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Tunisia's young 'General' sees future in sharia

Feted by the western media for penning the unofficial anthem of the Arab Spring, rap star El General believes the changes must go further. He is one of a number of young Tunisian "revolutionaries" calling for sharia law.

Hamada Ben Amor wears a dress jacket and jeans. The rather shy 23-year old lives with his parents in a whitewashed house in the suburbs of Sfax, on Tunisia's eastern coast. They are middle class; his mother works in a bookshop, his father in a hospital clinic. He is engaged to his childhood sweetheart and saving up to get married. He is a practicing Muslim.

As El General, Hamada Ben Amor made his name as a unifying figure, using music to bring together those who called for change. His most famous rap, "Rais Le Bled," was fiercely critical of then President Ben Ali. It inspired Tunisia's youth to take to the streets and resulted in Time Magazine dubbing him as one of the most influential voices in 2011.

Inspired by US rappers, like the late Tupac, Ben Amor began rapping as a teenager. He saw rap as direct and honest, the "music of the people."

"When I first started to sing I wanted to go back to the roots of rap that emerged in the 1970s in the United States," he said. "This rap openly criticized government, corruption and racism. That was the kind of rap that I wanted to do. I did not want to do light rap. I wanted it have weight, to have a message and to convey my anger against the government."

Religious renaissance

Two years after the revolution, he's still angry.

A supporter of the ruling Ennahda party shouts slogans in support of the party during a demonstration in Tunis, February 9, 2013 (Photo: Louafi Larbi)

Many young people see Islam as the way forward for Tunisia

"I am against the current government because it betrayed its promises, it betrayed people's expectations," he says. "Ennahda, the party in power, is more political than religious and this is what is disappointing."

Under President Ben Ali, Islam - both as a religion and as part of political life - was repressed. Now the country is experiencing a religious renaissance that is deeply divisive.

Ennahda, which won Tunisia's first post-revolution elections, is an Islamist party, but it is a moderate one.

Unity was then

Like Ben Amor, many of the young Tunisians who took to the streets in the revolution, embrace both religious tradition and western culture. Now, frustrated by high youth unemployment - one in five are jobless - and the slow pace of reform, a growing number of the young are turning to politicized forms of Islam, despite Tunisia's strong tradition of secularism.

Ben Amor is convinced that Islam holds the answer to his country's problems.

The courtyard of a mosque

Islamic law has all the answers, Ben Amor says

"Sharia is a whole world," he says. "In sharia there is law and science. There are scientists from all over the world who have found answers in the Koran. It is a comfort and a luxury. Under sharia all Tunisians will be brothers and sisters. Sharia is the one solution."

He puts paid to those thoughts with his latest rap, "I Wish." The lyrics call for Tunisia to become an Islamic state, part of an Arabic world without borders.

Unlike the rap that propelled Ben Hamor to fame, the vision he expresses in "I Wish" threatens to divide Tunisia and those who took part in the revolution.

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