Home > Tunisia > The Rap That Sparked a Revolution: El General (Tunisia)

The Rap That Sparked a Revolution: El General (Tunisia)

As the world watches Cairo burn, I can’t help but think that the flames of protest engulfing Egypt were sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi , the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17 after police confiscated his vegetable cart. The desperation that he expressed through his act of self-immolation caught on, literally, and spread across the country, into Algeria, and now to Egypt.

But Mr. Bouazizi, God rest his soul, was not the only young Tunisian to sacrifice his own safety, and life, to ignite the country in a revolt against dictatorship. Twenty-one year old Hamada Ben Amor, also known as El General released an incendiary rap song called “ Head of State ” around the same time as Bouazizi’s suicidal act. The song, which directly addresses now-former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, caught on like wildfire on Facebook, inspiring thousands of young Tunisians to take to the streets, and landing El General in jail. The young rapper was not heard from for days and many assumed the worst, as Ben Ali’s security forces had already killed 14 protesters and made many more disappear.

The happy ending to the story is that Hamada Ben Amor did not have to die to make his message heard. In fact, this past weekend, El General took to the stage once more, in Tunis, to give an emotional performance in front of a crowd of students. And he’s about to go on his first tour this summer, first around Tunisia and then on to Greece, Senegal, and France.

As the debate blazes on, as it inevitably will, as to who is really responsible for setting off the powderkeg of North African discontent, I encourage you all to read the words of Hamada Ben Amor, aka. El General, and take a moment to meditate on the power of Hip Hop music to articulate frustration and incite young people to action – but without violence or destruction. One cannot help but wonder if Mohammed Bouazizi’s fate would have been different had he grabbed a microphone instead of a can of gasoline. His mother, who attended the El General concert and applauded in tears, certainly wishes that he had.

Here is the subtitled video for “Head of State”, with lyrics reprinted below. In remembrance of Mohammed Bouazizi, I pray that young people across the Arab world and beyond heed the words and, moreover, the deeds of their courageous local rappers, who consistently succeed in speaking truth to power.

Why are you worried?
Would you tell me something? Don’t be afraid!

Mr. President, today I am speaking in mame of myself and of all the people
who are suffering in 2011, there are still people dying of hunger
who want to work to survive, but their voice was not heard
get off into the street and see, people have become like animals
see the police with batons, takatak they don’t care
since there is no one telling him to stop
even the law of the constitution, put it in water and drink it.
Every day I hear of invented process, in spite of the servants of the state know
I see the snake that strikes women in headscarves
you accept it for your daughter?
You know these are words that make your eyes weep
as a father does not want to hurt her children
then this is a message from one of your children
who is telling of his suffering
we are living like dogs
half of the people living in filth
and drank from a cup of suffering

Mr. President your people is dead
many people eat from garbage
and you see what is happening in the country
misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep
I am speaking in name of the people who are suffering and were put under the feet

Mr President, you told me to speak without fear
But I know that eventually I will take just slaps
I see too much injustice and so I decided to send this message even though the people told me that my end is death
But until when the Tunisian will leave in dreams, where is the right of expression?
They are just words ..
Tunis was defined the “green”, but there is only desert divided into 2,
it is a direct robbery by force that dominated a country
without naming already everybody knows who they are
much money was pledged for projects and infrastructure
schools, hospitals, buildings, houses
But the sons of dogs have already fattened
They stole, robbed, kidnapped and were unwilling to leave the chair
I know that there are many words in the heart of the people but don’t come out
if there was not this injustice I would not be here to say these things

Mr. President your people is dead
many people eat from garbage
and you see what is happening in the country
misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep
I am speaking in name of the people who are suffering and were put under the feet

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  1. Lori Goodsell
    May 25, 2011 at 11:06 pm | #1

    where can I find a file to download to my ipod? love it.

  2. D
    July 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm | #2

    I found your article via Raptivism.tumblr.com.
    You’ve shocked my world and I’m at a loss for words.
    Please keep writing I’ll follow your stories.

  1. April 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm | #1
  2. May 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm | #2
  3. August 1, 2011 at 5:53 am | #3

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