Protests Break Kafkaesque Hold Of Tunis Government

The transitional government in Tunisia struggles to establish legitimacy. Human rights groups say state repression is still very much in place — including the secret police that ousted dictator Ben Ali relied on to control dissent for more than two decades. Tunisian writer Walid Soliman talks to Renee Montagne about his experiences during the political uprising.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The fast-moving and dramatic revolution in Tunisia has had all the elements of a well-plotted tale: the young fruit seller who touched off the uprising by setting himself on fire, the mass protests that spread around the country, the dictator who abandoned his presidential palace and fled.

Walid Soliman is a Tunisian writer of fiction and he also translates novels into Arabic. We reached him in his office in Tunis.

Thank you for joining us.

Mr. WALID SOLIMAN (Writer): Thank you.

MONTAGNE: You translate into Arabic text, some of the finest literature in the world. To name just a couple: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa -Nobel Prize winners, both. Is there a story or a piece of literature that you would say, in a way, this was us, this was Tunisia?

Mr. SOLIMAN: Look, there is a novel, very interesting novel, written by a Tunisian novelist who lives in France. The name of the writer is Bubecker Ayetti(ph). The title of this novel is "The Last Citizen." This writer tried to publish this book in Tunisia but could not, so he published it in France. It deals with the atmosphere - the oppressive atmosphere of the Tunisian society at the time of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

MONTAGNE: We're talking about Ben Ali, the former president.

Mr. SOLIMAN: This work now, it will take more importance because it tried to analyze the situation of Tunisia and the time of where everybody will have feared to express himself. You fear from your neighbor, you fear from somebody at the coffee shop. You are sitting and you see the photo of the president everywhere - in the shops, in the streets. And really, you feel like you are in a novel of Franz Kafka.

It was really a Kafkaesque atmosphere. Some time you feel that the president will go out in your room or something. It was really, very oppressive. I think this novel, it describes this atmosphere very well.

MONTAGNE: What about now? From the outside, it seems like Tunisia has been transformed, at least for the moment. What now, if you stepped out of the world of Kafka, whose world would you step into?

Mr. SOLIMAN: Now I think, let me say that YouTube is open. You can read the political articles in Internet. You can read the moment you can find it. Because before, at the time of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the mode was central. Now, you can read all the political stuff you want. You can express yourself.

Now, for example, I can write on my wall on Facebook, whatever I want - there is no fear. And I think that Tunisian people now, they will not accept any regime who will not allow them to express themselves. And I am among those Tunisian people who I will not allow anybody to censor me from now on. Because now we know the value of freedom, of expression. And if a regime is able to give us freedom of expression, it is welcome. Otherwise, I think people, they will make another revolution.

MONTAGNE: If you had to put a title to the events of the last several weeks, what would you call it?

Mr. SOLIMAN: I would call it, actually, a nightmare.

MONTAGNE: Wow.

Mr. SOLIMAN: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: After the nightmare.

Mr. SOLIMAN: I think I would say it was a (unintelligible) nightmare because we were living in a strange regime. Nobody knows what happened, because they tried to impose their views and you should believe that you live in the paradise, because everything was manipulated - the figures, the statistics, everything. And they used to tell us you are in the best country. It's the country of freedom; it's the country of economical miracle. And people, they cannot believe that because they live every day in a very difficult reality.

So, when you compare the figures and the statistics with what you live, you feel as if you are in a very strange nightmare. So, that was our situation before the departure of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. SOLIMAN: Thank you. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Walid Soliman is a Tunisian writer of short stories.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.