Tunisia Brief – February 2019

Freedom Alone does not Buy Dignity

By Rabih Hasbany

News

On the eighth anniversary of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is often hailed as the rare success story, amid a region still plagued by war, humanitarian crises and displacement. For many Tunisians, however, the ideals of the protests which brought down the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali have yet to be met.

The Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) called upon its 677,000 members to take the streets on Thursday, January 17. According to union representatives, the purpose of the strike is to demand better wages and working conditions for civil servants.

Analysis

Retiree Lassad Hamdi one of the protestors, says:

 “The Tunisian people’s revolution had as its initial ideals the national rights of employment, freedom, and dignity. However, none of these ideals have been achieved by this, or the previous governments, whose loyalties are to ‘brokers’ and foreign capital; all following the directions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”

According to English Teacher Marwa Cherif, in a long and heartbreaking blog post:

“Indeed, the government is burying our dreams. Older people accuse us of running away, instead of contending with reality and trying to change it. Others accuse us of not being patriotic and of being egoistic. I asked some of my acquaintances who emigrated why they did so and their answers were almost identical – ‘we’re leaving in order to find a life of dignity.’ Dignity, dear elders, is not found only in material welfare but in a sense that your rights are upheld; in the feeling that if you fall sick someone will provide medical attention and that if you’re injured, you’ll be served with justice. Why should citizens suffer in order to obtain reasonable transportation to their place of work, assuming they have any, and when they do work, they make a pittance? Why should people be subjected to their bosses’ arrogance, putting up with the insults of policemen, the robbery of judges, the greed of teachers and the corruption of clerks?”

In contrast to other Arab states, the Tunisian revolution did bring forth a democracy, but freedom alone does not suffice for buying food, health and education. The Tunisian people are suffering from deep frustration. Some are emigrating while others are choosing to fight for improved conditions. However, both are seeking to restore their dignity as citizens.

Theological Reflections

Human dignity in the Bible is closely linked to the glory and significance of God. Humankind derives its dignity from God because we are created in the image and likeness of God. It is also dignifying to humanity that God choose to take on our human body in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation, narrated in John 1:14; “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” is dignifying to the human race. The teachings of the Imago Dei and incarnation illustrate that the human person, body and soul, has been dignified.

When God delivered his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to a newfound freedom in the Promised Land, He cared to restore their dignity through the Law that was given to Moses and through His dwelling in their midst in the tabernacle. God honored them greatly by his presence with them. This act reflects God’s desire to be with His people and it is by itself a dignifying act towards them. The Law set the parameters for their relationship with God and with one another, gave them ethical codes and instructions to ensure social justice to the poor, widows, vurlnabe, and marginalized. God commanded his people to think of the poor and the foreigner,

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10 – NIV).

By doing this, the poor and the foreigner are given the opportunity to collect their food with dignity.

Missiological Implications

There is an opportunity for the church in Tunisia and the MENA region to take an active role in the communities that are seeking dignity. The financial crisis calls the church to assess the needs of its community and look for the resources it has to meet the needs. One of the projects that the church can lead in these situations is using its funds or raising funds to open job opportunities or give loans to people who have the skills and ideas to start their own small businesses. Some organizations are already doing similar projects and maybe it is time for the church to think outside of the box and lead similar initiatives. The global church can take part in these projects and partner with churches in the MENA region to seek the wellbeing of our communities and restore their dignity.