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Why is hip-hop bringing change in Tunisia’s Kasserine Mountains?

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Why is hip-hop bringing change in Tunisia’s Kasserine Mountains?
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Bordering Algeria, poverty and unemployment in Tunisia’s Kasserine Mountains has gone some way towards nurturing young recruits for extremism.

Hip hop dancing, however, has emerged as a new way to potentially combat militant recruitment.

Living on top of Jabel Shemmama, 19-year-old Awadh Al-Helay is the leader of a dance crew.

He trained under the “Ghar Boys,” a hip hop group backed by the Rambourg Foundation charity.

Al-Helay now coaches youngsters to channel their challenges through choreography.

“Hip hop has helped me deal with my struggles and worries,” he says. “It gives you an escape from reality and distances you from others and society. It's better than many other things.”

Global steps

Hip hop originated in the United States in the 1960s.

Its popularity in the Middle East and North Africa, however, can be traced back just a couple of decades.

Regionally, the dance form has been used as a political and personal form of expression.

With many young men and women, living in authoritarian states, communicating their views through its varied forms.

In Tunisia, hip hop and rap music rose in popularity during the Arab Spring, which led to the ousting of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

“Rais Lebled,” loosely translated to “Head of State”, by Tunisian rapper El General, otherwise known as Hamada Ben Amor, became something of an anthem during the revolution.

Support group

Shiran Ben Abderrazak speaks to Inspire Middle East

Shiran Ben Abderrazak is the CEO of the Rambourg Foundation which helped develop the “Ghar Boys” group.

Working closely with communities in Tunisia’s Kasserine Mountains, the organisation built facilities on-site to create better opportunities for young people.

“This group of breakdancers are used to dancing and practicing in the mountains, without any kind of materials,” says Abderrazal. “And now this centre exists, they can really practice.”

Teenager Ameer Al-Helay recently joined the “Ghar Boys,” with aspirations of participating in events worldwide. He hopes that by competing abroad, his breakdancing could lessen Shemmama’s association with terrorism.

Ameer Al-Helay dances with his crew

“We are good souls, we walk through the mountains. We work hard and earn our income, with the sweat of our brows,” says Al-Helay. “We will do the impossible, to show them what Shemmama is about. Its children are not terrorists. We are not scary people. We only fight through art.”

As the boys practice, their mothers gather together to weave baskets.

The items are then sold in the capital, Tunis, with profits providing the main income for many villagers.

The mothers hope that, through hip hop dance and artisanal crafts, their children and future generations to come will have a brighter future.

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