“Today we have decided to speak our mind and write the poor’s story on our walls.”
This is how Zwewla, a youth-driven graffiti group, represents itself to its Facebook followers.
In Tunisian dialect, zwewla means “the poor.” The organization was formed in early 2012 after the ouster of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, which was brought about by street protests centered on the slogan “jobs, freedom, and national dignity.”
“Right after the revolution, we noticed that not a single political party was speaking for the poor,” Wassim, a member of Zwewla, told Tunisia Live. “So we created Zwewla to express the situation of the poor.”
With their graffiti, Zwewla members seek to send messages that would “awaken the poor” from their sleep and push them to take action.
Graffiti in the Tunis medina: “The law is above all, and all above the poor.” Image credit: Afef Abrougui
The organization’s means of communication, however, puts them on the wrong side of the law.
Last April, a court found Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche, two members of Zwewla, guilty of writing “the people want rights for the poor” on a wall in Gabes, a city in Tunisia’s south. The most serious charges of “breaching the state of emergency” and “spreading messages that could disturb public order” were dismissed, but they were ordered to pay a 100 dinar fine for defacing government property.
But Zwewla graffiti artists say that their message speaks to many Tunisians, and sometimes even the authorities.
“Free Klay BBJ” graffiti by Zwewla. Image courtesy the group's Facebook page.
“In one case, there was this police officer who caught us drawing graffiti. But when he read the [pro-poor] message, he left us alone,” Wassim said.
On January 14, 2014 the group is planning to organize shilouna, a “symbolic action” in front of the Ministry of Interior or the prime minister’s office to protest recent prosecutions and arrests of young Tunisian artists. Shilouna means “arrest us” in Tunisian dialect.
“Today we have chosen to be biased in favor of the poor,” reads the group’s profile, “and because of the poor we have left politics behind.”
www.tunisia-live.net Afef Abrougui 8 November 2013