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Dispatch from Tunisia

Alum’s eyewitness account of fall of regime, protests

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Crowds of protesters gather in the streets of Tunis to cheer the ousting of longtime President Ben Ali.

On Monday, January 17, after 23 years in power, Tunisia’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in the wake of a month of violent demonstrations protesting the North African nation’s corruption, repression, and job shortages. A rash of government resignations followed, as violence claimed at least 78 civilian lives in this popular Mediterranean tourist spot. BU alum Imene Kechiche was in her home country throughout this historic upheaval. On Thursday morning she sent this eyewitness report of the month’s events to BU Today.

Today and for the first time, I can shout out to the whole world and say, I am a proud Tunisian!

I feel honored and privileged to have witnessed the bravery, resolve, and civility of the Tunisian people through this crisis. I know the road ahead leads to democracy and am so proud of Tunisia.

We all expected something like this would happen one day. But I never imagined that I would witness it myself and be in the midst of all these major events.

The world outside looked at us as the “paradise gateway,” with golden beaches, a famous holiday destination for all Europeans. Beautiful Tunisia was a model of modernity and development for the West.

It started on December 17, 2010, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor lit himself in flames to protest police mistreatment and rampant unemployment in the country. This launched the Tunisian street revolution of 2011. Demonstrations quickly spread to other parts of the country and protesters broke their silence and chanted slogans and demanded jobs. “No to misery, no to unemployment!” We went out to the streets demanding an end to corruption, authoritarianism, unemployment. We demanded freedom of speech. People were holding up signs that read “Dégage,” “Yes We Can,” “Game Over,” and “Bread and Water and NO Ben Ali.”

A new scene for me, but I held my head up with no fear! More than 5,000 people gathered in the capital. My brother almost got hit by teargas, but was able to move away quickly.

It was amazing because this is the first time in the Arab world young people have spoken out, ousted a president, and made history after 23 years of corruption.

Unfortunately, more than 90 innocent people have been killed during these four weeks of violent clashes with the police. On January 14, the country was under a state of emergency, a curfew was announced, and the president fled to Saudi Arabia. Yes! The people of Tunisia, myself included, have kicked a president out. So praise to the young Tunisians who have helped and organized these protests through Twitter and Facebook. We have called it the “Facebook Revolution.” Was I scared to post anything on my Facebook page? No. Am I proud of what I have posted? Yes.

That night, I was excited about Ben Ali leaving, but never expected what would happen the next day. We woke up to a country in turmoil. They imposed curfew, canceled schools, announced a no-fly zone for a day or so, canceled most flights, and no work. All we heard were gunshots and helicopters flying over our heads. We were ordered to stay away from windows and turn the lights off in buildings, and the panic started to spread all over the country. Our normal daily lives had been interrupted, but with all this we became more united than ever and more determined to fight and protect our beautiful country. You can feel a sense of solidarity and unity. Tunisians all over the country have organized into neighborhood watch groups to protect their and our homes from bands of looters and crooked cops. They set up barricades and check points at each block and intersection. During the first few days shops were closed, people fought for bread as no bakeries were open, gas station were empty of gasoline. Supporters of the old government decided to spread fear by burning down governmental institutions, cars, breaking into houses, shooting, and killing as the country had no security and only the national army came for help.

I didn’t realize how bad the situation was until I went out on Saturday, January 15, to go to the airport. I was scheduled to fly to Dubai for work, but unfortunately my flight got canceled and I had to spend the night at the airport with hundreds of foreigners who were trying to leave the country. Yesterday, I went for a walk with my friend around our neighborhood, and things seem to have come back somehow to normal. People are talking politics with no fear (a subject that used to be taboo). We were able to get milk.

Some people went back to work just for half a day. Schools and universities are still closed. Army presence is all over. Tanks are parked all over. We are still under curfew and were ordered to be more cautious as yesterday a new interim government was announced. People were not happy with these decisions as they included several figures from Ben Ali’s old cabinet.

Today, January 19, things seem to come back to normal. Curfew was pushed to 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Banks are open, grocery stores are full of people buying milk and water, some shopping stores are also open, cafés all full of people. Women are giving the national army warm meals as they keep protecting us. Life in the streets seems to be returning to normal.

4 Comments

4 Comments on Dispatch from Tunisia

  • gene Stanley on 01.21.2011 at 7:24 am

    congratulations

    a great great day for a country i also love….thank you for sending
    your eyewitness report.

    gene stanley
    prof physics

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2011 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks for Sharing

    No one speaks the truth like an ordinary citizen speaking from direct experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ganga on 01.21.2011 at 1:16 pm

    Congratulations !!!

    Congratulations to Tunician people for this great victory. Welcome to the democrative world !!! Hope the new leadership will lead the country to its prosperity.
    Thank you Imene for this great news and we at BU are also proud of you.
    Ganga Gautam
    Humphrey Fellow
    Boston University

  • Anonymous on 01.21.2011 at 7:49 pm

    thanks for your report, congratulations. Your report helps us to better understand the historical significance.

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