Cursed be the Phosphate
Cursed be the PhosphateOriginal Title: Yel'an Bu Al-phosphate
Director: Sami Tlili
Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates | Arabic
“Cursed be the phosphate that we dig out and goes to others.' These words echoed
throughout the Gafsa mining basin in 2008 and dialled into the discontent festering in
Tunisia. Documentarian Sami Tlili makes a compelling case that the 2011 revolution – which
would succeed in removing President Ben Ali from power and quickly spark what became
known as the Arab Spring – first happened here, three years earlier, when impoverished
citizens banded together in civil dissent.
Any resident of Gafsa will tell you that their life is simply absurd: they toil under gruelling
conditions and endure unforgiving ecological and health consequences to produce
phosphate, and yet are told they are not entitled to any advantages of their labour. The
phosphate is a cursed wealth for a region where miners must strike for basic rights, poverty
only gets worse and turmoil lingers in the air. Socially fractured from the larger populace, its
people are either forgotten or horribly caricatured as peasants and country bumpkins across
popular national media. Naturally they were neglected by Ben Ali’s regime.
Beginning in January 2008, the teachers, the unemployed and the youth living in despair led six
months of riots in the Gafsa mining basin. This unprecedented uprising became modern Tunisia’s
first popular movement and brought fresh attention to the dusty and mountainous southwest.
The protest was brutally suppressed by the government, but its spirit survived to give birth to
the Tunisian revolution on January 14, 2011. More than four years have now passed since the initial
revolt and Gafsa’s people are again out of sight and forgotten. All that remains are shattered lives
quietly holding onto pride and trying to carry on with dignity.
- Mohammad Khawaja