Ibtihal Bsis: A personal account of anxiety and hope for Tunisia
14th January 2011 marked a day my ruler, Mumar Gaddaffi of Libya, and I shared a similar reaction on hearing that President Zine al-Abidine of Tunisia, our neighbouring country, had hastily left his country following mass demonstrations against his tyrannical rule. Our reactions were of disbelief; but that is where the similarity began and ended. Whilst it stirred jubilation amongst my fellow citizens and I, the Arab rulers in the region were left feeling insecure and mortified at the news still to come.
I left Libya along with my family at the tender age of 7, but remember the unpleasant and tragic experiences of other people that came from the Maghreb – Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The rulers were all dictators and spared no expense and no lives at ensuring that their rule went unhindered and unchallenged.
Four years after Gaddaffi came into power my father began to receive strange telephone calls at our home, men asking for his whereabouts and making it clear that we were being watched. I only recently learned that since my father used to travel out of the country regularly he had become the subject of interest by the state. He was spoken to by the intelligence services who warned that if he was committing adultery the state would support him; if he was stealing from others the state would support that and indeed most crimes; but if he was ever to consider standing against the state that will mean definite torture and death.
We then began to hear of people disappearing and one of those was my first cousin. His crime being that he was reported as often praying Fajr (morning prayers) at his local mosque. We heard fathers of men who tried to mobilise opposition to such tyrannical rule being set alight, women raped and tortured, public hangings where all the victims’ families were ordered to attend and watch and people being beaten and then buried alive in mass graves. People became afraid not just of their rulers, but of one another, fearing that one of their family members could secretly be working for the secret intelligence services – the Makhabarat.
My mother would often tell me that Tunisia was no different and this seemed all the more real when we visited the country after fleeing Libya as political refugees. Tunisia is a known tourist hotspot for the West, very little else is known about the nation in the world.
The Hijab was frowned upon and Ibn Ali’s predecessor was famous for removing the hijab of a woman, in full view of the media, whilst telling her that she was now liberated.
Upon our visit we were approached by women who quietly whispered how they envied our dress, but donning the hijab would mean arrest and unspeakable torture. I recall my family travelling in a taxi when the driver told them that he had something very special to show them. He opened the glove compartment and removed an object that was wrapped in layers of a garment. The driver took extraordinary care to reveal what he had hidden – we were amazed to discover that it was the Qur’an! He told us that he was risking his life for simply carrying it.
Our prayers at the mosque were summoned by a recording of the Azhan (call to prayer), which had volume control, there was not even a moazzin present. As in Libya, people who prayed at mosques were carefully monitored. Regular reports to the police chiefs were sent and men were often arrested and imprisoned or worse.
These snapshots of an Ummah oppressed throughout the region even made me believe that change was near impossible.
I learnt at a young age that the British and French constructed the post Ottoman regions by creating borders and placing puppets in power to ensure the Ummah would never unite. These rulers such as the Saud family, who for long collaborated with the British and fought the Ottoman Khilafah utilised their secret services to spy on their own people and cripple any possible momentum for change – often using very brutal tactics. This architecture was constructed to protect Western interests and to ensure the Ummah could never unite.
The past few weeks has seen the smallest state in North Africa do exactly that, revolt against its tyrannical rulers in a way that has inspired the rest of the Ummah. Ibn Ali’s first reaction was to threaten the people by blaming gangs for the unrest. The following day his tone and demeanour had completely altered to one of reconciliation, almost pleading, by lowering the price of bread. King Abdullah of Jordan followed suit.
The very next day, Ibn Ali fled Tunisia. His friends in France would not even allow his airplane to land on their tarmac. It is reported that France is now grooming her agents to go and try seizing power in Tunisia. The long exiled secularist Monsif Almarzoki has just left France for Tunisia.
A new President Ghanoushi assumed the ruling, but further demonstrations ensured that his presidency would go down as one of the shortest in history- two days. The demonstrations continue today, and the government is in disarray as to who to hire and fire. People are demanding a new constitution.
So what can we learn from these events. Unarmed people went out en mass to remove their ruler in a region, which has a shoot to kill policy.
We can now lay to rest the argument that we are weak as an Ummah. Some people are calling for democracy, but at the same time they are shunning the west and its system, why; because “democratia” to the Arabs merely means being able to account the ruler.
Tunisia knows what it does not want, what it needs is still unclear to the people at the moment. Although there have been chants of “Allhu Akbar”, the call of Islam is just reemerging in the region, simply because France removed it from public life and then the minds of the people upon the destruction of the Khilafah.
What is clear however, is that Islam is still very much in their hearts. In fifty years the people finally heard the Azhan live which brought so much joy that people began to pray in the streets.
As Ibn Ali’s wife looted the treasury escaping with 1.5 tons of gold the Arab rulers across the Middle East are attempting to sure up support by giving handouts to ensure they will not be the next ruler discarded into the dustbin of history.
I make dua that this incident marks the beginning of the end of the Muslim rulers and that Allah (swt) blesses us with change under the shade of the Khilafah.
The writer is a Muslim woman from North Africa