Photo creates buzz, shows old values endure in Tunisia

Photo illustrates resilience of traditional values such as mutual help and caring for elderly.

Tunisian National Guard officer carrying elderly woman through snow-covered terrain

2017/01/22 Issue: 90 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Stephen Quillen

Tunis - A photograph of a Tuni­sian national guards­man carrying an elderly woman through the snow created a huge buzz on social media where it was praised as an inspiring symbol of altruism and courage.

The image, which began circu­lating January 16th, was shared so many times that Facebook re­portedly contacted the Tunisian Interior Ministry to notify it of its popularity.

Capturing the scene of an ailing woman on the back of a young ser­viceman in an icy region of El Kef governorate, the photo has been described as “stunning”, “beauti­ful” and a source of pride for Tuni­sia.

It was taken as Bilel Messaoudi, a national guardsman on duty in Sakiet Sidi Youssef, El Kef, carried the woman through the snow to an accessible road.

The woman, who was in urgent need of medical attention after suf­fering respiratory problems, could not be reached in her home by ve­hicles due to the heavy snowfall. She has since been listed in stable condition.

In an interview with Tunisian media outlet Mosaique FM, Mes­saoudi said he did what was ex­pected of any national guardsman working in isolated areas.

In a country where there have often been tensions between civil­ians and security personnel, the photo was a welcome change.

“He’s a source of pride for all Tu­nisian people and we can see in him the kindness that’s in all Tunisians, regardless of their position,” said one commenter on social media. “Respect to the National Guard, and especially to him.”

In a small country where social transformation seemed to mean the erosion of traditional values such as mutual help and caring for the elderly, the picture exemplified the opposite.

For natives of El Kef and other parts of the Tunisian hinterland, the attention showed the notions of empathy and solidarity crossed above the regional divide between the less and more developed parts of the country.

While areas of north-western Tunisia only occasionally receive snowfall, the region is reeling this year from an unusually strong surge of frigid weather.

On January 16th, the National Guard advised areas of north-western Tunisia to avoid travel due to hazardous weather conditions. The same day, government agen­cies worked to provide assistance to hundreds of vehicles, including a bus carrying more than 40 chil­dren, that were stranded in the snow.

Stephen Quillen is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Tunis.

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