The palm tree and the fist. The use of popular imagery in the Tunisian protest songs of the 1970s-1980s

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The article focuses on the emergence and development of the Tunisian protest song (in Arabic al-ughniya al-multazima) in the late Bourguiba period, and investigates its role in the education, mobilization and galvanization of students, unionists and activists. An analysis of song lyrics and oral testimonies reveals the influence of Gramsci’s ideas on Tunisian leftist artists and intellectuals, who adapted concepts such as, cultural hegemony and common-sense to the local context. Furthermore, the article discusses the significance of the ‘popular’ in relation to these activists’ cultural project. Despite being mainly confined to intellectual and political circles, protest songs made wide use of peasant symbolism, rural imagery and the everyday experiences of workers, revealing the ideological project of the Left, which aspired to assert cultural hegemony over the masses. In the first part of the article I will trace the historical and political background in which this musical scene emerged. In the second and third parts I will engage, respectively, in an analysis of songs by the musical groups al-Bahth al-Musiqi from Gabes and Awlad al-Manajim from Moularès. By tracing the history of the Tunisian protest song, the article sheds light on the production of resistant cultural material under authoritarian regimes.




Carnevale, A. (2021). The palm tree and the fist. The use of popular imagery in the Tunisian protest songs of the 1970s-1980s. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 48(1), 130–152.

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