My taxi driver, that day, was a 24-year-old Business graduate. He hang his degree in the car. This was almost a year ago, but what he said still resonates with me: “Of course, I have to be proud. But at this point, I just want to live my life away from politics.”
We were “surprisingly” discussing politics—just like every single Tunisian out of the 10.89 million on this planet has been doing for the past two years, at least. What struck me the most in the conversation, however, was the fact that this was not the first time I hear such a young person proudly “confess” this particular thought: He made it clear that he does not want to be involved in politics after the revolution took place in the country—Not in one single way. This, however, shouldn’t be a concern.
Today, after hitting the polls for the third time in as many years, Tunisian youth have been harshly criticized, especially by the West, for being absent, almost completely, from participating in the political life. They have been accused of being “irresponsible, unresponsive, and completely disillusioned” to expect radical change in the social and economic spheres in the country – like limiting unemployment and economic struggle—in the frame of a few years. This, however, is not a concern.
In the last parliamentary elections, the Tunisian High Commission on Elections has reported a strong overall turnout—around 64% of registered voters—from which only 10% represented the “young generation.”
But why this shouldn’t be a concern?
Why is this “absenteeism” acceptable?
I might not have lived the struggle that a business-graduate-taxi-driver has experienced—as I am looking at the situation from the lenses of an immigrant. Writing this piece, actually, I might be looked at as another one of those journalism students, who doesn’t even live in Tunisia, and who is “laying down” some ink on white papers while sipping on hot chocolate and trying to analyze the action-choice of the unemployed 21-year-old, and the financially struggling 23-year-old inside the country. But I am still a 22-year-old Tunisian. And I have chosen not to vote in the last elections. And I can also tell you that we, the young ones, are not going to be that present even in the coming presidential elections at the end of this month.
What most Westerners, and many older Tunisians, don’t get is the big dilemma that we, young Tunisians, wherever we live, are facing today. We were brought up in a system where the politician, and anyone involved in politics –the country’s president especially—has always been looked at as the enemy. He, the politician, has always been the cause of, almost, every negative aspect in the society: The certified medical doctor who sells Shawarma sandwiches (I saw this in one of the Shawarma places I’ve been to, two years ago); the son who was imprisoned for 10 years just for praying the morning prayer at the mosque; and the business graduate who works as a taxi driver. For twenty years, we have been told not to trust this politician, and today we are not only expected to vote for this politician, but to be politically active and possibly become one of those politicians.
Young Tunisians have been bouncing from disappointment to disappointment, along with scandal and corruption among the political class in the run of twenty years. This created cynicism, pessimism, and apathy among them. But they’re the young ones, and they’re hopeful by default. This is why we still see them hopeful about the future. We see them “expecting” future change, and “anticipating” positive development from the politicians/leaders to be—despite not having a strong voice in the voting process.
Taking this stand, however, does not mean that we, young Tunisians, are being “irresponsible, [and] unresponsive” or that we are not going to take part of the change our country is witnessing. The older generation has always chosen the leader for us, and at the end of this month, the same generation is going to do it one more time. This time, however, they will have an arbitrate: we, the young ones, will be the judge, exactly like we were almost four years ago. The next politician –and the next president—whoever he/she maybe, will know that every act of theirs is being watched and every decision is being judged. Stagnation will no longer be tolerated and serving the country has to always be the end goal. Anyone who shows otherwise will risk being thrown away by the same youth who are said to be “irresponsible”—just like it was the case with Bin Ali.
This is exactly why our absence from the political pool, today, is not a concern.