Saturday, January 22, 2011

Photo Op for Ben Ali

Deposed leader of Tunisia Ben Ali visits the late Mohamed Bouazizi, a poor fruit seller who was bullied by corrupt police one time too many.
This photo is about two weeks after Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of his municipal building, sparking the Tunisian revolution that toppled Ben Ali. Notice whom the people in scrubs are regarding versus the gaze of the others. This photo makes me wonder what Bouazizi sees or thinks. Ben Ali seems to be thinking, "This is a good photo op for me."

Bouazizi's mother did not see it that way. Interviewed by Yasmine Ryan for Al-Jazeera, she said of the president's overtures:
Menobia Bouazizi said the former president was wrong not to meet with her son sooner, and that when Ben Ali finally did reach out to her family, it was too late - both to save her son, and to save his presidency. He received members of the Bouazizi family in his offices, but for Menobia Bouazizi, the meeting rang hollow.
"The invite to the presidential palace came very late," she said. "We are sure that the president only made the invitation to try to derail the revolution."
One of my favorite authors, Orhan Pamuk, likes to write books about both art and power of a political nature. His novel Snow employs the artistic setting of a theater in a provincial city in Turkey. The revival of an old Brechtian play about the glorious secular revolution of the early 20th century has an actress take off her headscarf and agitate it in a bowl of some liquid. Islamic fundamentalist students in the audience interpret this as a virtuous Muslim woman, alone, washing the cherished symbol of her faith in a bowl. Imagine their surprise when she strikes a match and sets fire to it! Government soldiers rush to the scene -- surely to arrest her, think the students. But instead the soldiers are there to protect her right to burn the headscarf and become a modern woman (or else).

For some reason I usually find the misinterpretation of symbols absurdly humorous. But this photo of Mohamed Bouazizi being used by the corrupt president to convince himself as much as anyone that he is still in control, is really obscene. While they pose blandly for the official photograph, a nearly visible dark fate is bearing down on both of them.

Mohamed Bouaziz died of his burns on Jan 4. With condolences to his family, may he rest in peace.

1 comment:

Liz Arizona said...

Viva Tunisia people power