Bleak Streets: Johnny Cash Meets Eminem in Tunisia

His Highness the Mushir Mohammed Essader, Bey of Tunis-thumb-500x669-3265.jpg

Photo Credit: Steve Clemons

After the end of America's Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln, an envoy from Tunisia presented President Andrew Johnson with a huge portrait of the 'Bey of Tunis', His Highness the Mushir Mohammed Essadek.  The inscription below appears on the frame of the portrait which now hangs in the opulent reception room of the Department of State.

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His Highness the Mushir Mohammed Essadek, Bey of Tunis

Portrait presented as a souvenir of his Friendship on November 1865 by his Envoy Gen. Otman Hashem, bearer of letters of condolence for the assassination of President Lincoln and of congratulations for the termination of the Civil War.

Nearly 150 years later, there are a great number of Americans, Europeans, wealthy educated Arabs from the region and others working hard with Tunisians after their revoulution to mend the severe social and economic damage done by a corrupt, totalitarian regime.  I have been getting different reads on how things are going.

Lately, anecdotal reports have been pretty good from people who seem to be gaining confidence in the political evolution thus far and argue that what looked like a rising tide of Islamic Salafist influence may be ebbing.  A friend, Foued Mokrani, has extensive family in Tunisia and wavers from high hopes for changes underway to depression and concern.  Mokrani has been more positive lately -- but his cousin is featured in the less optimistic video below.

At the end of March, Jeffrey Christiansen, an Arabic-fluent graduate of Georgetown now working in Tunis, sent me a cynical assessment:

Tunis is great, if only for me personally. My job in private equity has kept me on my tip toes, confronting me with financial and legal work I never imagined I'd do my first 5 months. My first two months, I warmed up with fund reporting; now, I'm focused on a negotiation with OPIC, the US overseas investment branch, for a 40m dollar deal, plus managing the financial analysis behind it all. So my learning curve has been steep. . .

The country, on the other hand, is stressed, going through difficult times. The economy is worse than before the revolution. Disrupted supply chains, strikes for higher salaries, and weak export demand from the EU has dampened econ recovery, leading to growth forecasts of 2 percent for the year and dashing people's hopes for a rapid improvement in unemployment and incomes.

So frustration with the new government is mounting. So too are social tensions. Salafists are growing more aggressive in demanding the right for women to wear the niqaab, excoriating journalists for saying or printing material they find offensive, and some even calling for an Islamic Caliphate.

Shockingly, the government hasn't done much about it, reinforcing fears among secular coastal elites that their country is heading for disaster.  The growing divide within al-Nahda between moderate elements and more extreme ones is no doubt one of the reasons for government inaction on socio-religious unrest. 

And here is a snap shot from the arts to get a more gritty vibe.  This rap song from some guys in Tunisia, Kazablanka & 7ammati [Hammati], is something of a hybrid of Johnny Cash meets Eminem in Tunisia.  I love the music -- and had it roughly translated.

I'm sure that the translation needs some work -- and feel free to improve or correct what I have up here, and I'll amend appropriately.

But read what they're saying.  Things aren't good.  Their generation is still screwed.  In homage to Bouazizi perhaps, they are singing that they still can't set up decent, legal businesses.

It's just a song -- but bleakness prevails in it.  And they ask, Ila Mata?  Til When?

Til When?
by Kazablaka & 7Ammati

The liquor got me feeling good, 'desals'
[can't figure out this word] got me feeling good too.
I'm just trying to get a ride tonight.
We are going to do whatever we want to do....
So fill your cup to the top brother take that shot, bring that honey right home with you.
You better get like me just follow my lead and you can be feeling good too.

I'll tell you the life story of poor victims of circumstance.
Our field is the street, and that's where we learn to fight to survive.

Blood and weapons become an art ... Fighting our brothers and friends become our joke, and routine .

Our lives are lost, all on drugs and alcohol ..our bodies full of scars that we have mutilated ourselves to look like tigers.

We act like strong monsters loud and aggressive but we are really just soft birds at the end ..
Our end is the same -- jail or dying !!  ....Til when ??

Hello everyone. We are Kazablanka and my brother Hamati from Ras Zanga ...
My brain is going to explain and all I need is some marijuana to settle down and forget our pain .

Everyone thinks about leaving the country illegally and living in Europe,
But you can't trust anyone anymore even to do that !!

We are getting skinny like Somalis .. We thought things will change after the revolution but all we got is a dick right in the ass ..

Worse and worse -- you cannot even think about setting up a decent legal business !!

In the end, we are fucked up .. our life is drugs and blood -- and the worst of it is that we have no regret ... Til when?