News, electronic and print, is dominated by highlights and lowlights of civil unrest, public property destruction, and at least 3 confirmed deaths by gunfire. Military and police force are unable to control the violence and have, at times, resorted to shootings and skirmishes with the locals. Consequently, a curfew has been announced and enforced in several cities. As I try to get back to “normalcy” and everyday activities from my week long trip to the gouvernerat of Sidi Bouzid, I find it disheartening to see an enormously widening gap of misinformation and distrust between the major cities and the small towns, the coastal areas and the far western gouvernerats, and in some cases between the educated and not so educated. A clearer line of divide is emerging. This division is being encouraged and taken advantage of by many groups and sub-groups, operating in anonymity.
How we got here and where we are going are subjects that require far more time and bites that I am afforded at this moment. What I will try to shed some light on is why.
Let us begin at the national level, and let me the first, that I know of, to announce that regionalism is alive and well, and in some cases, even worse than the time of Ben Ali. Political parties, especially the ones with grassroots going back decades, are the ones who are contributing, whether directly or indirectly, through the media manipulation and campaign financing, to benefit from the old adage of “divide and conquer”. We are seeing examples of such “mini civil wars” beginning to take shape throughout the country, along geographical and socio-economic lines.
There are no political parties of considerable size or weight that have sprung west of the Tunis-Sousse auto-route. East is where the “elite” is. East is where the money resides. East is where the masses with the means, resources, connections, and “old” political know-how. The West might as well be “part of Algeria”, as announced by some radio personality, who later claimed he was partial to regionalism.
At the local and small town levels, matters are no better. A recent trip to the town of Jelma fully confirmed such conduct. In a town of no more than 7000 residents, there are 7 offices representing different political parties, manned by men whose political maturity matches that of mine in nuclear science. Their only interests are to serve their personal interests. Democratic institutions in these rural areas are not to be found, and the few people who wish to develop them are scared to do so in public. It was terribly frightening to see the fear and distrust in the eyes of these residents. It is as if ZABA has not left.
It is alleged that that political parties or popular movements, represented by a few local hooligans have adopted the tried and true system perfected by the RCD. It is called scaring the locals and buying their loyalties for the upcoming elections, if they ever take place.
These same parties and movements, such as Haraket Echaab and Ennahdha in Jelma are engaged in a policy of adding fuel to already red hot fire. Some of the messages I had personally heard this past week included BCE is worse than Ben Ali, every party outside of theirs is an RCD party, if you drive a nice car then you must have stolen public money, if you had lived or studied abroad then you are a foreign agent, and some other ridiculous allegations not worth mentioning.
The fact remains, they have managed to derail the real debate and discussion about democracy and registration for the upcoming elections.
Based on this week long excursion to Sidi Bouzid, I’d say the wheels are off the track and this fast moving train has already been derailed. To get it back on track we will require a monumental and well coordinated effort the likes of which has not been seen before.
Good luck to all of us.