In Tunisia, The Spray Can As A Weapon Of Choice


Tunis: Kasserine, Tunisia’s second-biggest city, is only a few hours’ drive east from the Algerian border and the chaambi mountains, a known training ground for Islamist extremists. It is also one of the poorest cities in the country, where unemployment is rife, especially among young people, making many marginalised young men vulnerable to the lure of extremist recruiters.

Exporter of militants

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As a result, Tunisia is now the largest exporter of jihadist militants in the world. According to the UN, more than 5,500 nationals between the ages of 18 and 35 have joined militant organisations, including the Islamic State.

UN experts say that while “some [recruits] are prompted by religious and political ideologies,” many others are lured by the promise of financial gain, or a sense of purpose and belonging.

For Tarek Dhibi (23), a design student and graffiti artist, the years after the 2011 Arab Spring have been characterised by disillusionment among young people.

He has chosen graffiti as his weapon of choice to try to tackle the problem, and has devised a series of workshops for young people. He wants to teach them how to use a spray can, but also hopes that the process will help them form a strong sense of identity, which may make them less likely to join extremist groups.

“Graffiti showed me you can succeed even if you have nothing,” he explains. “Art has changed countries and empires, and I chose graffiti because it’s my lifestyle.”

In preparation for his workshops, Mr. Dhibi has prepared the beginnings of a syllabus: an eight-point plan on how to become a graffiti artist. Comments from locals suggest that his programme will be welcomed. “There is a strong tension. It’s like a balloon that will explode from the pressure,” says Ali Rebah, who runs Kasserine’s community radio station, KFM , a project born out of the ashes of the uprising to celebrate and make use of the media’s new-found freedom.

For Mr. Dhibi, the spray can is just one strategy he hopes will make a difference. “I want to share my inspiration with the group. For us to be brothers and sisters,” he says. “In our religion, we share. I will fight for them and I hope they will fight for me and our society.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2016