We arrived at the hotel in Kasserine, another sleepy Tunisian town on the Algerian border. Sky-high unemployment and deep poverty. We are the only foreigners in the hotel, even in the entire city. Two policemen followed us from the bus station to the hotel. They wanted to make sure we had arrived well. Foreigners don’t come to Kasserine every day.
PIETER STOCKMANS and MONTASSER ALDE’EMEH
During our whole whole trip, it feels like the police is following us. Maybe they want to know who we are meeting? The police officers told us protecting foreigners is standard procedure after the terrorist attacks. In the hotel it was all hands on deck for the three foreigners. The kitchen was opened specially for us. Oh yes, there is no water. And it’s 45 degrees. Just adapt to ‘local living conditions’. Fortunately, every Tunisian city welcomes us with refreshing rain showers and awesome storm clouds.
Since two years, Kasserine is known for a third dubious honor. Al-Qaeda is recruiting foot soldiers from its dreary slums for an armed rebellion against the state. Some young people go (or flee?) to the mountains surrounding Kasserine to join al-Qaeda. The past two years, militants killed at least 30 soldiers and police in and around Kasserine. It shocked the whole Tunisian society and provoked the army into launching air raids on the breathtaking mountains where the militants maintain training camps.
One of the leaders, the “dangerous terrorist” Murad Gharsalli, was killed by the police last month. But who was this guy? And how do you become a “dangerous terrorist”? We suspect that he was once an ordinary boy from the slums of Kasserine. We will try to find his family. We also suspect that Tunisia is shooting itself in the foot. Kasserine is in this dreadful condition by the fault of the Tunisian state. The city is neglected since Tunisia’s independence in the 50s. Neglect of a city in a sensitive border region with Algeria: not so wise. Part of the population simply survives because of criminal activities such as trafficking, smuggling and terrorism.
There is a fourth type of activist youth in Kasserine, alongside the revolutionaries, the migrants and the armed militants. Behind the counter of the hotel we meet a friendly young man who is expressing his frustrations through rap. Houssem Siko is a rapper. But in Kasserine he can not develop his skills: ‘We are recording our songs in a studio in Sousse. In Kasserine, there is nothing, absolutely nothing for young people.’ Listen to his song about Kasserine.
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