Teenagers and Salafists Storm the American Embassy in Tunisia
I’m a Middle Eastern Studies student from Wisconsin currently doing research in a suburb of Tunis called Sidi Bou Said. Today, just after lunch, I noticed a cloud of thick black smoke rising on the horizon. Burning trash is fairly common here, so I didn’t think much of it. But on my way to class one of my classmates mentioned, half-joking, that it might be coming from the US Embassy. Our suspicions were confirmed when our Tunisian Arabic teacher plunged into a nervous breakdown during class.
The demonstrations in Tunisia today are being blamed on the now infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film, but the real reason behind them is the rhetoric of the current party in power. Nahdah (in Fus’ha Arabic, it means “Awakening” or “Renaissance”) is a popular Salafist (for lack of a better word “Islamist”) party that was elected last fall. After ousting the semi-secularist dictator Ben Ali from power, the Nahdah party was supposed to create a new constitution within a year. Nahdah has almost completely failed at this task, partly because of corruption and partly because most of its leaders have been rotting in jail for the past 20 years.
The talk among the progressive parties in Tunis is that the riots today were not only an attack on the US Embassy, but an attack on the Tunisian people. Today’s attacks were a warning shot, and a pony show of the power of Nahdah. Of course, the ruling party would never corroborate this. Nahdah speaks out of both sides of its mouth. October 23, 2012 will be the end of Nahdah’s legitimacy and many think that today’s attacks are a sign of their increasing desperation.