4 February 2014

Tunisians Defy Societal Ills

Tunis — Joyful videos displaying groups of Tunisian youth as they dance to American singer Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" have garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

The dance clips published on social media represent a reaction by young people to the tense security, economic and political conditions in their country.

The first such video was shot in Bizerte, quickly going viral on social networking websites and garnering more than 174,000 views as of Monday (February 3rd), one month after it was posted online.

The video showcases a group of young people on the beach, at the port, and in central Bizerte dancing to the tune of "Happy."

"This is because we're happy in spite of everything," said Fairouz, who supervised the video.

Following the revolution, Tunisia witnessed acts of violence and terrorism, deterioration of purchasing power, and political instability that made some lose hope about getting out of the crisis.

Many songs emerged to reflect the painful reality facing young people. Most addressed the poverty, marginalisation and unemployment that have taken hold of Tunisia.

The most famous was "Houmani" by rapper Kafon, who was jailed for consuming cannabis, although his friends and fans believe he was imprisoned for his daring songs and criticism of the government.

"Citizens were disappointed after the revolution because of the uncertain landscape and vague future, especially young people, who believe that nothing has changed in their condition," said 45-year-old teacher Mohamed Naceri.

"This is one form of self-expression and an outlet so they don't explode. I personally prefer this to extremism and terrorism," he told Magharebia.

Meanwhile, radical religious groups did not share the same view about this show of happiness.

"This is debauchery and moral decay that can't continue," said 21-year-old student Seif Bin Moussa.

For her part, employee Zahra Hamedi, 50, said, "Tunisian youths are an active force who led the revolution and can't be restrained or prevented from expressing their opinion using all means."

Tunisia's new constitution includes several articles guaranteeing the freedom of opinion, belief, expression and conscience.

The online music videos were not restricted to Bizerte, as others quickly emerged from many Tunisian cities, such as Kairouan, Sousse, and Tunis.

This is not the first show of defiance against the difficult conditions faced by youth.

In March 2013, groups of students filmed the "Tunisian Harlem Shake" at high schools in protest against salafists.

Director Mohamed Thabeti on January 18th posted the Kairouan "Happy" video that was shot in the central town area of the city, known for the religiosity of its residents and spread of salafist groups.

"We lived two years of frustration and restrictions and I think the best thing to come out of this tunnel is singing and dancing in spite of everything Tunisia can be out of the bottleneck," said 22-year-old student Rim Bin Hamid.

However, some viewers attributed this form of expression and protest to a small group of well-to-do people.

"I don't think that those young people represent more than 1 per cent of Tunisia's youth," Houda Belti, 37, told Magharebia.

"There are millions of marginalised young people in villages, rural areas and popular neighbourhoods who are not concerned with this in the first place, and this is really unfortunate," the engineer said.

She added, "However, this doesn't mean that the movement is not nice and the idea good too."

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