Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Tunisian Rapper Arrested in Wake of Protests
For almost a month, Tunisia has been in upheaval. On December 17th a 26-year-old unemployed college graduate named Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself alive in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid; he would die in hospital three weeks later. In the meantime, his action has set off a wave of protest that has gripped every major city in Tunisia. Unemployment in Tunisia is officially 14%, though most experts estimate it to be much higher. The response of the notoriously corrupt ruling party, headed by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been indifference and more corruption.
Bouazizi's death clearly ignited a powder-keg of discontent. Since the protests took off in the days following, an estimated 50 people have been killed by police and troops.
It's notable, given how much sensational ink the US media spilled over the uprisings in Iran eighteen months ago, that the American papers are giving little attention to this new movement. That the Tunisian government is on nominally good terms with the US government no doubt plays a role. The similarities between the two popular movements are notable, though. Unemployment, poverty and undemocratic regimes have played a role in both. Like Iran, protesters have made use of Facebook and Twitter in coordinating their actions.
And it's for this reason that, like Iran, Tunisian authorities have done their best to quash these cultural tools. In the past days, several bloggers and other "internet activists" have been arrested. Some have been released.
Among those arrested was one Hamada Ben-Amor, a 22-year-old living in the Mediterranean city of Sfax. Ben-Amor is rapper and musician who goes by the moniker "the General." As the protests and riots gained steam, Ben-Amor took to the studio to record a song entitled "President, Your People Are Dying," which evidently takes up the myriad problems facing Tunisian youth and questions the legitimacy of Ben Ali's 23-year rule. It was soon posted on YouTube.
Last Friday, according to Ben-Amor's brother Hamdi, "Some 30 plainclothes policemen came to our house to arrest Hamada and took him away without ever telling us where to. When we asked why they were arresting him, they said 'he knows why.'"
No word yet on whether Hamada Ben-Amor has been released.
I have no idea what the General is saying in this song, but it's posted here out of solidarity more than anything else. Hip-hop's role as a music of global resistance has been cemented over the past decade, providing a generation of youth a vehicle with which to break the bonds of invisibility. It's this exact reason that the Tunisian government fears it.