Spectacles of Power: Locating Resistance in Ben Ali’s Tunisia
Behind the media imprints of the country’s revolution are earlier moments of protest and communal organization that readied Tunisians for a reengagement with public space. The question remains as to whether public space has been reclaimed.
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On January 10, 2011, four days before the Tunisian Revolution that brought an end to the twenty-three-year dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, YouTube videos from the seaside resort of Hammamet went viral. They featured a group of young Tunisians who climbed onto a billboard with a gigantic image of Ben Ali and ripped the effigy down, an attention-grabbing, criminal act. As these billboard scalers demonstrated, Tunis’s beachside satellite represented an outlet for the buildup of political resistance that would eventually make its way to the capital.1 A few days after the YouTube postings, more images and videos began circulating online of citizens repeating the acts in the first videos, this time from Tunis and other towns and cities. A myriad of Tunisians were featured in the clips, tearing down, slashing, and burning supersized posters of their president and destroying crude sculptures of the number 7 commemorating when Ben Ali came to power on November 7, 1987. The spreading campaign to dismantle Ben Ali’s cult of personality developed in the current of a rapid, nationwide snowballing of protests after the December 17, 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid.

“The gradual buildup of political resistance in Ben Ali’s Tunis originated beyond the traditional public and social spaces.”

These unfolding events found Tunisians engaging in unprecedented acts of expressing their grievances in public space. During Ben Ali’s reign, such transgressions were not only criminal but also preposterous, if not unimaginable. The recorded destruction of displays of political power signified a collective outrage providing the eventual effect of what Asef Bayat has termed “a social non-movement” or the “quiet encroachment of the ordinary” against the former leader and his dictatorial politics.2 Tearing down billboards and ripping off the placarded surfaces of public spaces signified rudimentary acts of collective defiance, a precursor to “Dégage Ben Ali!,” the collective call defining the January 14 protests and demands for Ben Ali’s departure. Such communal civic acts in Tunis likewise brought about the recovery of public space.

The gradual buildup of political resistance in Ben Ali’s Tunis, however, originated beyond the traditional public and social spaces such as squares and parks, often appropriated for popular protests. Prior to 2011, Tunisia’s more conventional public spaces were mostly left as what they were: space consumed by government propaganda. One alternative arena was the soccer stadium, where fans not only supported their respective teams but also formed and debated political identities through songs and chants while collectively confronting the police that epitomized Ben Ali’s rule. Before more expected forms of protest could occur in Tunis’s public spaces, coded acts of resistance would first take place to set the stage for more obvious demonstrations. Over time these moments of resistance blended and coalesced into a bold revolutionary movement that first destroyed an overwhelming cult of personality in public spaces and subsequently demanded the departure of the dictator. While the story of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation is often credited with unleashing waves of protest across the Arab world, there is a thicker and more gradual backstory to Tunisia’s escalating resistance campaigns.

Obliterating Political Space

During Ben Ali’s rule, tunisois were besieged by an omnipresent cult of personality. Its visual forms most often depicted either the ruler himself or a representation of the date November 7, 1987, when Ben Ali assumed power after a bloodless coup d’état that deposed Habib Bourguiba (1956–1987).3 Dominating public space, Ben Ali’s cult appeared as immense posters, sometimes as large as two stories high, on buildings and highway billboards; countless strands of small purple flags with images of Ben Ali or the number 7 fastened between buildings and over small streets; banners with political messages; and sculptures of the number 7 occupying traffic circles, boulevards, public lobbies, squares, and parks. Posters of the former dictator were Photoshopped to depict him younger and healthier and either in a smart, Western suit and tie or in traditional Tunisian garb. Representation of the president was limited to three poses: one with his hand over his heart to signify that the nation is always in his heart, another with his hands clasped to represent the unity of the nation, and the third with his arms raised and open, marking his delivery of prosperity to the country. Political messages that often accompanied the images were limited to the president ushering in progress and development. The tentacles of the personality cult also reached into public school textbooks, political spectacles such as public police parades and elections, and widely available magazines filled with photos of the dictator. Tunisians were forced to purchase tickets to cultural and political events organized by Ben Ali’s Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD) party.4

In her study of Hafez Al Assad’s cult campaign in Syria, Lisa Wedeen writes that political cults are part of comprehensive strategies intended to develop regime-compliant citizens who are not only adulatory but also self-censoring.5 Cults can likewise be products of irrationality on the part of a leader, such as Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, or strategies to fill ideological voids in cases when dictators are not charismatic enough to build popular political ideologies. In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s cult served as both a mechanism of control and a substitute for an ideological void within the police state.


Banners strung between buildings celebrated Ben Ali’s cult of personality in the years before the 2011 revolution. Photograph by Carsten ten Brink, Flickr.

Ben Ali’s omnipresent cult of personality seemed successful in achieving political quiescence and depoliticizing a citizenry who remained unwilling to push for political liberalization despite high educational levels and a substantial middle class, especially compared to other developing nations.6 Nevertheless, under authoritarian political systems, there is a fine line between the “realities” and “representations” of power, as Mabel Berezin describes in her work on Fascist Party rituals in interwar Italy.7 When citizens participate in cult rituals through mandatory political rallies or by casting votes in staged elections, they may be performing without accepting the legitimacy of power. Public participation in politics, then, does not necessarily mean that citizens view their governments as legitimate. The resulting relationship between citizens and state is consequently devoid of the possibility of a “civic realm,” a type of space that can only result from legitimate power-sharing arrangements in pluralistic societies.8 Extending from this, public spaces in the era of Ben Ali represented an inauthentic relationship between citizenry and political power; citizens might have interacted with these spaces but did not necessarily accept them.

The conundrum of a comprehensive political cult of personality, as Wedeen argues, is that the cult in all of its spatial and symbolic manifestations invites transgressions by ordinary citizens not in spite of but because of its ubiquity.9 Power, then, needs to be understood as not only conveying domination but also generating resistance.10 In this way, cults of personality constitute important spaces of inquiry, as they are simultaneously components of dictatorial strategies to control public space and sites to which citizens will turn in order to critique illiberal politics.

Furthermore, they remind inhabitants of where power is located. Even before the well-publicized events of 2011, Tunisian citizens had already begun the dismantling of politically controlled public space through avoidance, dismissal, and subtle parody. This resistance culture, rooted in political jokes and rumors, developed at kitchen tables, in cafés in downtown Tunis, and in working-class beer halls. Nowhere were these resistant practices more loudly pronounced, however, than in Tunis’s soccer stadiums, especially when the capital’s two rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, battled each other in seasonal derby matches.

Stadiums of Resistance

As in every year since 1987, in 2008 the citizens of Tunis were once again obliged to commemorate Ben Ali’s anniversary of coming to power on November 7. The absurdity of the annual November 7 spectacle was manifested in the cult campaign’s interior dialogue, such as “Progress for my Nation!” and “Thank you, Mr. President!” These slogans were amplified in the streets and squares of Tunis with purple light-fixtures, flags, and banners bearing the number 7, portraits of the president, and messages of thanks and congratulations.11 Every street, building, roundabout, and billboard was a display opportunity. Each year, the president delivered a commemorative speech to the nation, in which he praised himself for technological advancement, modernization, social development, and the country’s exemplary state of democracy. In 2008, the president opted to deliver his speech in Tunis’s ultra-modern Stade 7 Novembre soccer stadium located a few kilometers south of Tunis in the dreary port town of Radès. There, Ben Ali proclaimed:

During these past twenty-one years of uninterrupted reform we have made gains and achievements in all domains, thanks to the devotion of our people, following our choices, our programs, our orientations, as well as the great ambitions that drive all Tunisians.12

Televised reporting betrayed only a small invited crowd of Ben Ali and party supporters, all wearing the same red scarf to signify their allegiance to the ruling political party. They did not come close to filling the stadium’s 60,000 seats.

Beyond the empty stadium, ordinary Tunisians seemed apathetic to the day’s designated significance, despite the spectacular increase in cult paraphernalia that engulfed Tunis’s public spaces. “What national festival?” both a small shopkeeper and a waiter in a La Goulette restaurant cheekily asked in response to a question about November 7. Glancing at the visual representations of the cult resembling more a European Christmas market than a defining political moment, the waiter laughed and answered, “Oh that! No, the real national festival will occur the day after next.” They were distracted in preparation for the year’s most important soccer game scheduled for two days later, when Tunis’s rival teams, Club Africain and Espérance, would play for the national championship.


Tunisian men attend a soccer match before they were closed to the public by the post-revolution government. Photograph by Hamideddine Bouali.

The championship soccer match took place in the same stadium where Ben Ali had delivered his speech. The major difference on November 9 was the exhilarated crowd that filled the stadium with activity flowing beyond its walls. Within forty-eight hours, a quiet, awkward, and politically controlled space transformed into one of the most vibrant collective spaces, where those who remained quiet in the city’s streets now felt more comfortable expressing themselves. In political contexts where liberties are severely restricted and societies are alienated from political dialogue, as was so visible during that year’s November 7 celebrations, spectator sports can become important coded political events. Tunisia’s soccer stadiums constituted arenas not only where state power and societal expression most visibly interacted but also where cultures of resistance developed. In his book on soccer and politics, Simon Kuper writes:

For a young man in the Middle East, obliged to spend his leisure time hanging around with other young men, soccer is often the only recreation. That’s why in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, games between the two biggest clubs draw crowds of 100,000 – more than anywhere in Europe except occasionally Barcelona or Real Madrid. … Yet the game does help us understand this secretive region. In societies like Libya, Iran, and previously in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where there is no freedom of press, no legal dissent, and hardly any foreign journalists, soccer can reveal the undercurrents.13

In Ben Ali’s Tunisia, political undercurrents that contradicted the dominant narrative of the regime could be collectively pronounced during soccer matches. Before they were prohibited in early 2010 for being too contentious, “spectacles” in the stadium preceded the actual games. During these pre-events, fans of each team engaged in identity contests that expressed more about urban politics than soccer rivalry. The spectacles generally began with team cheers. These transformed into more general political debates of belonging and identity. When, for instance, soccer fans chanted the widely known and permissible political slogan “With our souls and blood we will always trust you and be faithful to you,” they were referring to their teams, not the regime.14 During the March 2009 derby, fans of Club Africain unfurled vast fabrics revealing a reproduction of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and a slogan, “Our team’s charm makes even Mona Lisa smile.” Mona Lisa was accompanied by portraits of renowned scientists, indicating that even though Club Africain fans seemed less educated and wealthy than those of Espérance, they expressed their commitment to a team that could charm an enigma rather than rely on brute strength – a sophisticated statement for the team and for class pride. While the dominant political narrative produced by the Ben Ali regime is of a nation united and led solely by the president, the soccer spectacles provided a different, more nuanced, story.

“As 60,000 supporters chanted ‘Hey police, hey police, we are the people without fear!’ they challenged the Ben Ali state within the seemingly uncontrolled space of the stadium.”

At moments, however, the differences between teams were set aside, and supporters of both sides united against a common enemy: the police, always present at games and synonymous with the state. Such moments of transgression signified collective acts of defiance. As sixty thousand supporters chanted “Hey police, hey police, we are the people without fear!” they challenged the Ben Ali state within the seemingly uncontrolled space of the stadium, whose crowds lent courage to fans chanting politically charged slogans and subtly subversive songs. In March 2009, for example, the pre-match spectacle ended with a song to the melody of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” with lyrics about the immaculate conception of Ben Ali’s youngest son (almost seventy years Ben Ali’s junior) and disdain for his wife, never a popular figure, who apparently required artificial insemination for the birth of their youngest and only son.

Soccer Clashes to Protests

Another example of the importance of soccer culture involved an April 2010 soccer game in El Menzah, a smaller stadium in Tunis. During an evening match between Club Sportif de Hammam-Lif and Espérance, the former (considered the weaker of the two) had a 3–0 lead, which many Espérantists attributed to unfair refereeing. After a disputed call, a young Espérance supporter stormed the field, shouting at the referee. Almost immediately, the police rushed toward the young supporter, held him down and began beating him, provoking a mass reaction from other Espérance supporters. Spectators and fans generally avoided any direct confrontation with the police because clashes routinely led to arbitrary mass arrests and detention, but this time was different. Fans who attended the match described how hundreds of spectators stormed the soccer field in support of the young fan. Fighting broke out between the fans and the police – a rare instance of public confrontation with representatives of the state. In a response that escalated the crisis, the police switched off the stadium’s electricity, causing the event to descend into confused darkness. Officers began arbitrarily assaulting soccer fans of both teams and arresting flocks of supporters trying to escape the stadium. As with previous events in which clashes occurred between citizens and the police, the match’s dramatic unraveling was not covered by the local press.15

Determining whether the clashes with police in soccer stadiums were direct precursors to the revolution is less important than noting the willingness of ordinary Tunisian citizens to challenge and confront the police, who represented the repression of the Ben Ali regime, inside and outside the stadiums. Even indirect confrontations, such as the chants and songs articulated during games, constitute what James C. Scott has termed “hidden transcripts,” the “off-stage” gestures, words, and practices uttered against authority by subordinate groups. Collective outbursts of defiance, whether common chants of resistance or large-scale confrontations with the police, mark the pivotal moments when hidden transcripts become public and members of oppressed groups recognize that they are not alone in their struggle against an oppressor.16 In order to be eventually articulated, hidden transcripts need a public or social space. Only then can a popular resistance arise.17 This resistance culture is typified primarily as a social non-movement according to Bayat, because its principle aim is to appropriate public space before articulating clear political demands.18 As a means to hinder this development, as Lisa Wedeen and Mabel Berezin argue, dictators try to control public space and movement of citizens by means of heavy policing as well as through the construction of omniscient political cults of personality that consistently remind citizens of the powerful mechanisms of control.

Departure to the Streets

Soccer stadiums in Ben Ali’s Tunisia became consistent sites of resistance, both hidden and overt, yet the willingness of citizens to challenge the police eventually spread to other, more urban spaces as well. A large-scale, Tunis-based resistance campaign occurred in May 2010, just a month after the infamous Hammam-Lif–Espérance soccer match. But this time it happened outside the stadium, along one of Tunis’s most significant streets, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, where protesters would gather on the first official day of the revolution. Similar to boulevards of other cities formerly under French colonization, the broad, tree-lined central avenue connects the neo-classical and modern colonial city, or the Ville Nouvelle, to the entrance of the old medina dating from the seventh century.

Avenue Habib Bourguiba, with its cafés, shops, restaurants, and flower stalls, was transformed into a concentrated space of political power following Ben Ali’s 1987 ascent. A year after taking office, Ben Ali renamed the avenue’s prominent roundabout “Place 7 Novembre.” He then removed an equestrian statue of deposed President Habib Bourguiba to make room for a colossal clock tower, whose number 6 was replaced with an enlarged 7.19 With the imposing and somber Ministry of the Interior building occupying one edge of the roundabout, Ben Ali strategically situated his RCD party headquarters in Tunisia’s largest building on the other side of the roundabout. Furthering Avenue Habib Bourguiba’s status as the pinnacle of political control, the avenue was lined with billboards displaying the dictator, including the political propaganda hall.20 Ben Ali inaugurated Tunis’s new face during the opening ceremony for the Mediterranean Games in August 2001. The spatial concentration of political power produced by Ben Ali within the contours of an urban space likewise made it the primary site for political resistance, more specifically the political theater that unfolded on January 14, 2011.

Organizers of a May 2010 public protest selected not only a traditional but also a highly controlled public space for their event. Through Facebook and Twitter, they announced the protest only a few days before the date. The effort was to contest government online censorship through a quiet assembly on the café terraces of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Supported by a traditional protest in front of the Ministry of Telecommunications located off the main avenue, the proposed event was called “Tunisie en Blanc.” Its organizers included activist Slim Amamou, who was already gaining attention for his internet activism and eventually became known as “Slim 404” during the 2010–2011 protests. Protest organizers called for supporters to dress in white and then to fill the cafés lining Tunis’s central avenue. One organizer wrote on the event’s Facebook wall, “[a]n entire avenue in white is a lot stronger than a head-on protest.” On the eve of Tunisie en Blanc, two protest organizers including Slim Amamou were arrested and detained while other organizers’ Facebook and Twitter feeds were hacked and disabled, presumably by the Ministry of the Interior. One organizer quickly created a new Facebook account and warned supporters that security forces were ready to indiscriminately expel anyone dressed in white. The warnings did not deter all sympathizers. The next morning, as white-clad protesters began to fill the boulevard’s cafés, the police moved in within the first hour of the scheduled flash mob to disperse anyone dressed in white. Supporters later recounted that some of those forced to evacuate included café-goers wearing white who were unaware of the event, and this spurred even more popular anger. Neither the white flash mob nor the traditional protest materialized in the way the organizers had hoped. However, and more critically, eight months before the protest movement that led to the fall of Ben Ali, Tunisian citizens signaled that police repression would not stop them from taking to the streets.

Within a year’s time, on January 14, 2011, Tunis residents once again returned to Avenue Habib Bourguiba, armed with slightly greater experience in testing the possibilities of resistance. Mobilized by the same activists from Tunisie en Blanc, the seasoned protesters were now calling for Ben Ali’s ouster, occasionally transforming tunes and verses of popular soccer songs into revolutionary chants. Soccer culture helped provide a unified melody. Extending spaces of resistance from the stadium to the street, the blending of soccer allegiance and common grievances helped form citizen solidarity in Tunis’s most exhilarating political stakes.

These photographs document a political demonstration by Tunisian activist group Engagement Citoyen leading up to the first post-revolution elections. Group members remounted a giant image of the former dictator Ben Ali where one had traditionally hung at a roundabout in the La Goulette district of Tunis. Once the return of the dictator’s effigy had captured enough attention, the image was pulled down to reveal the message, “Beware, dictatorship can return. Go out and vote on Octobe­r 23.” Photograph courtesy of Engagement Citoyen.

Concluding Thoughts on Space and Politics

Two years after the 2011 Revolution, amateur documentaries about the public destruction of the Ben Ali cult remain popular and remind Tunisian citizens of the extent to which Ben Ali’s ubiquitous presence fueled their resentment. Dominating the capital city’s public space with hollow messages of political liberalism, economic progress, and stability, the cult also had the unintended consequence of reminding Tunisians of Ben Ali’s political absurdity and thus inviting the dramatic protest events of 2010 and 2011. The juxtaposition and eventual overlapping of spaces of control versus spaces of defiance mapped in this article reveal a longstanding and developing public culture of resistance in Tunisia. Whether mocking the public cult of personality in private homes, cafés, and small downtown bars, or chanting political parodies in the relatively safe space of the soccer stadium, Tunisian citizens had begun to take on the Ben Ali regime years before the January 14, 2011 Revolution.21

Today, use of public space by Tunis’s citizens has changed radically but not necessarily for the better. Mirroring the change in the social and political climate, a once orderly and controlled space has transformed into an unruly arena. While street-based protest has become the modus operandi, the interim government led by the Islamist party Ennahda has tried to control public space, even banning public protest and blocking permits for demonstrations on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the epicenter of the 2011 Revolution. While external analysts have hailed Tunisia’s progress toward democracy immediately following the October 23, 2011, elections, many Tunisian citizens remain critical of the new governing coalition.22 Reasons for doubt include the undetermined role of Islamism in politics, the perceived declining state of security following extremist attacks on the U.S. embassy, art galleries, beer halls, police stations, and other public spaces, as well as the recent assassination of the eminent oppositional politician Chokri Belaid. Most importantly, many Tunisians fear a return to dictatorship, a reversal of the revolution’s gains, and more specifically the demise of popular aspirations that accompanied the revolution.23 This fear emerges from a growing perception that the newly open political space, a product of sudden, post-revolutionary pluralism, is in the process of once again being restricted and suppressed, reminiscent of the elimination of pluralistic space under the former dictatorship. Control of public space continues to be an essential element in political debate.

Nonetheless, the subtle humor that oftentimes accompanied resistant political activity under Ben Ali’s rule continues to inspire creative political activities in the capital city. A week before the October 23, 2011 Constituent Assembly elections that brought the formerly banned Islamist party Ennahda to power, a citizen activist group called Engagement Citoyen launched a jarring PR campaign. In the “get out the vote” campaign known as “ZABA, le retour,” the group secretly restored an imposing poster of Ben Ali on a large wall along a roundabout in the Tunis neighborhood of La Goulette, where one of the country’s most conspicuous poster depictions of the ex-president had once hung.24 Both Tunisians rushing to work and foreign tourists arriving on Mediterranean cruise ships at the nearby port were welcomed by the ex-ruler once again commanding the busy circuit. A widely-circulated video revealed reactions of shocked citizens driving or walking by the reappearance of the cult of authority, staring at it in bewilderment and angrily exclaiming, “No!” “He’s back!” “He never left!”25 Eventually a group of young Tunisian men appeared in the clip and pulled the poster down, just as they did only ten months earlier. Bystanders applauded, whistled, and cheered, being reminded of the passionate cult destruction by citizens days before the January 14 Revolution, only to witness an unexpected political message revealed by Ben Ali’s removal: “Beware, dictatorship can return! Vote on October 23, 2011.” The cheers grew louder. Tunisians understand political theater.


1 Hammamet, a town seventy kilometers south of Tunis, was developed in the 1960s as a low-cost package tourism destination for Western visitors and the affluent Tunisois and political elites close to the dictator. A beach mansion in Hammamet belonging to one of Ben Ali’s close relatives was one of the first casualties by rioters on January 13, 2011.

2 Asef Bayat, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 43–46.

3 The Ben Ali regime utilized the number seven in countless ways to recall the exalted date. Examples include: “SevenAir,” the former name of a national airline; “Seven Gel,” a widely available hair product for men, and Seven Sky Café and Café November 7 in Tunis. In the late 1990s, telephone numbers in Tunisia were given the prefix 71 (in French, soixante et onze (71, spelled out sixty and eleven), which makes one think of “seven-eleven” or the 7th of November.

4 Ben Ali won all presidential elections during his reign with 95–99 percent of the vote, and the ruling RCD won over 90 percent of seats in the unicameral legislature in each election, with a few token seats given to regime-picked opposition parties.

5 Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 6.

6 This statement refers to the so-called “Tunisian paradox,” a puzzling condition that occupied analysts of Tunisian politics. The classic development formula “no bourgeoisie, no democracy,” generated by Barrington Moore, seemed inapplicable to the Tunisian case. See Barrington Moore, The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966).

7 Mabel Berezin, The Making of the Fascist Self: Political Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 7.

8 Peter G. Rowe, Civic Realism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 58–68.

9 Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination, 4–5, 18, 67.

10 Vaclav Havel et al., The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe,1985); James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).

11 Purple, according to rumor, was Ben Ali’s favorite color, and it was the official color of the RCD political party. An opposition activist once wrote a short parody entitled La Revolution Violée(t), calling the purple revolution a “raped revolution.”

12 “Discours intégral du Président Ben Ali à l’occasion du XXIème anniversaire du 7-Novembre,”, November 7, 2008. Accessed December 12, 2012.

13 Simon Kuper, Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World’s Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power (New York: Nations Books, 2006), 286.

14 Laryssa Chomiak and John P. Entelis, “Contesting Order in Tunisia: Crafting Political Identity,” in Civil Society Activism under Authoritarian Rule: A Comparative Perspective, ed. Francesco Cavatorta (London: Routledge, 2013), 83.

15 Author’s interviews with Espérance fans, October 2012 and February 2013, Tunis.

16 Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, 4–5, 206–207.

17 Ibid., 4–5,118–119.

18 Bayat, Life as Politics, 11.

19 Abdesselem Mahmoud, Tunis: Architecture et Urbanisme d’hier à demain (Tunis: Center de Publication Universitaire, 2010), 100–102.

20 “Propaganda hall” is the term used widely to describe the Salle d’Exposition et d’Information (exhibit and information hall), part of the Ministry of Information, which used to be situated on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Even after the relocation of the ministry away from the central avenue, the exposition hall was left in its original space on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and used for exhibition space promoting RCD projects and the Tunisian police as an agency of national protection.

21 Since the revolution, all soccer stadiums have been closed and matches are aired on TV. In Tunisia’s fragile post-revolution environment, the state says it does not have sufficient security forces to control potential confrontations between fans and the police. The identity debates that occurred in soccer stadiums prior to the revolution have not disappeared and continue to be pronounced by fans through soccer chants and songs outside the stadiums.

22 Alfred Stepan, “Tunisia’s Transition and the Twin Tolerations,” Journal of Democracy 23, no. 2 (April 2012): 89–103.

23 Ellen Lust, Lindsay Benstead, and Dhafer Maalouche, “Tunisia Post-Election Survey: Presentation of Initial Results,” December 11, 2012. Accessed February 13, 2013. Election%20Survey%20report%20 FINAL_3.pdf.

24 ZABA is the popular acronym for Zine El Abedine Ben Ali; an alternative campaign title is “The return of Ben Ali, La Goulette, October 17, 2010.”

25 Engagement Citoyen, “La photo de ZABA est de retour à la Goulette!” YouTube video, 1:39, October 17, 2011.

Laryssa Chomiak is a political scientist and director of the Centre d'Etudes Maghrébines à Tunis.
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For the Ben Ali regime, every roundabout was a display opportunity. The number 7 was an omnipresent symbol of the regime's political narrative. Photograph by Rebekah Dillon.
Banners strung between buildings celebrated Ben Ali’s cult of personality in the years before the 2011 revolution. Photograph by Carsten ten Brink, Flickr.
Tunisian men attend a soccer match before they were closed to the public by the post-revolution government. Photograph by Hamideddine Bouali.
These photographs document a political demonstration by Tunisian activist group Engagement Citoyen leading up to the first post-revolution elections. The final message reads, “Beware, dictatorship can return. Go out and vote on Octobe­r 23.” Photograph courtesy of Engagement Citoyen.
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