Tunisian Revolutions: Reflections on Seas, Coasts, and Interiors

By Julia Clancy-Smith

In December 2010 an out-of-work Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire and precipitated the Arab Spring. Popular interpretations of Bouazizi's self-immolation presented economic and political oppression by the Ben Ali regimes as the root causes of widespread social despair that triggered the Tunisian revolution. Yet as Julia Clancy-Smith points out, Tunisia's long history of organized political activism and protest movements suggests a far more complicated set of processes. Proposing a conceptual framework of "coastalization" vs. "interiorization," Clancy-Smith examines Tunisia's last two centuries and demonstrates how geographical and environmental and social factors also lie behind that country's modern political history. Within this framework Clancy-Smith explores how Tunisia's coast became a Mediterranean playground for transnational elites, a mecca of tourism, while its interior agrarian regions suffered increasing neglect and marginalization. This distinction has had a profound impact on the fate of Tunisia and has manifested itself in divisive debates over politics, the state, and religion as well as women's socio-legal status that have led to a series of mass civic actions culminating in revolution. Clancy-Smith proposes a fresh historical lens through which to view the relationship between spacial displacements, regionalization, and transnationalism.

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