Tunisian-American Comic Pokes Fun at the Censorship of Corrupt State-Sponsored News During the Arab Spring

"We consider things like free speech, peace, and democracy to be American values."

Photo Credit: Giancarlo Osaben

In February 2011, Arab Spring protests spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Zitounia, a fictional island-nation in the Mediterranean. At least that's the plot line for "Good Morning, Zitounia!" a new off-Broadway play from comic and activist Leila Ben-Abdallah.

Ben-Abdallah takes the audience back to a time when protests raged and reporters maintained their propaganda directed by the corrupt government. Despite extreme restrictions, state-owned media did their best to cover the news; a phenomenon some American journalists seem to be emulating in an all-Trump era. 

"This show is for anyone who doesn't want to read the news because it is too sad, or wants to learn more about the Middle East and North Africa, but is afraid it is too dense or boring," Ben-Abdallah explained.

"Good Morning, Zitounia" stars a bunch of puppets who trade jabs over real events in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. Puppets play correspondents and reporters reacting to the censorship imposed on them; Ben-Abdallah plays herself. 

"We consider things like free speech, peace and democracy to be American values, so in addition to being funny I hope this story of the struggle for freedom in the Arab world will serve as a reminder that these are human values, and not uniquely American," said Ben-Abdallah.

"Our political climate is so demonizing of Arabs and Muslims, so anything that can serve as a reminder of our common humanity is very relevant. I also hope the parallels between dictatorship and the current American political climate can inspire us to continue to fight to maintain these values rather than take them for granted," she added.

As part of the show's pre-production, Ben-Abdallah, who is half Tunisian, interviewed participants of the 2011 uprisings while visiting friends and family in Tunisia. 

Ben-Abdallah performs improv weekly at the People's Improv Theater in New York City, which will also be hosting the performances of her new show. 

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Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.