Hind Meddeb

Documentary · 2014

Tunisia Clash

This film is a road movie across Tunisia, from slums to deserts, to capture the pulse of Tunisian youth that might be liberated — but are not yet free from worry.

 

Oh yeah? We’ve made a great revolution?
Give me a match so I can burn the government’s script
The prisons are full of innocent people
At the next elections, I’ll vote for my butcher
The government is sucking our blood
The people in charge are getting fat […]
Insulting the system is my livelihood
Our rap is more listened to than your president

Klay BBJ feat. Phenix, Hchihahoulna

 

In Tunisia, rap was a form of resistance under the dictatorship, and naturally became one of the voices of the revolution in 2011. After the fall of the dictator, Tunisian rappers continued to describe the world they lived in. Their videos on YouTube get hundreds of thousands of hits. They speak out against authoritarian tendencies by the new government. They became one of the voices that demand promises from the democratic transition. After 2012, they started to be the target of the police and the courts, to intimidate them into silence. In making this movie, I became a committed witness to an alternative movement that's fighting for its rights in Tunisia.

With the rapper Phenix, I took the road of Tunisian rap of resistance, from the poor suburbs of Tunis to the desert roads of the south, in the Gafsa mining district and in Sidi Bouzid, cities of the periphery where the revolution started. Weld el 15, Madou, Emino, they have all served time in prison for their ideas. This new generation of activists, followed by millions on social media, is looking for new forms of protest. For them, revolution was not only a historical event; it’s a daily struggle. Far from relying on political parties, the Tunisian revolution came from below: first of all, it was young people from the working classes who took to the streets. At the heart of the movement were the rappers. Aged around twenty, coming from deprived suburbs, they had some good reasons to make revolutionary demands.

After the fall of the Ben Ali regime, they thought they were entitled to say anything and everything from then on, and that the revolution had bequeathed them freedom of expression. Just as they had denounced dictatorship, they now openly criticized the newly elected government and a corrupt system that was taking too long to be reformed. Because they claimed social justice, their words were disturbing, to such a degree that they were the object of unprecedented repression: arrested in the middle of concerts, sentenced to prison terms for their words, and harassed day in day out by the police. The judicial zeal that they were victims of in 2012-2013 shows how disturbing their words were. The influence they had on young people scared the powers-that-be.

Three days after the fall of Ben Ali, I met Madou and his street rapper friends living in the working-class Kabaria neighborhood, ten miles south of Tunis. Spontaneously, to protect themselves from the militias of the old regime who were still attacking the population, they got together in the evenings to form committees to defend their neighborhood. Around a fire, they use their cell phones as beatboxes, singing songs like “A Dog’s Life”:

“Where is the word of truth? Where is the voice of the people? Islam is my religion. Behind the mic, I do my solo. No light, we express ourselves in the shadow. Nobody tells me what I have to say. Brother, I say what is on the tip of my tongue. They’ve forgotten me, they’ve tortured me. My country is Tunisia. My language is Arabic. I’m young, I’m an artist, a Muslim, a fighter!”

In his writings, Madou mixes French and Arabic. He tells us how the young people of Kabaria took to the streets to fight Ben Ali’s police, setting fire to their local police station, symbol of years of oppression: “Save your time! It’s us who’ve made the revolution! It’s me, him, the guy in front of us and then the guy you can see over there too!”

Between 2011 and 2013, I travelled back and forth to Tunis, organizing my shoots to fit the political and musical calendar. On 23 October 2011, the Ennahda Islamist party won a majority of votes at the parliamentary elections. A year after Ben Ali’s fall, the freedom of expression that Tunisians thought they had won was in trouble. Two months after its election, the new coalition in power started to stifle the voices of the revolution. The Ennahda and its allies did not brook any criticism, probably for lack of any democratic culture. Rappers were in the line of fire, and suffered insidious and systematic repression. The crunch came on 21 February 2012. Arrests came thick and fast. The system was much more pernicious than in Ben Ali’s day. Tunisians had believed in freedom of expression, they were no longer hiding themselves to say what they thought, and they became easy prey. After the release of his clip Bastardo, in which he spoke against the hypocrisy of the Ennahda party using religion for political ends, Abdesslem Naouali, alias Phenix, was in his turn arrested on Thursday 28 June 2012 under false pretences, for using cannabis. In prison he met up with his childhood buddy, Aladin alias Weld el 15. When they emerged from prison, full of rage, they denounced the police violence and the bad treatment they had suffered, and criticized the government of the day, which had in no way changed the repressive system it had inherited. Ben Ali’s fall didn’t drag down the police State. The rapper Weld el 15 decided to film the clip of Boulicia Kleb (‘the cops are dogs”), a song he composed while behind bars. Most of the directors he turned to refused to work with him, scared by the violence of his words. Aladin ended up making the clip himself with the help of a young cameraman. The video went online on 3 March 2013 on YouTube. In no time, the police published death threats against the rapper on the social networks, and in the middle of the night burst in on his family. As luck would have it, he was not home. Weld el 15 stayed on the run for several months. It was at that particular moment that I met him and started filming “Tunisia Clash”. Since the YouTube broadcast of the clip of his song Boulicia Kleb, he has become an icon, the voice of rebellion. In just a few weeks, the clip had more than a million views on YouTube. In this song, he tells his own story: a young guy arrested for smoking cannabis, beaten and thrown into prison. Over and above the violence of the idea and the rage it expresses, the song describes an everyday reality: a two-tier justice system (if he had been the son of a rich family, he could have bribed the officials and been freed), and the perpetuation of the police brutality, which Tunisians thought they had got rid of. With his song, he launched a debate about police violence. His friend, the anarchist rapper Phenix, is quite sure that the relentless legal zeal being used against them is linked to their influence in working-class neighborhoods.

On 13 June 2013, Weld el 15 was sentenced to two years in prison and locked up. The international mobilization to demand his release would enable his lawyers to obtain his release on appeal. But when he was freed from prison, he continued to be harassed by policemen who recognized him in the street. In August 2013, he was once again arrested at the end of a concert. In just eighteen months he had five court cases and was sentenced to three prison terms. He has probably had the most media coverage, but he is far from being the only Tunisian artist to have been harassed since the revolution. The rappers Phenix, Weld el 15 and Klay BBJ have become the symbol of this Tunisian youth, which made the revolution and kept fighting for basic human rights. Young people follow their posts on social media: from the posh neighborhoods of La Marsa to the worker towns of the southern mining region. “Tunisia Clash” tells their story.

DETAILS

2014

On screen: Phenix | collectif Thug Prod de Gafsa | MC Dya | Azyz Amami | Madou MC | Lil K | Klay BBJ | Shayma | Weld el 15 | Emino |

Original music: |

Produced by Un Monde Meilleur
In coproduction with Tanit |

Supported by: Screen Institute Beirut | Lina Lazaar | Film Factory |

Distribution: Monoduo Films |

 

FESTIVALS

FAME (Film and Music Experience)

Journées cinématographiques de Carthage

AFLAM