1001 night village with 250 voters – Elections in Tunisia

First Arab Spring elections are to be held in Tunisia on Sunday 23 October 2011. nonfiXe went to smell the Jasmine of the uprising and temp the ambiance. Reportage about campaigning Khaled Chouket in the rural region Bir Ali, Sfax.

A blond unveiled middle-aged woman is seated next to Khaled Chouket at the meeting of Almajd party – party of Glory – in Sfax, Tunisia on October 16, 2011. She doesn’t speak during the meeting attended by some fifty people, most of which still haven’t made up their mind on who to vote for. 116 Parties have joined the Tunisian election for a national assembly that will write the country’s new constitution. Election date is on Sunday 23 October 2011.

Caro Sicking for nonfiXe

After the meeting the blond walks around disorientated, while party leader Chouket talks to a Dutch television crew. When asked her opinion she states that women’s rights need to be protected. Nothing more, nothing less. She just repeats her words like an old gramophone that got stuck.

Modern looks

Apparently she was chosen for her looks; not too young, not too old, and not wearing a veil. This to modernize the scenery. Chouket wants to beat the uprising of the Islamic Ennahdha movement that is predicted to win a majority in tomorrow’s elections in Tunisia. And he knows that should Almajd win, there will be only one seat in the assembly, his seat. ‘I’d like to become minister of Culture,’ the president of the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival states later when we join him in the car for a campaign trip to rural area.

From Hollandia

Khaled Chouket of Tunisian/Dutch origin returned to his country of naissance back packed with European university education and politics. In Rotterdam he was a member of the city council for the left party Groen Links. ‘They have a good opinion on migrants,’ Chouket states driving out of Sfax direction Bir Ali. Now Chouket is the leader of the liberal Almajd, number 11 on the Tunisian election list. On the way his father and other family members join in another car. ‘I have a family of 70.000, we will go there to convince them to vote for me. My great grandfather Ali Ben Khalifa led the first uprising against the French in 1881’ The politician is blazing with confidence while we drive through amazing landscapes.

Left – Right

‘My agenda in Tunisia is not leftwing, because I think Tunisia needs something different. We need to invigorate the democratic base and cultural freedom. In Tunisia there is no tradition of dialogue.’ In the back of the car I wonder why a left politic vision should not be able to form the base for free politics and culture. How is it possible that a left politician in Europe turns right as soon as his feet touch Maghreb ground? How can he behave as directive as Chouket does, telling people what to think without listening to what they want to say? But I don’t get the chance to ask these questions.

Polder model in the Maghreb

What did Chouket learn as a representative in Rotterdam? ‘Polder model’, he answers. ‘I want to throw a conference on the Polder model.’ ‘Which is outlived. Dutch politics lost its’ credibility. There are better ways,’ Frank van Empel says. The man on the wheel doesn’t seem to listen. He analyses that Ben Ali was nothing more than an engine driver on a riding train, started by Bourguiba. ‘And a bad dictator, yes.’

We stop. Apparently the guide took a wrong turn, which is not surprising in this sandy, pre-Sahara area with no paved roads.

Ancien politique

While Chouket argues outside with the drivers of the two other cars, Facebook activist Emna Dabbech takes notes in Arabic next to me in the back of the car. The 21-year-old student that marched day and night in the danger zone of the threatened Ben Ali regime looks disappointed with this Dutch politician. He doesn’t live up to the expectations. He is ‘ancien politique’, old politics, she whispers in my ear.

No dialogue

When we finally stop, it is at a small building, some kind of shop, next to which a few men stand waiting. Mongi Farhani, who has been filming Chouket at the drivers seat, jumps out of the car for footage: Chouket with members of his tribe talking politics. An angry young man enters the scene. He doesn’t want to be filmed. ‘What are you doing here? In your fancy suit, with your good education and your shiny car? Where were you when we suffered?’ The other men are silent. Chouket is taken by surprise. Anger rises through his veins. ‘I was invited to come here to talk to you.’ Unable to veil his anger he starts to shout. ‘Why don’t you shut him up?’ he asks the party in high tone. ‘I don’t need your votes!’ The others stay silent. Maybe they agree with the youngster.

They will vote for me

After some minutes of shouting the quick tempered politician drives away, gassing madly. One of the elders stops him and apologizes. Chouket blazes back, shouts about a dirty street dog and a clochard insulting him. He doesn’t get his act together and drives off like a spoiled child that did not get his way.

We stop at an amazing 1001 night village amidst desert sand and olive trees. Here Choukets’ mothers’ uncle lives. Chouket and his father talk to our host and the other elders that joined us. ‘They will vote for me,’ he says later in the car on the way to the next meeting. ‘My uncle will tell them to.’

No public service

The darkness is vast and silence can be heard when we enter a small village. Emna and I are led to the women, while men gather around Chouket. ‘Do you want to sit with the women?’ she asks. ‘We’ve seen enough of the men, don’t you think?’ The room is colourful but poverish. Dawazleil, 63 years old, sits on the mattress behind a small coal fired teapot with her mother in law next to her. The old woman’s face is tattooed with tribal signs that paled through the 92 years of her age. Ablasize smiles friendly while her daughter in law asks Emna if I am going to be the next president of Tunisia. ‘Presidents are always accompanied by translators,’ she explains and agrees to talking to us and having pictures taken. Her grandson enters the room and we get cola and cookies.

The women explain their situation. The house is cheap, one TDN per month. But life is expensive and they earn 5 TDN – €2.50 – a day breaking their backs in state-owned olive plantations. In this area there are no public services, garbage roams the unpaved streets, there is no sewerage, no water tap. If they have to go to the hospital it takes at least an hour to get there.

No, they will not vote. They are not registered in this village of 500 people. Or, in the words of Chouket, ‘250 voters’.

He needs a future

A loud voice from the other room indicates that Khaled Chouket is spreading his mission. Some men leave the gathering and join us. ‘Help this boy. His father died thirteen years ago,’ one of them pleas with me. ‘His name is Mohamed Emile. He needs education. He needs food. He needs a future. When it rains, he can’t go to school, because the roads are flushed, buses don’t drive and school is too far to walk. When we need to travel, we travel by animal.’ The boy smiles shyly. ‘Talk to the politician.’ The man shakes his head. He has no confidence in politics.

nonfiXe, 16 October 2011, Sfax, Tunisia

On this reportage: Frank van Empel, Mongi Farhani, Emna Dabbech and Caro Sicking

Images by Frank van Empel & Caro Sicking:

Almajd gathering in Sfax, Rural area region Bir Ali, small shop where men awaited Khaled Chouket, Chouket and family members, Albasize, Dawazleil and Mohamed Emile in their house, traffic in Bir Ali region.

Source material for the novel ‘Asfour, on betrayal’ by Caro Sicking.

To a democratic Tunisia – Inshallah

Next Sunday, October 23 2011, elections are held in Tunisia. 116 parties join. The chosen ones will gather in an assembly to write the new constitution of the country. The world is watching. Will the Tunisian achieve in holding peaceful, free, transparent elections?

nonfiXe talked to politicians and voters, trying to temp the ambiance, in Tunis, Kef and Sfax. The head quarters of Ennahdha in Kef.

Tunisia was the first Arab country to rise against dictatorship and a lightning example to others. After the toppling of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, Egypt walked Tahrir square, Libya fought Gaddafi, Syria’s Assad came under siege and regimes in the whole region rocked to their foundations, because all of a sudden people are prepared to pay with their lives for freedom.

Next Sunday, October 23 2011, elections are going to be held in Tunisia. 116 parties join in. The elected will gather in an assembly to write the new constitution of the country. The world is watching. Will the Tunisians achieve peaceful, free, transparent elections?

nonfiXe talked to politicians and voters, trying to temp the ambiance, in Tunis, El Kef and Sfax.

By Caro Sicking

At the headquarters of the Islamic Ennahdha movement in El Kef, October 15, people walk in and out in excitement. Today’s campaigning event went fine. Ennahdha is expected to win a majority these elections, even though there are still a lot of Tunisians afraid the party will try to implement strict Islamic regulations.

Ennahdha, often mentioned in one sentence with the Muslim Brotherhood, denies all allegations in respect of fundamentalist ideas and discrimination of women.


Mr Kadour spent four years in jail where Ben Ali’s men tortured him. As a consequence of this, his left shoulder hangs lower then his right, the hand swags along like a dead animal behind a wagon. His left eye looks like a dazed star and speaking is difficult. He is lucky, he says. His wife stood with him, all these years. Although he was not allowed to work and had to report at the police four times a day after his release from jail. This little scarred man is not a criminal, he was an opponent of the Tunisian regime that held the country in a tight smothering grip for 23 years. Today, seventeen years after his release, he finally can open up about his membership of the Islamist party Nahdha – short for Ennahdha. A party that was forbidden for decades.



Ennahdha (Renaissance) writes in it’s English version of the program that it is a movement for justice, freedom and development of Tunisia: Anyone who studies the path of Tunisia’s civilization and culture over the last 150 years can perceive a three-dimensional public awareness within society and its cultural, political and administrative elites. The first is an awareness of the country’s civilizational backwardness compared to the progress achieved by western nations, which has given rise to power, pride and prosperity thanks to the liberation of minds from illusions and the freedom from despotic rule. The second is a deep consciousness of the absolute necessity of bridging this gap by making every possible effort to acquire modern science and technology and develop administrative and political institutions so as to achieve efficiency, develop effective means of production and avert the scourge of despotism. The third is a deep awareness of, and confidence in, the validity of Islam and its heritage as a value and cultural reference and a basis for this project of reform and modernization through ijtihad (creative interpretation), tajdid (renewal), and the activation of dialogue with the contemporary concerns, sciences, and achievements of the modern age. These dimensions form the essence of the reform project and their relative significance continues to be the subject of ongoing debate.’ You can read the English summary of the program on the website of Ennahdha.

Revolution of the youth

After January 14, 2011, dictator Ben Ali finally resigned, or better fled. He was the first Arab dictator that succumbed to his people. One of which is with us today, visiting the Nahdha quarters in the city of Kef. Her name is Emna Dabbech, she is 21 years old and has to be in at the Tunis university campus before nine at night. Emna is always on time, but not last January when she spent days and nights at Kasba square in Tunis, shouting ‘Dégage’ and demanding freedom for herself and her people. Emna belongs to the brave facebook activists that organize themselves through social media and raise numbers, masses, to protest. She has the open face of youth and hope, certain of a better future, a free future. This revolution is the revolution of the young with the scent of jasmine hovering over it. ‘We will never allow dictatorship again’, Emna states with determination, in between translating Kadour’s words at the Nahdha headquarters.

Kif kif

‘Thirty thousand of us have been in prison,’ Mr Kadour explains. ‘I lost my brothers and dear friends.’ He insists on telling their names. His soft voice merges in the words of other party members that flow into the room. Everybody wants to be heard. They all have stories like Kadour.

Somebody lets us into another room. ‘It is too noisy and busy here.’ He explains: ‘Some think we are fundamentalists, they are afraid we will implement the Sharia on Tunisia. The Sharia is for truth finding. La politique et l’église, c’est kif kif.

Turkey’s model

We sit down at a large table, surrounded by candidates that just arrived back from campaigning. Mounira El Omri is second on the list, she is an intelligent looking middle-aged woman wearing a veil. ‘God created all human beings equal,’ she states. ‘Our party has been opposing Ben Ali during his reign. We suffered, many Tunisian suffered. The power belongs with the people. We want to change Tunisia, fight corruption and bureaucracy and look for cooperation abroad. Our country needs investments from the West. We are already talking about projects with France and Italy. We want to develop the tourist sector. We strive for a modern Islam, like Turkey, our philosopher Rached Ghannouchi is aspirator to the Republic of Turkey as well.’


‘I am very proud of yesterdays’ demonstration against Nessma. We showed that we can object without violence,’ Mrs El Omri says. Nessma is the television broadcast that showed Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis. A film celebrated in the West, but considered blasphemy in Islam spheres due to a drawing of Allah.

Tunisian sources say the big demonstration against the tv station is also due to the opportunist policy of the director who openly praised Ben Ali when he was in power and now claims to be a front runner on freedom of speech.

The upheaval around Persepolis shows Tunisia’s struggle with the practice of democracy; What is freedom? How far can one go? How to deal with the grey area of one person’s liberty and the other’s sensibility? In the case of Nessma Tunisia chose to vote with their feet, advertisements were withdrawn and the majority protested peacefully, blocking the channel from their tv-sets. Only a small group of Salafists choose the violent way, threatened the director and threw stones. ‘That is not the Ennahdha way,’ Mrs El Omri states with kind persistence.

Before we leave, fruit is offered. ‘To a democratic Tunisia! Inshallah.’

nonfiXe, Kef, 15 October 2011

Images Frank van Empel, nonfiXe. On top: Mounira El Omri, Emna Dabbech and Hayet Arar. Middle: the Ennahdha headquarter at Kef, Tunisia. Last: Election wall showing 116 parties, Tunis

On this reportage: Frank van Empel, Mongi Farhani, Emna Dabbech and Caro Sicking

This article is among the sources for ‘Asfour, on betrayal’, novel by Caro Sicking.

Power To The People

Say you want a revolution

We better get on right away

Well you get on your feet

And out on the street

Singing power to the people

Power to the people, right on

(John Lennon)

State of Mind

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

Libya, August 22, 2011. But still the collapse of the Gaddafi forces comes as a surprise. The end is near for ‘one of the world’s most flamboyant and mercurial political figures, the leader of an idiosyncratic government that was frequently as bizarre as it was brutal’ (a description of the New York Times). Gaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in 1969, the same year as the flower power  ‘make-peace-not-war coup’ in Woodstock. While Richie Havens shouted ‘Freedom’ across the fields of North America, dictators ruled 80% of the people in the world. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe colonels and generals buffered weapons, power & money. With the exception of Italy. Not by chance one of the six early members of the European Union.

Jan 14, Ben Ali, Tunisia;

Feb 11, Mubarak, Egypt;

Aug 22, Gaddafi, Libya;

France, Great-Britain and the US are backing the People of North Africa in rolling back the carpet. They have changed strategy and tactics. No fights in unknown jungles, mountains or hostile cultures  (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan)  anymore, but a helping hand from the air, some wise advice and verbal power play. ‘Tonight, the momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,’ Barack Obama said in a statement, early this morning. ‘Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Gaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.’ It was a message for other old-fashioned dictators as well. People simply don’t take it anymore, all those commands from empty suits and uniforms.


Revolutions not only take place on the streets of unstable countries in South America, Asia or Africa. They happen in the minds of other people too. From the Sixties until halfway the Eighties of last century a so-called Cognitive Revolution happened in the psychological perception of the human mind. The human mind is some kind of computer, scientists stated. A cold data processor, a machine without feelings. At the end of the century emotions, feelings and intuitions entered the mind, during a silent ‘Affective Revolution’. They blew up the image of our ordered minds, that are supposed to weigh the pros and cons of whatever against each other. It was just a passage to a third revolution in half a century. Now it was the turn of the neuroscientists to hold the red flag. They use super sensitive machines to scan our minds in order to measure our brain activity. As a result we have to deal with controversial conclusions like: Man has no free will. The idea that we control our behavior with our thoughts, is an illusion. Our minds don’t steer our bodies consciously. More than we realize our behavior is determined by factors beyond our control. ‘Can they prove it,’ you may ask. ‘Well…yes’. With this famous experiment by Benjamin Libet (1985): the neuroscientist asks the subject to raise a finger at a self chosen moment and watch a clock to time exactly when it noticed the consciously taken decision to move the finger. In the meantime the researcher measured the brain activity. Conclusion: a half of a second before someone reported the decision brain-activity already reached its peak.

Our behavior is steered by fear and lust, by all kinds of impulsive feelings, intuitions, expectations, frustrations. You name it! We decide on the hoof, not behind a desk. When we are confronted with a choice that has to be taken we immediately have a feeling about it, positive or negative. Go for it, because what rests is: reasoning towards a conclusion that’s already been drawn. Motivated reasoning. If we follow this way of thinking, we’ll have to conclude that it doesn’t make sense to just tell people what to do. There’s a big chance that you’ll get disappointed by the result.

The central statement of this article is that dictators still live in the Cognitive Revolution, using terror to keep mouths shut. Now that mouths are digital words & images and individuals became networks, the power of knowledge, mobilization of dissatisfied citizens, and command are closer to the bottom than to the top of any community or organization. Steering nowadays is more complex than 42 years ago.


Jane Jacobs, an American-Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning, already in 1961 stated: ‘You can’t make people use streets they have no reason to use. You can’t make people watch streets they do not want to watch.’ It was a strong argument in a monologue about how to secure streets where the public space is unequivocally public and badly in need of eyes to secure safety for people more or less. A government, any government, that tries to convince or enforce people to fill up empty streets for the sake of security of the ones that live there or the strangers who don’t know better, is doomed to fail. Jacobs: ‘The safety of the street works best, most casually, and with least frequent taint of hostility or suspicion precisely where people are using and most enjoying the city streets voluntarily and are least conscious, normally, that they are policing.’[2] The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores, bars, restaurants and other public spaces sprinkled along the sidewalks. Moreover, there should be many different kinds of enterprises, to give people reasons for crisscrossing paths. There’s more to say about this, but the message is clear: people don’t want to be pushed around by policymakers and authorities to make them change their behavior. They want freedom of choice. And if they don’t get it, they are going to take it, by clustering in multitudes, by winning back the streets and squares for private purpose and the community of people at large. Public servants that want them to change habits and routines, will have to act more clever. Iron weapons are not enough anymore. Sustainable power is more about development, experiment, and coordination, than about command, tell, sell and planning. One track minded dictators don’t make it anymore. They simply don’t understand the system, they cannot handle chaos.

The making of reality isn’t a linear process from a to z. As Herbert Butterfield, a British historian and philosopher of history, says (1965): ‘History is full of accidents and conjunctures and curious juxtapositions of events and it demonstrates to us the complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men.’[3] So, even if the government is smart and chooses for the subtle tactics of obliquity[4], the government cannot be sure of people’s real behavior. The only thing we can do is: trying to influence the context from which decisions are taken. Try to influence the mood of people with inspiring fine arts, qualitative outstanding architecture, flowers, colors, yellow, orange.

Human nature is diverse.  It is also mutable, for better or worse. And it is influenced not just by one-to-one interactions, but by the multitudinous society in which each of us is embedded.[5] (…) ‘A push and a pull; a tension between conflicting desires. This is all it takes to tip our social behaviour into complex and often unpredictable patterns, dictated by influences beyond our immediate experience or our ability to control.’[6] We  can try to see patterns in complex structures like human behaviour and react on that, or we can learn to trust our feelings, our intuition and our mind’s eye and make our own choice impulsively.

Back to Tripoli. Whats next? Let tweets talk.

Mobile Web * 22-08-11

#Libya is almost freed. Now #Syria is next without forgetting about #Bahrein and the criminal Khalifa regime. Bahraini, keep the pressure up.

Assad when your people turn against you your army will melt away and desert you.

Assads message: our govt will not fall.

People’s message: We WILL topple you!

nonfiXe, August 22, 2011

[1] Juxtaposition is the placement of two things (usually abstract concepts, though it can refer to physical objects) near each other.

[2] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books Edition, December, 1992, p.36.

[3] Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, New York, 1965 p.p. 21/66.

[4] Obliquity is the notion that complex goals are often best achieved indirect. For example, happiness is the product of fulfillment in work and private life, not the repetition of pleasurable actions, so happiness is not achieved by pursuing it. The most profitable companies are not the most dedicated to profit.

[5] Philip Ball, critical mass, how one thing leads to another, Arrow books, 2004, p. 537.

[6] Idem p 588.

[7] Ian Robertson, the mind’s eye, Bantam Books, 2003, p 12-37.

Libya, the larger picture

Thursday, March 17, 2011; 9:12 AM

‘In Benghazi – Libya’s rebel-controlled second largest city – opposition protesters are buoyed by news that fighters in a nearby town have beaten back an offensive by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

While some in the city are apprehensive that the war may still come to their door step, they remain defiant, vowing to fight on to defeat Gaddafi’s troops.’

 Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reports from Benghazi.

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

Tunesia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain… the freedom virus is spreading rapidly. People all over the world want to be treated fairly and with respect and dignity, even by tyrants. But Gaddafi does not get it. He has missed some clues. For instance the clue from Tunesia where the 26 year old fruitseller Mohammed Bouazizi burned his life away on December 17, 2010 after a female police officer claimed the balance to weigh his products while selling. She slashed him in the face too. Mohammed Bouazizi went to claim his right, but was denied an answer and stripped once again from his dignity by the authorities. His last words: ‘If nobody listens to me, I set myself on fire’. And he did.

(Trailer Al Sharara, the fuse, a movie by Mongi Farhani)

What arrogant dictators like Ben Ali (Tunesia), Mubarak (Egypt) and Gaddafi (Libya) didn’t expect, happened in a wink. Bouazizi was the fuse in a powder keg. The People made clear that they had enough. They prooved even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference. They resisted oppression and came together on the streets and squares. Bouazizi not only changed Tunesia. He has changed Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco. He  brought hope to Palestina, Ethiopia, Iran and dozens of other countries.

The larger picture shows that it even changed the opinion of Westerners on Moslims. Western people sympathize with freedom fighters. With one spark Bouazizi neutralized the Twin Towers act of Bin Laden & Al Qaeda. And with the USA he changed the balance of power in the Middle East. The larger picture also shows that there is a spirit that rises above the borders of nation states into the wide open: the spirit of freedom, equality and friendship, the spirit of democracy.

Nationstates are constructions of the past. The borders are silent witnesses of wars and trade offs. They are not natural. And because they are not natural they have to be defended by guns and soldiers. Defended against the evil that may come from abroad: real evil, like Al Quada kamikaze pilots, but also poor South American Adventurers and African freedomseekers. Democratic principles that are manifest for internal affairs and citizens do not go for foreigners. Strange. Either you have principles or you don’t have principles. Democratic principles in particular should apply to everyone who wants to live the life we Westerners live.

Democracy is much more than just a form of government. It is a way of life that we can try to sketch in words, but that is impossible to define. It’s something bigger than life. For instance it says that democrats shall not boss or rule others who have fewer or no means to redress. Its history goes back in time some 2600 years. The roots are in the Middle East: Babylon, the area we nowadays call Iran and Iraq. Countries that got lost somewhere between then and now. Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy took over.

After the fall of the Roman Empire a dark episode of 1000 years, called the Middle Ages, followed. Then democracy popped up in Europe and the US. Since 1989 democracy is a hit in Eastern Europe as well. The EU system of enlargement has much to do with the growth of incomes and jobs in places that used to be a dictatorship.

The story of democracy cannot be told in a few lines, but one thing is for sure: Gaddafi is an anti democrat. In his name people whose biggest crime is that they want to be democrats too, are being massacred. They don’t only shout it, they show it, by risking their lives in order to overthrow dictatorship. The protesters in Northern Africa and the Middle East don’t want to get screwed anymore by no-brainers that have gathered weapons and trigger-happy crooks around their villas. They have enough of unfairness, display of power, sexual abuse and the lack of money due to stealing practices of high placed blind followers of rulers.

It is time, it is high time for Obama, Merkel, Kroes, Rutte, Sarkozy and all other so-called democrats to stand up for the rights of the weak, to tame gunpowers like Gaddafi, to empower people everywhere, so that they can work, earn income and live the life we live. Take notion of the word ‘everywhere’. The taming of power should be the nr. 1 mission of democrats all over the world, no matter where they come from. It is a big but necessary step forward on the way to sustainable peace and happiness for everyone. A democratic Vistas (named after an essay of the 19th century American writer Walt Whitman), based on the principle that no concentrations of unaccountable power will be tolerated anymore by the United Democrats.

We go even further. Europe, the USA and other places of Wealth and Prosperity have to open their doors for likeminded democrats. To asylum seekers who never practiced their democratic rights we will extend a warm welcome. In order for them to experience the democratic way of life. To quote another American writer, Gary Snyder: ‘It is also a new thought that anyone of any cultural or racial background who chooses to learn, love and respect the North American (and European, fve) continent and its human and nonhuman inhabitants – and its ecosystems and watersheds – can be a sort of honorary Native American (European, fve).’

nonfiXe, March 17, 2011

Even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference

The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and dignity. Mohammed Bouazizi was pushed around one time too many. He resisted in the ultimate way: he committed suicide and by doing so he set the Middle East on fire.

‘The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and a say in the decisions that shape their lives,’ Philip Woods writes on Friday, March 4th, 2011. ‘It is a reminder too that democracy itself is evolving and grows from the experience of our everyday lives.’

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

According to Woods, in organisations and societies of the 21st century there are signs and signals of a fundamental, paradigmatic change in how we view and make it work. There is evidence of a shift away from the pyramidic hierarchy and towards democratic forms that enable people to flourish as whole people who are spiritually, socially and ecologically connected. The organisational democracy that is growing now however is qualitatively different from simply involving and consulting people more often. It is about bringing both greater participation and greater meaning to our lives. It’s about what Woods terms ‘holistic democracy’.

One of the drivers is the intrinsic conviction that people have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them, to have their voices heard and their rights to freedom respected, and that those in power should be accountable for its use. It is part of a long-term evolution. This basic motivation to make power accountable is compelling governments to change they way they work and to open up decision-making. This is not simply about voting. It is about: sharing power and facilitating dialogue as part of the culture; enabling people to make decisions, work flexibly and collaboratively, and initiate change; giving people the entitlement to open and transparent information; and having systems and spaces through which people can influence, and own, the vision and strategies of society.

The driver of democracy concerns the opportunity to find and create higher meaning: to express spiritual, artistic and creative impulses; to enjoy the intrinsic value of relationships and the warmth of caring human bonds; to live ethically and to learn and grow as full human beings. Underlying this is the recognition that people want more than mundane, repetitive lives.

The question is how deep this democracy goes. The wise government uses the instrumental drive to enhance involvement as a way of creating holistic democracy – a culture that pervades society and through which leadership is dispersed and shared with people as whole human beings.

Dictators such as Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, don’t fit into this picture. They must have been asleep, or just did not notice the radical changes in the mindset of the people they are used to command, rob and  rape. In relation to the Ben Ali’s of this world the ordinary man seems powerless. But the Ali Mu Gafi’s are oblivious to the one power all people have: to commit suicide. Like the 26 year old Tunasian Mohammed Bouazizi did. The fruitseller burned his life away on December 17, 2010 after a female police officer claimed the balance to weigh his products while selling. She slashed him in the face too. Mohammed Bouazizi went to claim his right, but was denied an answer and stripped once again from his dignity by the authorities. His last words: ‘If nobody listens to me, I set myself on fire’. And he did.

What the Ben Ga Baraks didn’t expect, happened in a wink. Bouazizi was the fuse in a powder keg. The People made clear that they had enough. They prooved even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference. They resisted oppression and came together on the streets and squares. Bouazizi not only changed Tunesia. He has changed Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco. He  brought hope to Palestina, Ethiopia, Iran and dozens of other countries.

The larger picture shows that it even changed the opinion of Westerners on Moslims. Western people sympathize with freedom fighters. With one spark Bouazizi neutralized the Twin Towers act of Bin Laden & Al Qaeda. And with the USA he changed the balance of power in the Middle East. They may have stolen his balance, but Bouazizi may have claimed a 1000000 x mightier balance instead.

nonfiXe, March 6 2011

Image: poster Al Sharara. Filmer Mongi Farhani documented the Tunesian upraise which started in his hometown: Al Sharara (the fuse).

Philip Woods FRSA is Chair in Educational Policy, Democracy and Leadership at the University of Hertfordshire and Co-founder of FreeSpirit Education. His latest book, Transforming Education Policy: Shaping a democratic future, will be published by Policy Press in 2011.