Art is a haven for young people from marginalized popular neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital, where there is no infrastructure, and they strive through it to dispel the stereotype that classifies them as deviants.
These neighborhoods have been considered popular and poor places for decades, harboring delinquents, which reinforces the image of being an environment for the growth of violence.
“These allegations insult us and complicate our lives,” said Muhammad Ali al-Ayari, who lives in the densely populated neighborhood of Douar Hicher.
Al-Ayari, 23, works as a guard, and recently won thanks to a clip of rap music in a competition organized by the “International Alert” association, which is active in the field of integrating youth from marginalized areas in Tunisia.
The organization chose dozens of young people from the neighborhoods of Douar Hicher, Foshaneh, Tadamon, and Sidi Hussein, to express themselves in their own way through music, a documentary film, and photos dealing with the issue of violence.
“There are people who are exposed to violence daily, some of them practice it and others suffer from it. Hence the idea was to turn it into cultural activities,” Hossam al-Ayari, coordinator of the organization, told AFP.
Muhammad Ali, in the clip he produced with the support of the organization, repeats phrases such as “I want to go out into the light.”
In a small room he turned into a studio among the slums in the Douar Hicher neighborhood, Muhammad Ali tries to record clips of the music he composed with the help of his friends in the area.
He explains that these young people were able to prepare the studio with the available means they possess, despite the continued absence of cultural spaces, “which contributes to facilitating the deviation of some youth from popular areas.”
As for Wassim Al-Tayashi (22 years old), he says, “We chose music to express ourselves, our lives, the lost youth, the policemen who abuse us financially and morally, and the state that marginalizes us and the society that rejects us.”
He believes that it is difficult for the descendants of the “popular neighborhoods” to get a job in the labor market or obtain official documents.
Muhammad Ali, who dreams of becoming a famous rapper but is not sure of his dream being realized in Tunisia, adds that these young people, who were disappointed and frustrated by the state in a country shaken by severe political tensions and social and economic crises, found in rap music “a cure for depression and forbidden temptations.”
The failure of the political class to improve the daily lives of these young people raises in them a great disappointment that makes them more aggressive. Many are seriously considering illegal immigration and sailing towards the European coasts, hoping for a better life.
Wassim considers that “a country that does not listen to its youth cannot offer them anything.”
“the desire to succeed”
Maryam Al-Shourabi, 24, who holds a master’s degree in accounting, opened a center in her neighborhood in Fouchana, on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital, a year ago, and she also participated in the completion of a documentary film.
The film denounces the absence of social and economic justice, sexual violence, the lack of public transportation and the deteriorating infrastructure, especially the poor encouragement and high school dropout rates.
She notes that despite this, many young people in popular neighborhoods have “a desire to succeed more than others, driven by the difficulty of their situation.”
The unemployed engineer, Belhassan Al-Jabri, 26, chose photography to send a message to the authorities: “We do not deserve to be marginalized.”
In his photos, he shows the deserted spaces in his area, “which would have been more appropriate to be places for sports, cultural activities, or gardens, rather than being permanently littered with full rubbish bins.”
Belhassen sharply criticizes “this environmental violence” and hopes to see the emergence of “real will” among senior officials to bring about change.
He notes that in his area there are “doctors, engineers, artists, and many educated and qualified young people.” “Therefore, we should not only look at the negative side or underestimate the value of young people from the popular class neighborhoods,” he added.