Although I have three citizenships (Swiss, Tunisian, Egyptian), I used to think, all my life, that only in Switzerland my opinion mattered, through my vote, and that dictatorship in my two countries of origine, and the fact I leave abroad, made my voice mute and useless.
I remember the day I received for the first time of my life, as a 18+ swiss citizen, my materiel de vote in my mailbox, it was in 2000 and it was a popular consultation on the rise of age of retirement for women from 62 to 64, I spent days reading all I could read about the topic, too afraid to make the wrong choice. The day I went to the polling station it was odd to me, I clearly felt for the first time of my life to not only be swiss or swiss african, but to be a swiss citizen who has her contribution to bring to Switzerland.
My parents have had Swiss citizenship later than I did – I was almost 20 at that time. The first time they received the materiel de vote, with their voter cards, I remember them so perfectly, laughing and grinning like kids oppening their Christmas Gifts, and telling me it is the first time of their lives they are asked their opinion through vote. At that time my parents were more than 40, but my father, egyptian, and my mother, tunisian, had to wait to be swiss in order to vote for the first time of their lives. I remember when they asked me how to proceed to vote; after the explanation I gave them I remember my mother’s first question was “But what do you think I should vote here? Yes or No?” (and all her life long we had always the same argument about the fact that every time we had to go for voting, she wanted to know what did I vote to vote the same) and my father asking me, while looking at the voting paper, where exactly does he have to write his name – above or below the “yes” and “no” box?
The day I realized how strange it was to be on one side citizen of one of the most democratic countries – Switzerland – and on the other side “citizen” from two of the most repressive dictatorships of arab countries – Tunisia and Egypt – was the day I voted for the first time for a Tunisian vote. It was in 2002, and we had to chose wether or not we agree to modify the Tunisian Constitution. The Constitution was restricting the president to limited number of mandates, and the ‘popular consultation’ was about rising this restriction to an unlimited number of mandates – in other words, give the constitutional right to Ben Ali to stay a lifetime president. Me and my mother, with our voting cards, went to the Tunisian Consulate and were given the voting material. I remember the voting papers, one with “Yes” written in black on a white paper, “No” written in white on a black paper, and an enveloppe – a transparent enveloppe where nothing was easier to see the color of the paper inside of it. I asked one of the staff if I could have a copy of the constitution with highlights on the parts that are to be modified, he brought me a text telling me that the concerned parts were written in red…. but he gave me a black and white photocopy of the constitution. When I entered the voting booth, I remember putting the white “yes” paper in my pocket, the “no” black paper in the enveloppe, together with the photocopy of the constitution, in order to make it invisible through the transparent enveloppe which one I chosed. After being out of the Consulate I felt melancholic and angry of how ridiculous all this sounded. When, In november of the same year, at the annual gathering of tunisians of Geneva at the occasion of our National Day, I remember the Ambassador self-congratulating about the successful vote and how each of us can witness how fair our democratic consultation was.
Presidential Elections of 2005 and 2009 were such a mascarade, with the same transparent voting enveloppes and the red paper for Ben Ali, who was re-elected with more than 95% of votes. I went to the 2005 vote to put all the ‘alternative’ candidates papers (4 or 5, I dont remember) in the enveloppe, embended in the red paper. I didn’t even bother going to the 2009 votation, for it was too ridiculous.
I never voted for any egyptian vote or election. I remember at age of 13 or 14 a conversation with my aunt Sohir (at the age where you believe so much in your own stuff that you really look down on adults who tell you about being realistic and compromise, etc, etc), where she said “why should I want for a president a guy we don’t know when we already have one we know? One has to be satisfied or God can send you worse”. And later I never asked for my egyptian voting card, after learning from my father that his Uncle, my grand-uncle Ebrahim was a ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ Society member (“Ikhwan el Moslemine”) and that the day Nasser established their illegality my grand uncle burnt everything, every evidence he had that he was part of the Society.
Before 14th of January I never felt my voice had something any interesting elsewhere than in Switzerland, first because of our democratic system, second because of living here, while I always felt useless to Tunisia and Egypt by dictatorship, but more because of the fact of living abroad – I always felt like I had no really any existence in my two countries of origin – as if I hadn’t “deserved” the right to be called citizen. To be citizen is to vote, but also to work in and for the country, to be part of the everyday life. And without any right to vote – really vote I mean – I was nor a political citizen, nor a factual citizen. Would any of my egyptian or tunisian fellows living there consider me ever anything else than some special kind of tourist (even if I don’t feel myself to be so), coming at summer because I miss the family and the country; because there, I dont own a car, I rent it, I dont see the kids growing up continuously, I only get snapshots? And that question always, alway asked: do you prefer Switzerland or Egypt/Tunisia? How to explain that I prefer none of them, I just dont really get the point of it, as if I was asked who do you love the more, your father and your mother? That despite the fact that I have the perspective to go back live in Egypt or Tunisia (or any muslim country, especially if I get married to a non-egyptian or non-tunisian) before I have kids – for it is clear to me I want my children to be raised in a country where they are not a minorité religieuse where people ask them (as it is a growing tendency in Europe since September 2001) if they are more faithful to Europe or Islam (as if a geographical location was any comparision with a religious entity) – I always felt so far I would be a citizen of Tunisia and Egypt only the day I will be resident there.
But After 14th of January, as Ben Ali stepped down, the perspective slightly changed: in six months I will be voting for a presidential election where my voice will count, whether I live abroad or not. How would I direct my choice towards one of the other of the candidates? Of course my choices are more driven towards the ideologies I believe in and away from those I don’t – the french-like ‘laicité’ opponents like Marzouki no way I’m ever going to give my voice to any of them. But anyway, the gap that separates me and the day-to-day life knowledge of somebody living in Tunisia, how can I fill it? And now that I see that Egypt has started to follow the Jasmin Revolution path, and that things even go much beyond all expectations, the same question is to be relevant for Egypt also? I try, of course, to do my little own contribution with what I have in hand, but from far, is it enough, is it appropriate? How would I know? I’d certainly never know but now that first time of my life I had the feeling after January the 14th that I am not only tunisian person but also a tunisian citizen, not only an egyptian person, but also an egyptian citizen, the time is really coming for me to answer to THE question: I always knew I can be without any internal conflict a swiss and a tunisian and egyptian person, that I was a muslim-european and is not afraid to raise my voice for what I believe are our rights as europeans with a strong conscience on what we believe is our philosophy and contiousness as muslims, but now I am also another kind of citizen.
Can I really be citizen of three countries? Defend three Constitutions, look after the interests of three countries, one of them being neutral, the two remaining part of a cultural block that is not neutral? Feel three times patriotic, sing three national anthems? Or am I only one citizen, one citizen of one ideology, that has the right and the chance to participate to the implementation of the so said ideology in three different countries?
My friend Anais who is swiss with peruvian origins and with whom I shared my concern gave me, as an answer, a new question, a clever one. She asked me if I could imagine defending the interests of Switzerland/Tunisia/Egypt against any other interests of another country… to wich of these countries would I be able to fight and dedicate my life. Currently I am still trying to sort out the answer – and certainly I began to write this note not to give to the reader (who anyway is certainly not that interested in my own personnal inner debates) the answer to the question, but to find out what it is.
What I know for sure is that chosing between Egypt, Tunisia and Switzerland ‘s interests would it be like chosing between my father’s, my mother’s and my adoptive mother’s interests. I would never be able to harm any of them to defend any other of them, but I will always be able to give my own soul to protect any one of them if it is in my hand to do so. I do not share my love in three for them, I have three different loves. At this point I feel very lucky that I belong to three countries that have different interests, yet not really antagonist interests – not as if I were half egyptian and half israelian for example.
And what I feel now while I am writing these lines is that the one thing that stands in the middle, that links everything together, is not that I am european or african, or swiss or tunisian or egyptian, but that I am a muslim, that knows that only my moral values can make me chose not the interests of a country or another one, but the make me chose the right thing in each situation.
And maybe now I feel for the first time of my life what it is to be part of the Umma, the muslim nation: forget your frontiers but not your moral limits, don’t fight for your country with a patriotic resolution, regardless if the cause is just or not, but fight for your country to follow an ethical path. My two green passeports and my red passeport are not my identities, they are the pacific tools given to me to allow me to act for a change where I belong. Yes I am a Swiss-Tunisian-Egyptian person, a Swiss-Tunisian-Egyptian citizen, but above all I am the carrier of values which I deeply believe are my way to give the best part of myself to the human kind.