Australians are used to a certain form of political humour known as ridicule that is done in 5 minute skits on the radio. An all-time favourite with Aussies is a skit known as “Cactus Island”. Although I have not listened for several years, I can still chortle over some of the characterisations of political figures. This is especially true of the manner in which they portrayed both Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating. This kind of political humour helps to relieve a lot of tensions within the population.
It seems that regular, ordinary, every day Tunisians are now able to enjoy some of the same kind of humour, without landing in prison. This story comes via Reuters, explaining that if you watch the truck drivers at a certain time each morning you can see them chortling as they listen to the radio, and that the reason for the chortling is political humour:
On Radio Mosaic, the North African country’s most popular radio station, it’s daily sketch time when comedian Migalo ribs not just ousted Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, but all of the Arab leaders fighting for survival in the ‘Arab Spring’.
This week, Ben Ali and Yemen’s beleaguered leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, both now in Saudi Arabia, are arguing about the housework.
“Hey, come on Saleh, I’ve had enough of this! Every day, I prepare the breakfast, I wash the dishes, and you’re lying there doing nothing,” Ben Ali complains.
“I’m ill! I’m ill!” remonstrates Saleh, who left Sanaa for Saudi Arabia last month after he was wounded in a bomb attack.
It descends into an argument. “You were ousted!,” says Saleh. “You came in an ambulance!” retorts Ben Ali — before Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, battling NATO forces and rebels, calls up to say he’s on his way over.
Interesting, whoever is behind this humour is of the opinion that Gadhafi is on the way out!! The whole idea of this Tunisian humour is freedom of expression. I am sure that you understand this as: Freedom of Speech, the first amendment. It is something that has been denied to Tunisians since Ben Ali became their President, and they want to preserve that right to free speech.
Political humor has taken off in Tunisia since Ben Ali’s police state collapsed in January, removing in one fell swoop a complex web of barriers, both mental and physical, to free expression.
Tunisians are proud that they set in motion a train of popular protest movements across the Arab world that have shaken entrenched political systems and international alliances. Now they see themselves at the second stage of the revolution: satire.
“Tunisia was a pioneer in revolution and now it’s at the forefront in comic expression,” says the voice behind a masked Zorro-like character called Captain Khubza, a name meaning ‘bread’, whose cartoon sketches are issued weekly on Facebook.
“We are complementing the revolution with this comedy because we don’t want there to be any retreat in any way on the issue of freedom of expression.”
Captain Khubza first appeared in February, brandishing a stick of French bread as his only weapon in the face of Ben Ali’s police in his first sketches featuring impressions of Ben Ali, a former interior minister whose extended family developed a mafia-like hold on all aspects of life in Tunisia.
The whole article is worth a read, because it gives a little bit of insight into why Tunisia became the leaders of a people revolt. What is extremely telling in this article is the statement that it is probable that “the people” who participated in the downfall of Ben Ali have no real idea about democracy. They have not experienced democracy. There is some further information, that the little show with all of its skits (sounds a lot like Cactus Island) irritates some politicians who are waiting in the wings to gain power:
Even now, some Tunisian politicians have expressed irritation at the lampooning unleashed by the uprising.
On Radio Mosaic, Migalo also imitates Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, center-left leader Najib Chebbi, often accused of opportunism, and communist ideologue Hamma Hamami.
One sketch that centred around a major football match this week encapsulated popular views of them. Chebbi invites everyone to have a sandwich, Ghannouchi tells the players to cover up, and Hamami says he rejects everything, including football.
Captain Khubza said he received angry reactions from Ennahda supporters saying Ghannouchi should be left above the fray.
It is no surprise that the supporters of the Islamist Ennahda Party have no sense of humor and do not want to see those portrayals of Ghannouchi. However, it seems that the political humour is pinging the absurdity of the positions of the Islamists, and it is telling them that this is not what the people want. This has to be good in the long run, because this form of humour can help shape opinions, and if people can laugh at such things, then they are not necessarily going to vote for the Ennahda Party that would catapult the Islamists to power. Let’s just hope it is the case. Also, it seems that those behind the humour do not have much time for the Communist point of view.
Can it end well in Tunisia? I do not know. I have no way of knowing how the majority in Tunisia think. Just like in Libya there are many Tunisians who are very conservative when it comes to being Muslim. It does not mean that they are Islamists, but that they have a more conservative way of expressing themselves. Something else that I have learned about the Tunisians, and that is in the border region the people opened their hearts and their homes to the thousands of refugees that have crossed from Libya. They believe in the real meaning of hospitality.