A Revolution in Four Seasons

“Everyone dreams of democracy, of a better tomorrow, of a developed country.” These are the words of Emna Ben Jemaa, a Tunisian journalist and blogger whose experience during the 2011 Revolution and its aftermath we get to know in Jessie Deeter’s documentary film, A Revolution in Four Seasons.

“Then we began to realize that things were a little bit more complicated,”
adds Emna. “That there are Islamists whom you must respect because they too have the right to dream of their country.”

Under a crisp blue sky, dozens of red flags decorate the city of Tunis, hung from thin, almost transparent wires. Two women walk side by side, one with a headscarf, the other one without. There is calm in the streets; the tumultuous days of the 2011 Revolution are behind them. Now it’s time to redefine the country.

Then we are introduced to Jawhara Ettis, an Islamist professor who declares herself a progressive and a feminist, a woman who wants to keep the traditions of Islam in post-revolutionary Tunisia. Seated behind the desk where she teaches, she addresses the camera, “You cannot be a subordinate to France or the United States and forget about your religion, your history and your language just in order to be declared a progressive.”

How does a country find the path to democracy after years of dictatorship? Can a new constitution create the space for every religious belief and political stance to coexist in harmony? 

Throughout the film we see both women, each in her own way, fighting for the kind of democracy they would like to see in their country. We see Jawhara’s run to become a member of the Constituency Assembly representing the Ennahda party and her efforts to create the laws that will preserve the traditions she believes in, and she also advocates for the rights of women. But there are challenges. We see her struggle to understand some of the paradoxes within Islam, namely the branch of Salafi jihadism.

“That is not Islam,” she says, after the terrorist attacks at the Bardo Museum in 2015. It is a moment of high tension in the film, and the camera frames her face, a bright blue scarf covering her hair. But she just looks down, unable to say anything more.

We see Emna campaigning against the wave of violence carried out by the police. In front of the camera, on the radio and on social media, she denounces injustice. “There is no possibility of having democracy if you cannot feel safe in the streets.”

Both of them get married and half-way through the film give birth to two beautiful girls. Both have to make choices on how to prioritize their personal, working and political lives, knowing there will be consequences, no matter what they choose. Emna’s husband, a man who has come back from the US, carries their baby in his arms and thinks out loud about the future. Will she be grateful that her parents decided to raise her in post-revolutionary Tunisia? Or will she have wished they had moved to the US?

The film was shown at the One World Film Festival in Brussels, organized by People in Need and The Czech Center for Human Rights and Democratisation.