By Guest Contributor Tasnim, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch
On Friday, the President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia fled his homeland as it was engulfed by an uprising, sparked by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate who had taken to selling fruit in Sidi Bouzid. When authorities confiscated his wares for not having a license, Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building. Protests followed, as thousands took to the street in a movement fueled by rage over corruption among the elite.
Anger in Tunisia has been building up for years, with Laila Al Trabelsi, former first Lady of Tunisia and infamous as “The Queen of Carthage,” becoming a lighting rod for much of the dissent. As Larbi Sadiki puts it “The First Lady is almost the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos incarnate. But instead of shoes, Madame Leila collects villas, real estate and bank accounts.” Laila and the Trabelsi extended family are often referred to as “The Family” or “The Mafia” in Tunisia, and “No to the Trabelsis who looted the budget,” has been a popular slogan in the protests. The irony is that the references to Laila al Trabelsi have been the only mention of Tunisian women in the events leading up to the ousting of the regime. Unlike in Lebanon or in Iran, where Neda Agha-Soltan became a symbolic figure of resistance, there was little mention of the women who took part in the protests in Tunisia, or of the victims of the security forces response, such as the woman who was shot and killed in Nabeul.