Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Blog
Tunisia has been on my mind.
In particular, I've been thinking about a group of young Tunisians I met almost two decades ago. They were cousins of a friend of mine who lived in the Washington area. He knew that I was going to Tunis to participate in a conference on democracy and he encouraged me to take some time to meet them.
They were bright and politically active on their campus and after a few hours talking to them I was so glad I had detoured from my conference to get to know them. They were quite challenging in their views and full of both anger and idealism and demands for change. But they were also kids and like college kids everywhere they were drawn to the changing culture of the times and wanted to share in all its possibilities. Most of all, they wanted to know what the future had in store for them.
When I returned to the conference later that day I spoke about these young people - of the need to be open to their idealism and their hopes for change and to be able to provide them with a vision of the future that would inspire them. Because the Justice Minister of Tunisia had just spoken, I turned to him and said, "you must engage and inspire them". Sadly, his response was harsh. He said that if they demanded and demonstrated in the streets they would be engaged by police and a strong hand.
I also recall that here were also strong and smart young Tunisian women at this conference who worried aloud about whether the secularism of the current order would prevail, allowing them to continue to play an active role in their society.
I wonder where those young students and women are today (they are not so young anymore). Their successor generation did engage in the streets and were met with a "strong hand" and the results are unfolding before our eyes.
The outcome of what is taking place in Tunisia is not clear. What is clear is that the "strong hand" was not the engagement that was needed, nor did it hold back the dreams and demands of the young. Where it goes from here remains uncertain. Will the change be progressive and open to full participation and will women benefit from this revolt? Answers to these and more questions will be coming in the days ahead. But right now, I am watching and wishing the best for all Tunisians.