Tunisia's Harlem Shake

Never in Tunisia's history has a dance video recorded at a Tunis high school by a handful of teenagers earlier this week created such controversy and division. "What happened is an insult to the educational message and whoever contributed will be held responsible", warned Abdellatif Abid, the Tunisian Minister of Education. In a stirring speech to the youth of the nation this Monday, the minister denounced the dance scandal and made clear his firm intention to order a probe and hold the teens accountable for the video. In response to the minister's swift reaction, the country's schools and colleges have turned into a giant dancefloor, with thousands of young students shaking their feet. Hundreds of newer videos have been released, receiving thousands of views on the social networks and causing a widespread criticism of the minister's decision.

Others, however, applauded the Minister's speech and demanded severe punishment to curb the teens' uncontrolled desire for freedom of expression and liberty of action and creation. "These are the works of just a bunch of spoiled teens with an indecent sense of morality that shall be corrected," commented a high school teacher. "These dance videos are a real threat to our identity. Our revolution is in danger," added another. Several calls to punish the parents who granted their kids the right to shake their booties to a western rhythm have also been launched.

Be that as it may, the dance video is just the tip of the iceberg. The origin of much of the controversy lies in the ever-growing generation gap, which has torn the teens away from the elders. Teens and adults have been walking side by side but incommunicado till they collided today. Overexposed to the western culture, Tunisian teens have adopted much of its lifestyle and value system. Adults, however, fear the change and feel nostalgic for those old days when no such scandals would ever go public.

Over the time, this digital divide has resulted in a cultural shock: dancing in public is obscene conduct, some say. It's an art, claim others. And as an art, it should be granted equal respect and recognition to other artistic forms like singing and acting, taught at those same schools.

In the meantime, the dancing fever goes on: just this Wednesday, a new Harlem Shake dance video has been recorded at a high school in Sousse. The event degenerated into a brawl, and the police had to use CS gas to control the crowd.

Sami Chatti is an assistant professor at the University of Manouba, Tunisia.


Watch related AT Video: Tunisian Students Dance the 'Harlem Shake' to Defy Strict Government

Never in Tunisia's history has a dance video recorded at a Tunis high school by a handful of teenagers earlier this week created such controversy and division. "What happened is an insult to the educational message and whoever contributed will be held responsible", warned Abdellatif Abid, the Tunisian Minister of Education. In a stirring speech to the youth of the nation this Monday, the minister denounced the dance scandal and made clear his firm intention to order a probe and hold the teens accountable for the video. In response to the minister's swift reaction, the country's schools and colleges have turned into a giant dancefloor, with thousands of young students shaking their feet. Hundreds of newer videos have been released, receiving thousands of views on the social networks and causing a widespread criticism of the minister's decision.

Others, however, applauded the Minister's speech and demanded severe punishment to curb the teens' uncontrolled desire for freedom of expression and liberty of action and creation. "These are the works of just a bunch of spoiled teens with an indecent sense of morality that shall be corrected," commented a high school teacher. "These dance videos are a real threat to our identity. Our revolution is in danger," added another. Several calls to punish the parents who granted their kids the right to shake their booties to a western rhythm have also been launched.

Be that as it may, the dance video is just the tip of the iceberg. The origin of much of the controversy lies in the ever-growing generation gap, which has torn the teens away from the elders. Teens and adults have been walking side by side but incommunicado till they collided today. Overexposed to the western culture, Tunisian teens have adopted much of its lifestyle and value system. Adults, however, fear the change and feel nostalgic for those old days when no such scandals would ever go public.

Over the time, this digital divide has resulted in a cultural shock: dancing in public is obscene conduct, some say. It's an art, claim others. And as an art, it should be granted equal respect and recognition to other artistic forms like singing and acting, taught at those same schools.

In the meantime, the dancing fever goes on: just this Wednesday, a new Harlem Shake dance video has been recorded at a high school in Sousse. The event degenerated into a brawl, and the police had to use CS gas to control the crowd.

Sami Chatti is an assistant professor at the University of Manouba, Tunisia.


Watch related AT Video: Tunisian Students Dance the 'Harlem Shake' to Defy Strict Government

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