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Never Afraid! But of Whom?

Critical thoughts from Tunisia: changing mentalities as a prerequisite for democracy.
By Mohamed Ben Soltane | Mar 2011

It is difficult to write about the current situation in Tunisia, while we are at the heart of events. Everyone knows that the dictator has gone but the dictatorship regime remained. This regime continues to hope for a renaissance by developing specific actions to destabilize the country, spread fear, and create chaos.

The complexity of the situation we are facing results from the following problem: how to convince everyone of the need to abide by constitutional legality when the founding document of the Revolution is outside of this legal framework?

After heroic acts of solidarity, maturity, and foresight, many Tunisians revived some old habits we inherited from the deposed regime of Ben Ali: selfishness, disrespect for the law and people, dictatorship of thought…

Under the regime of Ben Ali, the privileged were above the law. Today, thousands of Tunisians want to be privileged! The calls "People want, people demand..." hide more and more individual interests and opportunistic attitudes! The Tunisian artist and cartoonist Chedly Belkhamsa talks about a dictatorship of the people that replaced the dictatorship of the police state.
We are experiencing a serious legitimacy crisis. Hierarchy is no longer respected. The "Dégage Attitude" (Clear-Off Attitude) has reached intolerable limits; today any citizen can afford, without any valid justification, to tell a minister of the Republic: clear off!

In this turmoil, we often forget about the basics: changing mentalities as a prerequisite for democratic development. We have not mastered the ABCs of citizenship, for the old regime never treated us as citizens. The path toward citizenship is long and difficult. We must learn to live together with our differences, whether those are political, religious, sartorial, or other and to respect each other despite these differences.

We took possession of our country and we must build a model of living together that meets our needs. This is Culture. We must restore our confidence in our creative abilities and assume our responsibilities.
The challenge that we must meet consists of requiring a meritocratic society and resisting the dictatorship of the people looming on the horizon. The old system was based on “mediocracy”, which has undermined our society. It has scared the country's greatest minds away to lands able to recognize their value. Replacing “mediocracy” by Meritocracy is one of the battles we must carry out successfully.

Consider the example of education. The Tunisian university has long served to keep future unemployed youth busy for some time. But it is not important to have a degree; what is important is that this degree gives people the opportunity to have a job!

Tunisian policy under the former regime relied on numbers; it filled the universities in the knowledge that graduates won’t have jobs. The impressive number of graduates – designers, lawyers, or others – has destroyed these fields. There are twenty art schools with tens of thousands of students in Tunisia for a total population of 11 million inhabitants! This is ridiculous. This policy has only delayed the revolution.

How to redress the situation?

The Tunisian Revolution is a revolution of dignity. Dignity is the right to have a job but it does not give the right to demand a PhD! A PhD must be earned! Will there be students who will demonstrate to be given a PhD or to be granted the title of artist someday? It is not dignity, it is Ignorance!

Those who govern Tunisia must take all the circumstances into consideration. Since it seems that the people will govern the country, we must have the courage to criticize the people when we see that they are wrong. In my opinion, intellectuals, artists, organizations, etc. are not assuming their entire responsibilities.

One of the slogans of the Revolution was, we will never be afraid; it is high time politicians, intellectuals, and artists, among others, implement it against any form of dictatorship, even if it is a dictatorship of the people.

3  March, 2011


Mohamed Ben Soltane

Artist and artistic director of B'chira Art Center, Tunis.

(Translation from French: Mary Yazbeck)

© Cartoon: Chedly Belkhamsa
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