Tunisians celebrate opening of ‘City of Culture’ in departure from downbeat mood

Senior officials hailed the project as a stage for “new ambitions of the next generation.”
Sunday 25/03/2018
A general view of the arts and culture complex of ‘Tunis, the City of Culture’ during the official opening ceremony, on March 21. (AFP)
National icon. A general view of the arts and culture complex of ‘Tunis, the City of Culture.’ (AFP)

TUNIS - At a time many Tunisians are despondent over a lacklustre economy and disappointing government performance, they have a rare achievement to celebrate following Independence Day.

On March 21, the day after the country’s independence celebration, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi inaugurated the “City of Culture,” a new arts complex that is seen as a creative and intellectual hub for the country and the region.

The sprawling 9-hectare centre, marked by a towering glass globe, is a tribute to Tunisian arts and culture, with spaces dedicated to national cinema, music, theatre, art and literature.

It took years to complete and many doubted it would ever be. Initiated in 2006, the project was dogged by administrative and financial difficulties following the 2011 revolution, with some arguing it was not a priority for a country struggling to provide jobs and bread to the poor. Others discounted the project as an unwelcome legacy of the previous regime.

Seven years later, senior officials hailed the project as a reflection of the country’s “commitment to free expression” and a stage for “new ambitions of the next generation.”

Caid Essebsi said the complex met the priority needs of a population trying to ward off extremist narratives.

“Every Tunisian should be proud of this project. Culture is the main tool with which we will fight terrorism,” he said at the March 21 opening ceremony. “Tunisians have to dream and have confidence in themselves.”

Tunisian Minister of Culture Mohamed Zine el-Abidine echoed Caid Essebsi’s remarks at a news conference, saying the newly founded city was a “place that we can be proud of… a place for every Tunisian.”

Zine el-Abidine added that the project was a towering accomplishment for Tunisia, positioning it at the centre of cultural expression in the region. He noted it would provide artists with a venue to showcase their work, serve as a touristic landmark and preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

“The City of Culture serves as an opportunity… for a different cultural landscape. It creates new occasions for creators to work and opens the door for artists to learn, create and perform… This city will exclude no one,” Zine el-Abidine said.

In a reply to critics who saw the City of Culture as a reminder of another era, Zine el-Abidine said: “The project represents the will and patriotism of all Tunisians… Let’s build together rather than injuring each other.”