Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bonzer Bloke. Shame About His People

Senior American officials just loved President Ben Ali. He made them feel so secure, and he was good for the ladies too:

"Hello. I just finished a really very good and extensive discussion with the president. Tunisia is a good friend of the United States, and has been for decades. It is a deep relationship. We have broad cooperation across a range of issues. We have obviously discussed the circumstances here in the region, in terms of security and counter-terrorism... Tunisia has taken a lead in the Arab Maghreb Union, which we believe is a useful organization for addressing all kinds of issues... We talked about internal matters here in Tunisia, about the course of reform. And I do want to say that the extraordinary role of women in Tunisia was something that I raised, that women have made great progress here." (Condoleezza Rice, Remarks after Meeting with Tunisian President Ben Ali, Tunis, 6/9/08, 2001-2009.state.gov)

The creme de la creme of Western intellectuals were impressed too. There may have been a tad too many portraits of the president for their liking, but hell, Colonel Qaddafi he ain't. And, of course, he was good for the ladies too:

"On the face of it, the country is one of Africa's most outstanding success stories. In the 2006-7 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, it was ranked No. 1 in Africa for economic competitiveness, even, incidentally, outpacing 3 European states (Italy, Greece, and Portugal). Home ownership is 80%. Life expectancy, the highest on the continent, is 72. Less than 4% of the population is below the poverty line, and the alleviation of misery by a 'solidarity fund' has been adopted by the United Nations as a model program... [Tunisia's] Code of Personal Status was the first in the Arab world to abolish polygamy, and the veil and the burka are never seen. More than 40% of the judges and lawyers are female. The country makes delicious wine and even exports it to France... Mr Ben Ali does not make lengthy speeches on TV every night, or appear in gorgeously barbaric uniforms, or live in a different palace for every day of the week. Tunisia has no grandiose armed forces, the curse of the rest of the continent, feeding parasitically off the national income and rewarding their own restlessness with the occasional coup." (Christopher Hitchens, At the desert's edge, Vanity Fair, July 2007)

But his people? What can I say? There's no satisfying the rabble:

"My host introduced me to the gardener... He explained that he was from Jbal Dinar, a small village about 40km from Ain Drahem in NW Tunisia. He told me about an incident in his village. A few weeks ago there was a cold snap in Tunisia and it snowed heavily in some parts of the country, including the area around Ain Drahem. Being a remote area, it lacked facilities. The people there are poor due to the scarcity of resources and lack of jobs. Therefore, they could not endure the cold snap. The authorities promised to help them. The day aid arrived, a TV crew was there to record and preserve the historic moment! According to the gardener, people were handed some old wool blankets and some food. But after the cameras had left, these were taken back!... My only question is: Where is the Solidarity Fund?" (What happened is not an isolated case!, atunisiangirl.blogspot.com, 2/1/11)

"Zine Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's president since Bourguiba's ouster in 1987, has called the hijab 'an imported form of sectarian dress' that 'does not fit with Tunisia's cultural heritage'. At a meeting of the state-dominated National Union of Tunisian Women, officials demanded that women in the audience remove their veils [sic] and in some cases tugged on them, according to a 2006 US State Department human rights report on Tunisia. 'The authorities stepped up harassment of women wearing the hijab', Amnesty International... said in its 2007 report on Tunisia. 'Some were reportedly ordered to remove their hijabs before being allowed into schools, universities or workplaces; and others were forced to remove them in the street', the report said." (Tunisia veil case threatens 'odious rag' struggle, Daniel Williams, bloomberg.com, 3/6/08)

"Meanwhile, the full horror of repression over four weeks of demonstrations is beginning to emerge. Human rights groups estimate at least 150-200 deaths since 17 December. In random roundups in poor, rural areas youths were shot in the head and dumped far from home so bodies could not be identified. Police also raped women in their houses in poor neighbourhoods in and around Kasserine in the rural interior. Sihem Bensedrine, head of the National Council for Civil Liberties, said: 'These were random, a sort of reprisal against the people. In poor areas, women who had nothing to do with anything, were raped in front of their families. Guns held back the men; the women were raped in front of them. A handful of cases were reported in Kasserine and Thala last Monday. Rape was often used as a torture technique under the regime; opposition women report they were raped in the basement of the interior ministry, as were men, too." (Confusion, fear & horror in Tunisia as old regime's militia carries on the fight: Tunisian capital witnesses violent clashes between armed forces and those loyal to former president Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, Angelique Chrisafis, guardian.co.uk, 16/1/11)

No comments: