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Tunisia : “We Are Not Afraid Anymore!”

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

Sidi Bouzid banner illustration from the website Nawaat.org

The protests that followed the suicide attempt of an unemployed youngster in Sidi Bouzid two weeks ago followed by the suicide of Houssine Ben Faleh Falhi, 25 and Lofti Guadri, 34, are now reaching the Tunisian big cities and the capital city, Tunis. The social movement is no longer only asking for work opportunities and prospects for their future but for a complete reform of the “Ben Ali system”, a president who's been in power for 23 years.

The videos of the first protests, organized by lawyers, journalists and Tunisian unions early last week, may have appeared modest to the outside world but those are already exceptional events in the Tunisian context.

Tunisian blogger Anis who posted a review of the youth implication in politics entitled ” I am 31 and I never voted” (fr) wrote on December 30th: “Mr president, we are not afraid anymore“, wrote:

Cette phrase, aperçue sur une pancarte lors d’une manifestation des avocats Tunisiens devant la Cour de Justice de Tunis, résume parfaitement le sentiment de beaucoup de Tunisiens aujourd’hui. Nous vivons une période historique pour les Tunisiens, qui habitués au silence, à la peur et au conformisme depuis des décennies prennent enfin leur destin en main.[…]La dernière fois que le peuple s’est soulevé massivement et spontanément sans être motivé par des raisons religieuses ou pour soutenir les Palestiniens ou les Irakiens… c’était sous Bourguiba, les bien fameuses révoltes du pain.

This sentence, seen on a street sign during the protests organized by Tunisian lawyers in front of the Court of Justice of Tunis, perfectly sums up the sentiment of many in Tunisia today. We are living a historical moment in which Tunisians, who were used to be silent, afraid and obedient for decades, are finally taking their destiny in their own hands (..) The last time the people spontaneously rose in mass without religious motivation or not in support of Palestinians or Iraqis was during the notorious bread revolts under Bourguiba.

On December 30th, the death of Chawki Belhoussine El Hadri, 44, caused by wounds from shots fired by the police on December 24 as  explained in a press release by the FIDH (fr), marked the radicalization of the confrontation, also illustrated by the violence against the lawyers and narrated on the blog of a Tunisian Girl :

A Tunis,par exemple,  des agents de police en civil et les agents de la  force  de sécurité  ont assiégé de la zone du palais de justice. Ils ont empêché certains avocats d'entrer dans la zone et laisser d'autres y accéder. Lorsque les  avocats tenté de quitter la Maison du Barreau, où ils se réunissaient, les forces de sécurité sont intervenues et ont utilisé la violence.

In Tunis, policemen dressed as civilians and law enforcement agents besieged the Palace of Justice. They prevented some lawyers from entering the area and let others in. When the lawyers attempted to leave the court house where they gathered, police forces intervened and used violence

The Ben Ali surprise television speech on Tuesday [video] and the governmental change did not lead to the expected outcome. In one of the most read and shared post on Twitter and Facebook, a young Tunisian entrepreneur wrote in an open letter (fr):

Vos jeunes se sont soulevés et il sera difficile de les faire taire : Ils s’immolent, s’électrocutent, et je ne pense sérieusement pas que des coups de matraques ou des longues nuits dans les commissariats vont leur faire peur.

Your youth has risen up and it will be difficult to shut them up now: they set themselves on fire, electrocute themselves so I don't think that getting beaten up with sticks or long nights at the police station will scare them either.

A game of cat and mouse and an actual “cyberwar” has been continuing for the previous two weeks between Tunisian netizens and “Ammar”, the nickname of the very elaborated censorship system devised by the Tunisian Minister of interior. Blogger Astrubal explains its secret techniques.

Tunisian bloggers have long been using circumventing softwares, getting news on Facebook and share censored posts, videos, photos or news updates ( like the beating of a journalist) on the main Tunisian blogging platforms and information gateways hosted overseas or via twitter and key words like #sidibouzid.

Still, “Ammar” also seems to want to be rid of social media networks:

bharmoez Facebook est complètement coupé à Redaïef !!!! on est coupééééé ! twitter pas encore. j'ai l'impression que ca ne va pas tarder..#sidibouzid

Facebook is cut off in Redaïef !!!! We are cut off. Twitter is not cut yet but I think it won't be long now… #sidibouzid

Tunisie numérique confirms that Facebook appears to have been targeted by “Ammar” in Tunisia:

les internautes tunisiens-la communauté la plus connectée au Facebook dans l’Afrique du Nord- se trouvait depuis l'après midi du 30 décembre 2010.face à une erreur technique lors de l’upload de n’importe quelle photo ou vidéo.

Tunisian netizens- the most connected community on Facebook in North Africa- could not upload any photos or videos on Facebook on the afternoon of December 30.

Félicie notes an (fr) internet blackout in Tunis on December 31st:

coupure de l'internet sur Tunis, les médias disent que la situation est stable mais les manif continue dans toutes les régions #sidibouzid

No internet in Tunis but the media says that the situation is stable yet the protests continue in all regions #sidibouzid

Reporter Sans Frontières published a press release denouncing a publié un communiqué dénonçant the organized blackout of information (fr ) regarding all the troubles, in a country that has been on its annual list of enemies of the internet for a long while.

Demonstrations of support to the #sidibouzid movement took place in Paris,  Munich, and Beirut.

The “media blackout” by the main international media outlets and western diplomacy, in addition to the domestic censorship, was a frequent subject of bitterness amongst many Tunisian activists.

iFikra To the hypocritical west that had Iran protests top news for weeks, #Tunisia has been fighting for its freedom for 2 weeks now #sidibouzid

Nawaat salutes (fr) the English-speaking press:

La presse anglo-saxonne – contrairement à la presse française – a été particulièrement intéressée par les émeutes sociales en Tunisie. Le modèle économique et politique tunisien est décortiqué avec vigueur.

The English-speaking press – as opposed to the French press- has been very interested in the social riots in Tunisia. The Tunisian economic model is analyzed in depth to the very details

Al Bab is cautious though: about the importance of the international media during the current events :

To what extent, though, does international media coverage – or the lack of it – matter? Obviously it's good if people around the world know what is happening but how does it benefit the struggle going on inisde the country? The object of that struggle is not to get pictures in the New York Times; it's to get rid of Ben Ali.

Regarding the cautious coverage of the crisis by traditional French media and the silence of its government, André reminds us in the comment section of  Le Monde, that  Tunisia is a country where (fr) :

…où de nombreuses entreprises françaises ont délocalisé leur production. Si au plan économique on trouve pire , au plan du respect des droits de l'homme, on ne peut pas en dire autant.A l'inverse de la Côte d'Ivoire, on entend beaucoup moins les défenseurs de la démocratie quand il s'agit de la Tunisie. Sous prétexte de barrer la route aux islamistes intégristes, on ferme les yeux sur toutes les mesures dignes plus d'une dictature que d'une démocratie.Politique du deux poids deux mesures.

Many French companies have outsourced their production. If one could do worse from an economic standpoint, from a human rights perspective, it's not quite the same story. As opposed to the Ivorian crisis, we don't hear the human rights activists as much when it comes to Tunisia. Because we want to prevent Islamic radicals from power, we close our eyes on all the measures that are more dictatorial than democratic. It's a clear case of double standards.

Bloggers from Morocco, Algeria and Egypt are closely following the events in Tunisia:

Boubled Chez nous #SidiBouzid c'est chaque jour et partout ,dans chaque recoin d'Algérie .

Here in Algeria, it's #sidibouzid everyday in every corner of Algeria.

Blogger Ismail, who lives in France, predict the following (fr) :

Sidi Bouzid est le tragique témoignage, encore une fois, d’un ras-le-bol généralisé de la jeunesse des pays en voie de développement, plus particulièrement de la zone Nord-Afrique Moyen-Orient, le même désespoir, la même rage et les mêmes réponses répressives de la part des Gouvernements, ça c’est déjà passé en Iran, aujourd’hui c’est en Tunisie demain ça sera l’Algérie ou le Maroc.

Sidi Bouzid is another tragic testimony of the youth of a developing country, especially in the MENA region  that is fed up. It's the same despair, the same rage and the same repressive response from governments; just like in Iran before, it's today in Tunisia and tomorrow, it will be Algeria or Morocco.

He also adds that his article is currently blocked in Tunisia and invites people to share it.

More reactions from bloggers worldwide about the Tunisian crisis can be found here.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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