Book | The lifeline of the Tunisian people: Hymn to the national mosaic
In his new book, Pierre-Noël Denieuil paints a group portrait of the Tunisian men and women who move the country through about thirty Tunisian personalities. The lifeline of a nation. Tunisians it is proof of the researcher’s love for the country he studied and visited for more than thirty years
Pierre-Noël Denieuil, emeritus director of research at Cnrs in France, author of several works on Tunisia and former director of the Institute for Research on the Modern Maghreb (Irmc), discovered Tunisia in 1988 during a colloquium organized in Sfax. He decides to dedicate his first book to the second largest Tunisian city and the collective intelligence of its entrepreneurs. The idea of writing a book with a wider perspective, in this case, “Tunisian”, persisted. The one about friendships made, about “entangled empathy”, about conducted field research. And also the maturing of Pierre-Noel Denieuil’s knowledge about this country, its population, small communities, challenges and transformations that are going through it, especially after the revolution of 2011. Since the researcher was present in Tunisia in January 2011.
« And since then we have continued to witness this resocialization of speech introduced into the Tunisian social bond. That is the subject of this book “, the author writes in his statement of intent, which precedes the introduction:” The lifeline of a nation. Tunisians “. The work of some 150 pages (Ateliers Henry Dougier, Paris, 2022) follows a parade of about thirty witnesses, all Tunisians except for the deceased white father, Jean Fontaine. Interviews, portraits, reportage… It is in this journalistic form that the researcher chose to present their Tunisians. Chérif Ferjani, Moncef Ouannes, Olfa Belhassine (author of these lines), Sihem Najjar, Sélim Ben Abdallah, Raoudha Guedri, Khookha Mc Queer, Dorra Bouchoucha, Sonia Mbarek, Fatma Kilani, Abdelkhalek Bchir and others… express themselves on topics that are close to the heart of the former director of the IRMC, topics ranging from the uniqueness of Tunisia to women, freedom of speech, civil society, culture and art, and the Tunisian diaspora.
Since the 1920s, feminism
Among the peculiarities of Tunisia is its early urbanization compared to other Maghreb countries. The historian Sophie Bessis, interviewed by the author, points out: “Carthage was the third city of the Roman world after Rome and Alexandria”. Among other features that set this country apart is its feminism, which emerged in the 1920s under the influence of Arab reformism. The first women’s associations were born in 1930. And if Bourguiba, as Sophie Bessis notes, bet on the education of girls and the adoption of an avant-garde code of personal status in order to consolidate the emancipation of women in reality, she cannot deviate from her state feminism.
« In the late 1970s, contemporary feminism emerged, growing in the context of the rise of political Islam. This feminism faced several challenges. The first was to expand the field of law to achieve equality. The second was the fight against the hegemony of the religious paradigm that primarily targets women. The third should not have been used by a dictatorial government that sold the image of a liberated woman as a showcase of its modernity “, adds the historian.
The chapter of the book entitled: “Women, the strong link of Tunisia”, continues this thinking initiated by Sophie Bessis. With interviews with Sana Ben Achour, lawyer and feminist activist, Khaoula Materi, anthropologist, Nadija Benzarti, psychologist and executive director of the Beity association, and Nedra Ben Smail, psychoanalyst.
For Sana Ben Achour, the founder of the Beity association in 2012, many things are intertwined: poverty, marginalization, dropping out of school and gender violence. In her remarks collected by the author, Sana Ben Achour returns to a controversy that has characterized debate forums in recent years, and which speaks volumes for the vigilance of Tunisian feminists, that of equality of inheritance.
« Equality in inheritance is not a luxury, and many women find themselves on the street because they are deprived of inheritance. 30% of the homeless are women whom Samu meets at night. This is not an ideological issue, it is first and foremost an issue of social justice. “, protested the lawyer.
new ways to resist
In this same spirit of resistance and commitment, the book gives voice to representatives of civil society, who embody new ways of demonstrating, protesting and moving order in Tunisia.
Whether they are the initiators of the Manich Msamah (I do not forgive) campaign, a young social movement with innovative slogans, or LGBTQ and queer activists, they all carry the ideals of the New Left or the awareness that diversity goes all the way to gender identity and plurality.
Therefore, for Ramy, a doctor and LGBTQ activist, conservative governments often lead to progress: “ because, unlike progressives, they motivate vigilance… ».
Ultras are “figures of extremes”, according to Pierre-Noel Denieuil. Sociologist Mohamed Jouili, whom he interviews on this topic, defines them as follows: They embody the history and defend the strong moments of the club, its belonging to the city, the region, its confrontations with the police as the first enemy, and other clubs as current enemies, the hostility towards the football business and the media that assess them as problematic criminals ».
The book shows that Tunisia is as rich in tradition, culture and taste as the debates and social movements that pervade it. And to Chef Foued Ftini for taking us on a journey to discover regional cuisines and countries where harissa is an ingredient” social sacred “. The chef goes on to discuss this consensual food: ” If you don’t like harissa, you’re not Tunisian! ».
Pierre-Noel Denieuil is in “The Life Line of a Nation. Tunisians” all his love for the country he has been visiting for more than thirty years. His admiration for “Tunisianness” seems to be boundless. This Tunisian soul he thinks is embodied in the search for consensus, awareness of dialogue and women, a strong link of the country.