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Sidi Bouzid's Anniversary: Celebrating One Year of Arab Awakening

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

At the beginning of October, about 100 bloggers and activists took part in the third Arab Bloggers Meeting to work, share experiences and celebrate a year of citizen uprisings against oppression and injustice. The meeting took place in Tunisia and the symbolic value of all of us being there, where citizen mobilizations started, made it very special.

Ten months after Mohammad Bouazizi's self-immolation which took Tunisians to the streets of Sidi Bouzid and ended up with a country-wide revolution which overthrew a 30-year-old dictatorship, our host Sami Ben Gharbia, activist and Global Voices Advocacy director, welcomed us “to Free Tunisia”.

Cité des Sciences in Tunis, where Arab Bloggers meeting was held (2012: Free). Image source: @Greendata

Cité des Sciences in Tunis, where Arab Bloggers meeting was held (2012: Free). Image source: @Greendata

We could sense freedom on the streets, on the walls full of pictures of candidates for the upcoming elections, on the news and in video clips mocking ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was the second Arab dictator to be booted out of power after years of oppressing his people.

The fact that we could all meet in Tunisia, along which some of the Tunisian participants who had been exiled for years, was proof of how much had changed since December 2010. The fact that most Palestinians invited to the event were denied entry to the country was also proof of how much work there was still ahead in order to achieve freedom and justice across the region.

We honored them by printing their photographs and pinning them to 10 empty chairs where they were meant to be sitting. We also spoke to some of them through Skype, using technology to break the physical boundaries that kept us apart.

Empty chairs for the Palestinians who were denied entry. Image source: @leila_na

Empty chairs for the Palestinians who were denied entry. Image source: @leila_na

Two months later, two of the participants in that meeting were imprisoned by Arab regimes. Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested on October 30 for refusing to respond to the Military Court that has taken Mubarak's place in ruling Egyptians. Syrian activist Razan Ghazzawi was arrested on December 4, while traveling out of Syria to attend a conference on freedom of expression in Jordan. Both Alaa and Razan are among the most renowned Arab bloggers and have been using words as weapons against their repressive regimes for years.

Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam, who participated in the first Arab Bloggers Meeting together with Alaa and Razan, has also disappeared. Across the region, thousands of other citizens have been killed, detained and tortured in countries, ruled by regimes that consider freedom of expression as an enemy. The list of bloggers and journalists arrested keeps growing.

The fact that so many bloggers, journalists and cyberactivists are harassed and arrested in the region is proof that they have become instrumental in helping channel civil society's demands, influencing public opinion and breaking the wall of propaganda that these governments had been using for decades to legitimize their regimes. Activists from the Middle East and North Africa have attracted worldwide solidarity and citizens from other countries have been inspired by their courage, their taking to the streets and their use of digital tools to organize and share events with the rest of the world.

The mobilizations have become global and reached other regions, including democratic countries where many citizens are questioning whether their governments meet their needs and demands, from Spain's 15 M movement to the United States Occupy Wall Street protest. It has been a year since Bouazizi's sacrifice, and the citizen struggle for rights and dignity is more alive than ever.

To gather reactions to the anniversary of Sidibouzid, we asked this question on Twitter:

If you had to describe this year in one word what would it be? #yearaftersidibouzid.

My word would be Awakening. The year when Bouazizi helped us citizens all over the world wake up and lose our fear and indifference. Following are reactions from netizens:

@oasisdragon: I would describe the #yearaftersidibouzid with one word: Change.
@Bernat_E: If you had to describe this year in one word what would it be? My word is: hope #yearaftersidibouzid
@iamgin: Mine is Uprising RT: @dbravo If you had to describe this year in one word what would it be? My word is Awakening #yearaftersidibouzid
@ircpresident: I describe #yearaftersidibouzid as hope. Hope that we Egyptians long to while fighting our fascist #SCAF #SidiBouzid
@Gheblawi: Ghazi Gheblawi @leila_na decisive
@raulromeva: @europeangreens @GreensEP If you had to describe this year in one word what would it be? ours is Spring #yearaftersidibouzid
@Weddady#yearaftersidibouzid It's a renaissance.. don't mind the skeptics..they'll always be skeptical ;)

@Tzarak: @leila_na ¿Puede ser más de una ? كلمتي حرة

@Tzarak: @leila_na Can it be more than one? Free expression

@AliTweel @leila_na سنة البوعزيزي

@AliTweel @leila_na The year of Bouazizi

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

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