ABSTRACT

I chose the Tunisian revolution as the first of the country studies in this book in part because it was the first revolution in the region, but also because it disrupted a particular historical narrative of secular democracy that the West believed, or at least appeared to believe, was a guarantor of freedom and stability. The Tunisian revolution was seen as anomalous in the West, given that Tunisia’s reformist, neo-liberal policies matched the codes of Western governance. A closer look, however, will make clear the deep roots of social and political discontent. I trace these roots to the Tunisian hinterland. In this chapter I look at the elements of the rural uprisings that engendered

urban crowds during the Tunisian revolution. I investigate the roots of crowds, drawing on the historical reasons that compelled divided collectivities to form into unified crowds. I explore how group feeling was narrated in ‘tribal’ or marginalized areas and then turn to the questions of group feeling in reference to the experience of rural women. I explain how crowds responded to a politics of division that had long shaped Tunisian society. Finally, I detail how group feeling was manifest in Tunis through the collective language of crowds. Group feeling emerged suddenly at the end of 2010, seemingly out of

nowhere, in response to unrest and violence in Sidi Bouzid and the other peripheral regions of Tunisia. Because of the long-term marginalization of rural areas and their populations’ resentment of urban privilege, the group loyalty and kin-based solidarity that were characteristic of this region spread into other regions of Tunisia, culminating in the uprising in the capital, Tunis. The marginalization of rural regions and the disenfranchisement of Tunisian women, dissimulated by a discourse of women’s liberation, were major elements of the crowd’s objections to state power. Gender equality and the national unity of the crowd uprising marked a momentary suspension of historical neglect and entrenched patriarchy reinforced by the ideology of the Ben Ali regime (1987-2011). As the great equalizer, the crowd momentarily suspended regional, ideological, gender, and class binaries. The language used by the crowds expressed this rejection of social divisions and an assertion of collectivity.