Many books appeared in what is known in the Arab world as prison literature, including documentary and fictional, in which writers either narrated their experiences in Arab prisons or imagined what is going on in them. However, some prisons remained mysterious as a result of the blackout that accompanied them and their privacy, as they stigmatized those who had gone through these exceptional experiences.
The regime of Matouk is a desert region in the far south of Tunisia. It was known as the title of punishment practiced by the Bourguiba regime in its late years and the Ben Ali regime in its early days. The regime only showed its environmental and agricultural consequences, represented by turning the frightening and wild desert into paradise by reclaiming it by planting palm trees.
The place was a detention center for students who were uprooted from the seats of the flag and assigned them to these arduous work in the heart of the fierce desert as a punishment for their student mobility.
A few years ago, texts began appearing here and there on this bitter experience that students went through in Tunisia, so the novel “The Road to the Regime Matouk Camp” by Uncle Ammar Al-Jami appeared, as well as Ibrahim Darghouthi’s novel “The Automatic Monkey”, and the latest version of this period was a biography. A subjective feature of a recruiter named Muhammad al-Sassi al-Mansoori under the title “From the Days of the Camp” (The Plight of Recruits in Regime Maatouk Detention Center in the Years of Embers), which he dedicates “to a forgotten generation of detainees from Regime Maatouk”.
The diet of Maatouk is no longer an exile, but rather a paradise, so the narrator stands between the palm trees and the fruit trees that he and his companions planted during the conscription confused feelings, so the magic of the place harms the whole memory and embarrasses it, so the self becomes confused in front of its standing after more than 30 years in front of the accomplished that was forced upon it. Thus opens the novel “From the Days of the Camp.” What the narrator used to see as torture and humiliation has become today wandering around, enchanted by his beauty.
And this sense of elation turned into a narrative dilemma after this space acquired with this lover description an aesthetic immunity that dominated the identity of emotion, the emotion of the old conscript prisoner.
However, the deep memory and the painful experience soon return from between that palm and those sand to stop the feelings of the tourist and restore the recruited student’s biography to remind the tragic history of paradise: the regime of Hell Maatouk. The reader was waiting for the split moment for the same writer today and his old self when he was a student, but the writer chose another trick and summoned his next self, the man of the future who will be talking to him about the young third who was there before them prisoner and conscript.
The road to the camp
The road to the camp is not the title of Khal Ammar al-Jami’s novel, but the bulk of the novel “From the Days of the Camp”, because writer Muhammad al-Sassi al-Mansouri devoted it entirely to him, starting from recruiting students, removing their civilian clothes, wearing a military uniform, and riding an army truck until they reached the Sfax Barracks restaurant.
The writer was able to convey to us that transformation in distinct scenes and dialogues that elevate writing to the level of landscape writing, which rises to the level of literary poetry and descends literature to the level of a vivid image that speaks experience.
In this part, the author conveyed to us the moments of surprise and the student’s recruited questions about what is happening to him, and his questions about the relationship of the National Army to what is happening to them in terms of punishment because of their student political activity and their ideological affiliations, before presenting to us a piece of the fate that awaits them through the hunger lesson that they learned on the way. When I tossed each of them sardine cans closed and let them manage to open them to silence their hunger, no one managed to open them all the long way.
The narrator says: Everyone lined up to receive the military clothes, which are green like hoes. We took off the “civilian” (civilian dress) and put on the “militar” (military dress). None of us was able to distinguish the other. My feet stumbled upon Ali the Guelofi and he was a soulmate and still is: O colleague, have you not seen me? So he said: And you, colleague, have you not seen (M.S.)? We laughed greedily from his grind. It was a thin, transparent laugh that did not go away from the anthrax burning from the eyes of the executioners, and it defeated us for ten days of detention.
The narrator seemed not concerned, at the beginning, with narrating the details of the arrest, nor the treatment of the police, but rather concerned only with another biography of the arrest through the military uniform. Therefore, he jumped towards the speech of the military officer who received them to get them out of their initial surprise and introduce them to the nature of the new life.
One of the officers stood up and said firmly and respectfully: “Get ready, I will … go … O soldiers. You are now not students. Forget that quality until your return after a year. You are now soldiers under the protection of the Tunisian National Army and in its custody, and soldiers for the interest of the country and under its banner.” You are within an institution that is our shield for all of us, and everything below that does not concern us .. You will be transported to our barracks in a city before me in a military truck. You are men and educated people, relying on your understanding. You will serve your country without entering into the reasons for your presence here, for it does not concern me .. Get ready to ride, And beware of thinking for a moment about committing folly by trying to escape. Four of the army will accompany you while they are armed, and they have the order to shoot every violator. I am sure you are aware and understand what I say. Safety came with you.
Thus, the officer ended one stage of the lives of the recruited students and brought them another stage, dropping an identity for them and dressing them again, and the army absolved them of what happened to them and removed any responsibility from him, so he ordered what he brought to them did not concern him, but he threatened them with death in the form of rebellion against what others had set for them.
This rhetoric confused the recruited student and made him live in chaos of feelings. In his uprisings and protests, he was victorious for the homeland against the regime, and he saw in the soldier the highest degree of fulfillment and the duty offered by the citizen, but he does not understand why this country did not have patience with them until they finish their studies. The narrator wonders why the military establishment accepted such illegal measures and the authority turned it into a tool of punishment and turned the honor of conscription into a method of punishment.
Rhetoric of black irony
Al-Mansouri writes his text in a sarcastic manner, one of the ironies in which they put those students who found themselves from overnight to have turned from students on university benches to detainees and recruits in the desert.
Al-Mansouri works in writing the worlds of experience on the idea of the interview. The personalities are transformed from the students ’identities to the recruits’ identities, their civilian clothes are thrown to hand them green clothes, the university rises in front of the barracks, and the “kumiyoun”, meaning the green military truck against the yellow truck, that moves in the hell of the desert. A great existential struggle lived by the recruited student pushes him to despair and madness until one of the recruited students, a graduate of philosophy, declares: “Here we are leaving history … Weren’t we singing, I am the soldier, I am the hero, for the stones shake, and for the sailor a drinker .. for snakes are a hunter .. I eat hashish. A student of Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Ibn Rushd and Al-Farabi, I say this. I see Hegel’s spirit restless and complaining. “
The book narrates the suffering of an entire generation of recruited students who suffered the woes in the Tunisian desert in the face of its horrors, its reptiles, its thirst, the torture of its leaders, and the practices of revenge, humiliation and sadism.
Those soldiers who received instructions from the State of Instructions are decisive and strict: “They held them accountable to the utmost. They restricted their movement, confiscated their freedom, and destroyed their remaining sense of dignity, honor and belonging.”
Hell and transformations
Thus, it became clear to the recruited students that they are not soldiers, but rather detainees because they are excluded from the rights of ordinary soldiers on leave and other things. Rather, they are deprived of even training in weapons as soldiers because they represent a danger to the system and the trainers do not trust them, and most of what was handed over to them to guard batons or shovels. He even made one of the recruits imagine their role in the war of only being tasked with digging graves for those killed.
The author narrated how ideological differences disappeared before oppression and students united, saying, “The regional dimension was not an obsession. It raised us from ideological affiliations and partisan intellectual orientations .. We were all in the spontaneity of the Bedouin, the flexibility of the urban, the wisdom of the sheikhs, and the spontaneity of children. The system did not differentiate between an Islamic, a communist and a nationalist. Who are the people of the north from the south. Only matters are determined according to their obedience to the ruler. “
It is true that what was mentioned in the book about the arts of torture did not reach what we read in terms of violations in military prisons in South America, especially what Uruguayan writer Lescano, for example, who recorded in his book as the carriage of madmen, has remained individual, because the denial of these students of their right to study and eradicate them From their natural location and throwing them in the desert because of their opinions and violations, it was a crime of the state, thus confirming the temporary escape of the recruited narrator from the camp, who revealed to him the power of authority, which by intimidation ruined the minds of the people of his village and his college, who went asking about his right to continue education in it after the expiration of the punishment. He did not want to talk to anyone from his village or college. Everyone shuns him for fear of the ruler.
And as the narrator says in the end of the book, “Prison is a bitter life experience. He is in forced detention in the barracks and has a double bitterness. It is a feeling of imprints of the deprivation of liberty, enveloping each other like waves of a sea of darkness with layers that affect the soul before the body. And if .. As for the barracks, you are subject to the mood of a sadistic person who sees your oppression as a pleasure and savors your torment. “
His companion in life and imprisonment, Ali al-Ghailoufi, says in his introduction, “And what is a novel from the days of the camp is a chapter through which the writer enters into the struggle that exposes the ruling authority, which considers even the integrity of the body a blessing for which we can swim: to a republic for life.
From the days of the camp, a new window for prison literature in Tunisia opens to a field of fenced and forbidden memory fields that cannot be hidden by the garden of palm trees and fruit trees planted by hands from which notebooks and books were pulled in universities to hold shovels and shovels in the desert. A literature that we cannot hold to a harsh technical account as we read all those torments associated with its authors only. We consider it part of the writings of the period of democratic transition. The stage needs to recover from dictatorial regimes that ruled the Tunisian people and implicated everyone in abusing it, even the national army itself, which won the right during the revolution and stood by the people As if he apologized to him for what he did to hundreds of his children in the “Maatouk diet.”