit is now in the European parliament.…  There were examples of so-called extremists in Europe, the Red Army and Action Directe and through democracy they were able to be tamed and re-educated.  So why can’t we imagine that we also can tame our violent actors?  Through democracy, they will be slowly part of this democracy, rather than destroying it.  I always tell some of our friends in Europe that through democracy they were able to tame the beasts – so why don’t you give us time to do the same with ours?”

 

Well, there might be something in what he says, though drawing a parallel with Germany’s Red Army is unfortunate.  The main players in that particular group didn’t gradually mend their ways by virtue of being citizens in a democratic society.  They were punished, severely, and some of them didn’t live to see the end of their punishments.  Ulrike Meinhof, Holger Meins, Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan Carl Raspe were arrested in the early 1970s: Meinhof hung herself in her cell in 1976, Meins died on hunger strike in 1974 and the remaining three apparently committed suicide at Stammheim Prison in 1977 (though inevitably conspiracy theories about state executions abound).  Among the survivors, Christian Klar spent 26 years in prison and only got out in 2008, Brigitte Mohnhaupt did 24 years until her release in 2007, and Eva Haule was incarcerated from 1986 to 2007.  Horst Mahler spent a comparatively brief ten years in prison until 1984, but some would dispute his rehabilitation – he is now a far-right Holocaust denier, has described Adolf Hitler as ‘the saviour of the German people’ and was imprisoned again for eleven years in 2009.  None of this suggests ‘re-education’ and ‘taming’ through the miracle that is modern democracy.

 

And more to the point, even if the far future does contain a moment of magical enlightenment when Tunisia’s Salafists will start to be reasonable and stop behaving like intolerant, ignorant bullies – how many more ordinary Tunisians will have to suffer until then?  How many more women, academics, journalists, artists, foreigners and Sufis will have to put up with their antics while the Tunisian government treats them gently in the meantime?  And, while stories of Salafist violence continue to emerge from Tunisia, how many more tourists will elect to go elsewhere for their holidays, how many more foreign investors will decide not to risk their money in Tunisian business ventures, and much more will the Tunisian economy suffer?

 

In a democracy, any elected political party should be able to guarantee its citizens, all of them, that it will protect them from violence and intimidation in the here and now.  If Rachid Ghannouchi’s party is unwilling or unable to guarantee that, it isn’t fit to govern.

 

Welcome back to Tunisia

 

It’s just over two weeks since I returned to Tunisia and a lot has obviously been going on during that time.  Here is a round-up of some of the stories that have made the news headlines recently.

 

DRINKING IS A SIN, SAY SALAFISTS (BUT WRECKING HOTELS ISN’T)

 

Sometimes it’s difficult enough drinking in the bars of downtown Tunis – thanks to the near-lethal miasma of cigarette smoke that fills them, and the shifty demeanour of some of the regulars, which encourages you to do your boozing with your back against the nearest wall, and the acrid taste of Tunisia’s national brew, the chemical-laden Celtia beer.  On top of those things, you don’t also want to contend with the possibility of an invasion by a hundred fat bearded blokes in smocks and sneakers smashing bottles and furniture and bellowing “Al-sharab haram!”, which means “Drinking is a sin!” in Arabic.  Though to be honest, I’ve been in a few Tunis pubs where this could happen and nobody would notice any difference.

 

Anyway, a day after I returned to Tunisia, the printed and online media were full of tales about how Salafists – oh, how I’d wanted to spend at least a few days back here without seeing that word in print again – had attacked an establishment called the Horchani Hotel in Sidi Bouzid, the town in central Tunisia that in late 2010 saw the first stirrings of the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring.  The Salafists burst into the hotel on September 3rd and ransacked its bedrooms and kitchens, as well as smashing up the hotel-bar and its contents.  This was the culmination of a four-month campaign whereby Sidi Bouzid’s bars had been forced to close down one by one because of Salafist violence or because of the threat of it.  The Horchani Hotel had been the last hold-out.  With it out of action, the town is now dry (http://observers.france24.com/content/20120906-tunisia-sidi-bouzid-runs-dry-after-salafists-destroy-last-remaining-bar-hotel-horchani).

 

Alcohol is something that Salafists don’t like drinking and naturally they think it isn’t right for anyone else to drink it, either.  So it’s awfully thoughtful and generous of them to take action on the public’s behalf like this, without even pausing to consult anyone first.

 

According to the September 5th edition of La Presse newspaper, which reported the incident with the headline SALAFISTS STRIKE AGAIN WITH IMPUNITY, the local forces of law and order didn’t bother to turn up until well after the damage was done – despite being informed that trouble was brewing a quarter-hour before the invasion took place.  The hotel’s owner, Jamil Horchani, also told La Presse that among the guests in his hotel at the time were a couple of Dutch holidaymakers who “through their interpreter, swore to never again set foot on the soil of this country, after the moments of terror that they experienced.”  Seeing that this story was also reported on the BBC news website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19481835) – it was the third most-read article there at one point – and it has since appeared on at least one holiday website too (http://news.cheapholidaydeals.co.uk/salafist-muslims-ransack-hotel-in-tunisia-because-it-serves-alcohol/), I suspect there will be plenty of potential tourists who, after reading about it, will decide not to set foot on the soil of this country at all, ever.

 

TUNISIAN GOVERNMENT TO PUNISH ARTISTS FOR DISTURBING THE PEACE

 

Two artists whose works were displayed this June at the Printemps des Art Fair in La Marsa are now facing prison sentences of up to five years for ‘disturbing the public peace’.  The exhibition led to riots by Salafists – yes, them again – who believed some of its contents to be ‘blasphemous’, and by criminals who’d opportunistically crawled out of the woodwork to do some looting and pillaging.  (http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/09/03/campaign-to-defend-artists-accused-of-disturbing-public-order/)

 

The fact that the artists, Nadia Jelassie and Mohamed Ben Slama, are accused of being responsible for the disorder (which resulted in the imposition of a curfew for several days), rather than the Salafist / criminal mob who actually carried it out, is in itself mind-melting.  However, I fail to see what is so outrageous about their artworks anyway.

 

Jelassie contributed to Printemps des Arts a sculpture that dealt with the practice of putting people to death by stoning.  Though the fact may be uncomfortable for some Tunisians, stoning is still a feature of certain Islamic societies.  There have been recent reports of it happening in the northern Mali town of Anguelhok, which at the moment is controlled by militants acting under the jurisdiction of AQIM, al-Quaedi in the Islamic Maghreb (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/07/201273021254165201.html).  And here’s a link to a short film that Iranian-born comedian Shappi Khorsandi made last year for Amnesty International, highlighting the situation in her home country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQGqerNE3MY.

 

Also displayed was a painting by Ben Slama, which was condemned for showing God’s name spelt out by configurations of tiny ants – allegedly, this reduced Allah to the level of puny insects that scurry around in the dirt.  But in fact the Koran depicts ants as being an intelligent species that even possess their own language.  (See http://www.quransource.com/miracles/en/hy/content.asp?f=scientific_80 and http://quran.tanyt.info/index.php?lang=en&sura=141)  And as I’ve said before on this blog, it seems only logical that artists should glorify God, if they want to glorify Him, by pointing out the wonders of His handiwork in nature, both big and small.  (As a little kid in Northern Ireland, I was made, Sunday after Sunday at my local church, to sing the children’s hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, which concluded with the lines: He gave us eyes to see them / And lips that we might tell / How great is God almighty / Who has made all things well.)

 

But what both works are guilty of is the fact that they encourage people to think a little.  And thinking, of course, is anathema to the Salafists, or at least to their most extreme, vocal and violent elements.  Unfortunately, it seems increasingly to be anathema to the Tunisian government too.

 

GHANNOUCHI SHAKES HIS FIST AT FISK

 

Meanwhile, Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the supposedly moderate-Islamic Ennahdha Party that is the main component of the Tunisian government, has threatened to sue Britain’s Independent newspaper.  This isn’t because of anything the newspaper itself said.  Rather, it’s in response to an interview that the newspaper’s veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, conducted with Walid Muallem, who is foreign minister to Bashir al-Assad, the mass-murdering and weasel-like president of Syria.  During the interview, Muallem claimed that in the run-up to last year’s Tunisian elections, Ennahdha was generously funded by the Emir of Qatar.  The reporting of this claim has clearly upset Ghannouchi.  (http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/08/31/head-of-islamist-ennahdha-party-to-file-suit-against-the-independent/)

 

Now, as a trained journalist, I know that under British law (well, under English law at least – I did my training in London) you have to be extremely careful in repeating contentious comments made by your interviewees.  Printing such comments can leave your publication open to being sued for libel as much as the individuals who made them.  However, it seems mean-spirited of Ghannouchi to go after the Independent, one of the few British newspapers that doesn’t view the world through a belligerent right-wing prism, and in particular to go after Fisk, who is one of the very few British journalists who gives the Arab cause a sympathetic hearing.  Even Ghannouchi had to admit that he regarded Fisk as “a respectable man.”  So why not simply sue Muallem, a leading figure in a far from respectable regime?

 

Actually, I suspect that Ghannouchi is still sore at the Independent for an extremely prickly article that Fisk wrote about Tunisia back in February this year.  In it, he portrayed the post-revolutionary Tunisia as a hellhole of unemployment, censorship and rising religious extremism, something that’d been achieved with the connivance of the government.  At the time, I thought the article was overheated – for his research, Fisk seemed to have spent too much time hanging out with his Tunisian journalist mates, who were being unnecessarily paranoid and exaggerating their case.  Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Here is what he wrote: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/poisoned-spring-revolution-brings-tunisia-more-fear-than-freedom-7237464.html.

 

AT LAST – GOOD NEWS ON THE ECONOMIC FRONT!

 

However, one piece of good news – slightly good news – has appeared on the economic front here in Tunisia.  The unemployment rate seems to have plateaued and even gone down a little.  According to the country’s National Statistics Institute, in the second quarter of 2012, unemployment dropped from a hefty 18.1% to a still-hefty but slightly better 17.6%.  Evidence, perhaps, that following the revolution the economy is finally chugging into life again?  (http://www.silobreaker.com/unemployment-rate-down-05-in-second-quarter-of-2012-5_2265973905841717291)

 

Unfortunately, shortly after that figure was announced, this happened: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/09/14/at-least-3-dead-28-wounded-after-clashes-at-us-embassy-in-tunisia/.

 

And still it isn’t over.  Coming soon, to a French embassy near you…  http://world.time.com/2012/09/19/french-satirical-cartoons-spark-ire-in-the-arab-springs-birthplace/.  Oh, bollocks.