Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meet Hamada “El General” Ben Amr, the Tunisian Rapper Who Changed the World


حمادة بن عمر "الجنرال" واغنية رئيس البلاد

Hamada “El General” Ben Amr (Amor)
As riots and protests spread throughout Tunisia a few weeks ago, one song helped fan the flames of revolution—and its moment may not be over. In a country plagued with censorship, a Facebook sensation was made of a video called “President, Your People Are Dying,” رئيس البلاد performed by 22-year-old Hamada Ben Amr  حمادة بن عمر (a.k.a. El Général; name can also be spelled Hamada Ben Amor or Ben Aoun).  In the clip, the rapper speaks firmly and directly to now-former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali about the unemployment and hunger ravaging the country while Ben Ali’s family lived in opulence. December saw the self-immolation of Sidi Bouzid after his produce cart was seized by authorities and the Wikileaks reports where ambassadors spoke openly about government corruption. The feelings of resentment about the poverty, police brutality and government ills were captured perfectly in the song—and subsequently Ben Amr was arrested, sparking more even protests and furor until President Ben Ali fled the country. Its direct role in the Tunisian uprising and potential role in the current instability in the Middle East may make it one of the most influential hip-hop songs of all time.


Here are some things to know about the song (Taken from Popdust.com; to read the entire blog entry, see Popdust.com):
1. It’s Sung In Arabic: Naturally, since that’s the national language of Tunisia.
2. It Got Personal: Supporters of the uprising were enraged when Ben Amor was arrested and called in for questions. Ben-Amor’s brother Hamdi said, “Some 30 plainclothes policemen came to our house to arrest Hamada and took him away without ever telling us where to. When we asked why they were arresting him, they said, ‘He knows why.’” The irony of a musician decrying an oppressive police state and then being called in by the secret police was not lost. Because of this collision between protest and power, the song became integral to the protests.

Here are the translated lyrics, courtesy of Hiphopdiplomacy.com

Why are you worried?
Would you tell me something? Don’t be afraid!
Mr. President, today I am speaking in name of myself and of all the people
who are suffering in 2011, there are still people dying of hunger
who want to work to survive, but their voice was not heard
get off into the street and see, people have become like animals
see the police with batons, takatak they don’t care
since there is no one telling him to stop
even the law of the constitution, put it in water and drink it.
Every day I hear of invented process, in spite of the servants of the state know
I see the snake that strikes women in headscarves
you accept it for your daughter?
You know these are words that make your eyes weep
as a father does not want to hurt her children
then this is a message from one of your children
who is telling of his suffering
we are living like dogs
half of the people living in filth
and drank from a cup of suffering

Mr. President your people is dead
many people eat from garbage
and you see what is happening in the country
misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep
I am speaking in name of the people who are suffering and were put under the feet
Mr President, you told me to speak without fear
But I know that eventually I will take just slaps
I see too much injustice and so I decided to send this message even though the people told me that my end is death
But until when the Tunisian will leave in dreams, where is the right of expression?
They are just words ..
Tunis was defined the “green”, but there is only desert divided into 2,
it is a direct robbery by force that dominated a country
without naming already everybody knows who they are
much money was pledged for projects and infrastructure
schools, hospitals, buildings, houses
But the sons of dogs have already fattened
They stole, robbed, kidnapped and were unwilling to leave the chair
I know that there are many words in the heart of the people but don’t come out
if there was not this injustice I would not be here to say these things
Mr. President your people is dead
many people eat from garbage
and you see what is happening in the country
misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep
I am speaking in name of the people who are suffering and were put under the feet
Ben Amr also has another song available on the internet titled تونس بلادنا (Tunisia Is Our Country) with similar themes:



  1. Hello, I am a music journalist in the US, and would love to speak with el General. Do you know how to reach him?
    Please contact me Mr. Salti via Facebook. You can find me as Marco Werman.
    Thank you.

  2. @marcowerman: Check your FB friend requests :)

  3. How can I get a CD of his music? hani@beyondballet.org

  4. His music/album is not officially released. Your best bet is to listen to his songs on YouTube.

  5. Greetings. really great blog you have here. I'm a freelance multimedia storyteller currently in Tunisia and would love to speak with El General. Can you share his contact to reach him. I'm on facebook as Simba Russeau. Also, check out my blog http://tastekulcha.com would love to add your blog as a link.


  6. I don't have any contact info for El General :(
    Thanks for linking my blog and for commenting.


Ramzi Salti's Talk: Healing through Lebanese Music (EPIC Fellows, Stanford Global Studies, September 2020)

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