"Ben Ali promised reform and democracy. What he delivered was an increasingly draconian one-party police state. The major target of the state repression was political Islam. But after Islamist politics receded from electoral and social relevance in Tunisia, the governments iron fist did not soften. The man who would be democrat became indistinguishable from a king." —Khalid Husssein
In his debut work of literary non-fiction, The Tunisian Awakening, artist-author Khalid Hussein brings to life the first non-violent popular revolution in the modern history of the Arab world. Born in Saudi Arabia to an Egyptian father and an American mother, Hussein received his BA in fine art and is Masters in Islamic Studies from UCLA. He has exhibited his art in numerous galleries and cultural centers in California.*
In this illustrated non-fiction narrative, he recounts the numerous human rights violations of Ben Ali's oppressive regime, from his rise as the domineering dictator of Tunisia for almost 24 years, to his final moments in office. Hussein's concise account sheds light on figures that were forgotten amidst all the violence, from Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad Bouazzi, who was accredited as the man who sparked the revolution, to Radhia Nasraoui, who withstood police brutality for years as an advocate for human rights, Hussein honors the victims who risked their lives to bring an end to the corruption, inequality, and abuses that Tunisians have struggled with for decades.
"An Islamist, a communist, and a student go to a protest..." from students to members of Al-Nahda, who were unmercifully silenced by the dictatorship for many years, Khalid Hussein's illustrations of the revolution show the diversity of those who took part in the popular resistance movement. The events of the Tunisian revolution have been researched thoroughly by the author and are depicted masterfully here. While those disconnected from the revolution forget the harsh state of affairs that the people endured throughout, the author reminds the reader of the adversity people faced in overthrowing the dictator, who had little regard for the inequality and economic destitution people faced.
"After the proud celebrations of victory, following Ben Ali's departure, the questions still remained, where is Tunisia heading...This is not the end. It is only the beginning. " The exile of Ben Ali is just the beginning; Hussein's message epitomizes the responsibility of the people to continue the fight against adversity—it is the hands of the people to keep a watchful eye on the leaders that are in power.
The same can be said of Americans and our president, as Obama warned us in 2008.
The Tunisian Awakening delves into the human aspect of the revolution which is apparent in Hussein's artful illustrations. This easy read is both enlightening and evocative and Hussein's extensive travels throughout the Middle East are exhibited throughout in his illustrations. For those interested in examining the Tunisian revolution through a different lens, I heartily recommend this book.
• Khalid Hussein will present The Tunisian Awakening at the Levantine Cultural Center on August 26, 2012, along with James Gelvin talking about his book, The Arab Uprisings.
Katlen Abu Ata is Assistant to the Director at the Levantine Cultural Center and is studying Middle Eastern studies and political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.