“Never fear again! “ This slogan of the Tunisian revolution of 2011, Nadia Khiari made it her slogan on January 13, 2011. If he was unaware that he would be forced to flee Tunisia the next day, President Ben Ali had felt the wind of the ball and promised, in his last speech, to remove censorship.
The teacher of Fine Arts rushed into it. The cat Willis from Tunis – named after his real cat and in homage to Albert Dupontel in his film Bernie from 1996 – was born. ” I understood you “, the cat Ben Ali whispers in front of a bed of jubilant mice on the evening of the 13th. On the 14th, Willis, already a philosopher, concludes: “End of a banana republic thanks to the suicide of a banana seller… There is justice. “ The success is immediate.
“I destroyed everything to leave no trace”
Since then, Willis has been scratching to make people laugh and scratching where it hurts. “I had comments funnier than my drawings! I felt less alone ”, Nadia Khiari is still moved, thinking back to the solidarity and the explosion of creativity during the exalted period of 2011.
The newcomers then join the old ones, banished under the Ben Ali era. Like Tawfiq Omrane, banned from drawing in 1987, when the day after his coup d’état, Ben Ali suppressed the opposition newspaper in which he was speaking. “At the time, there were no social networks, so without newspapers, no drawings”, he recalls.
Tawfiq Omrane has lived through dark hours in resistance. His clients of his publishing house Art Edition were beaten up by police officers who camped in front of the premises, to the point of suffocating the company which ended up going bankrupt. He continues despite everything with unsigned drawings, for left movements. “After that I destroyed everything to leave no trace. “
His younger brother, the anonymous cartoonist Z, had seen his blog censored – « 404 not found », message displayed on prohibited sites – in 2008, one year after its creation. If we closed the beak of his flamingo which tackles Zaba (for Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali) and mauves (the color of the president’s party-state), the fans were nevertheless able to bypass Internet censorship thanks to the ancestor of VPN (virtual private network).
Draw Ben Ali, the absolute ban
But when Fatma Arabika, a theater teacher, is arrested and detained for five days, accused of being Z, the urban planning student becomes enraged and becomes a real protester of the regime. “I started to draw Ben Ali, his wife, his son, etc. “ What was then the absolute prohibition and made Z one of the most prominent cartoonists of the revolution, picked up by major foreign media.
“I thought that after the departure of Ben Ali, there would be no more material to draw”, He has fun ten years later, while the Tunisian scene has remained an inexhaustible source of inspiration for cartoonists. His Zaballah, a Zaba crossed with Allah to evoke Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist party Ennahda, feeds the bite of his caricatures, sometimes vulgar “Like the speeches and behaviors of political leaders”, he justifies.
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“Freedom of expression is the only concrete victory of the revolution”, notes Nadia Khiari half-fig, half-grape, happy about this conquest and saddened by the political, economic and social stagnation of the country. “Many Tunisians go to sea, immolations like that of Mohamed Bouazizi, there are a hundred a year, we don’t talk about them anymore, it has become commonplace”, she believes. “The habit of despair is worse than despair itself”, said Camus.
His drawing of October 27, 2018 summarizes this victory a bit bitter. “Before the revolution, that was it” : a poor Willis crushed to the ground by a heavy boot on his face. “But today, fortunately we have freedom of expression” : the same Willis still crushed who can scream «Aaaaïïïe». But, addressed to those nostalgic for the Ben Ali era, she published the Handbook of the Perfect Dictator, to revive their memories of the harsh reality before.
“The forbidden cursor has changed”
The optimism that Tawfiq Omrane has cultivated for ten years is starting to waver: “Maybe in 2021 I’ll be officially pessimistic. “ Because the Tunisia boat is pitching severely and the crazy freedom of 2011 has suffered some hitches. “The forbidden cursor has changed. Before the revolution, it was impossible to talk about the president and his family, today you can criticize everything except religion. “
→ DEBATE. Did the Arab Spring really fail?
Tawfiq Omrane burned his fingers there on several occasions. At the end of 2011, he draws the Virgin Mary fleeing Tunisia with Jesus in her arms, saying: “We single mothers no longer have our place in this country”, to denounce the remarks of the deputy Souad Abderrahim (who has since become mayor of Tunis) who called for the abolition of aid to single mothers, commonly considered to be prostitutes.
“Faced with the outcry in the midst of the Islamist push, the drawing had to be removed from the Kalima radio site, where it had been published. “ After a few drawings deemed sulphurous and bursts of insults, Tawfiq Omrane admits to taking fewer risks and drawing less and less often.
“It’s up to Muslim cartoonists to seize on the subject”
“Islamists are a gift for cartoonists!, s’enflamme Z. If we are not offensive in the post-revolutionary period, when will we be? We must detaboutise, attack the sacred that blocks emancipation. It is up to Muslim cartoonists to seize on the subject. “
All three, Nadia Khiari, Tawfiq Omrane and Z go to meet students in schools and inmates in prisons in Tunisia, France or Belgium – with the NGO Cartooning for peace, “Respectful in disrespect” – to dialogue, contextualize the caricatures, take a distance from what Z calls the «Allahisme», the literalism of the Koran conveyed by local preachers. His mockery earned him death threats and required him to remain anonymous.
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But it’s the modernists that he resents the most, “Accomplices of bigotry for decades. On the grounds that believers should not be hurt, they become the guardians of the sacred ”. Finally, in his eyes, the fight was easier under Ben Ali. “Everyone agreed against it! “
“We were knocked out with our identity. Politicians have not stopped dividing us, men and women, Islamists and modernists, young and old, Nadia Khiari saddens. Despite everything, the jokes revolve around taboos, nudity, sexuality, religion, power; we talk about women, their bodies, homosexuality, we often talk badly about it, but we talk about it, it’s a first step! “
Freedom of expression resolutely follows its learning curve. “It is a prerequisite for everything”, argues Z, who refuses any bitterness. “Tunisia is a construction site, it’s exciting and exhausting at the same time”, sums up Nadia Khiari. As Willis says: “10 years old and still alive! “
Plastic arts teacher, 47 years old, Nadia Khiari creates on January 13, 2011 her cat Willis from Tunis. She collaborates with International mail and Monthly session.
She released several albums and 10 years old and still alive!, a selection of his drawings since 2011, published in December 2020 (Ed. Elyzad, 294 p., € 27).
Straddling Paris and Tunis, the 41-year-old cartoonist has been running his blog “Débat Tunisie” since 2007. Censored under Ben Ali, he accompanies the revolution in broad daylight, with his flamingo.
Z retains his anonymity, his caricatures of religion have earned him death threats.
He’s an early cartoonist in the opposition newspapers, in the early 1980s, before Ben Ali banned their publication, after his coup.
He returned to caricature in 2011 with his mascot, a black owl, bird representing wisdom, lucky for him and bad luck for those he bites. He is 61 years old today.