Letters From Inside a Revolution

Youssef shares his thoughts as he witnesses a revolution unfold before his eyes.

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Tunisian blogger and Strategy Consultant 5 comments

Saturday, January 15th, 2011


These pieces are also available at nomadlife and were posted with permission from the author.

January 12: Shoot me! you still can’t shoot my thoughts

Today was quite intense. We started the day with the news of artists organizing a protest in front of the municipal theater in the main street in downtown Tunis, Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Artists were beaten up by police. Many of them were quite angry, and expressed themsleves in videos they posted on facebook (here and here). You can browse previous and next ones to see other artists talking.

The center of Tunis was closed, cops ordered shops and cafés to shut down by noon.

Then the news this afternoon is that protests broke down in cité Ettadhamen and cité al Intilaka, two major underprivilidged areas in the western suburb of Tunis. Safia, a friend, was there tonight and got caught inside, as police closed down the area. I am not sure if she managed to get out.

On my side I was near the airport a few minutes ago I saw three military trucks going either towards the center, the southern suburb, or going further inside the country. I was quite happy to see them, I opened my window, saluted them, and exchanged encouraging smiles with two soldiers. The military is seen as the savior, since our police turned out to be a terrorist organization. That is not only my own opinion. Yesterday, protestors were chanting: “The ministry of interior, a terrorist ministry”.

On the government side, the minister of communication hosted a press conference where he announced that they set up green numbers to inform journalists, and are implementing regional news offices to inform the press. I believe these actions are fruitless, we do not want new ways to gather information. We want press freedom, journalists should go wherever they want, whenever the want and write whatever they believe.

The president in his speech yesterday talked about “mercenaries and bandits engaging in vandalism”. But there’s a sentiment that these violences are orchestrated by police forces dressed as civilians to reinforce the government position. Today, all we see on Tunisian TV are pictures of burned offices and accusations of vandalism.

People feel the government is scaring us to justify its own existence and its power. Yet, we know that the protestors are us, and all we are claiming is our freedom, and every time we screamed for it we are beaten up. We know that the dead are our kids, unemployed and oppressed.

Tonight I was up for a drink with friends in the suburb of Tunis, but news of protests and clashes came down along with orders from the police to shut down the restaurant for fear of protests. I have the strange feeling that we were victims of this terrorist government propaganda who aims at spreading paranoia, thus justifying its own existence and its use of force.

But, I know, I know, I know that I lived for 23 years under the same president, I know that my government is corrupted, I know that the police has always oppressed us, I know that I can not rely on traditional media to know what is happening in my country, I know that I can not protest freely, I know that I can not access hundreds of websites, I know that two bloggers are jailed right now, I know so much about this government that i do not want it anymore… And most of all, I know how all of this started, wasn’t it when Mohamed Bouazizi was slapped in the face by a police officer, and after he tried to complain to government officials without success he immolated himself.

Beware soon, I will turn to a bandit, a mercenary…may be soon i will become an insurgent or a terrorist just like an iraqi in iraq, or a palestinian in palestine.

January 12: The fall

What can i say? As I write you these words I am in tears. I saw everything falling down today. I felt that we are heading towards the abysse.

We heared, last night, of police in Cité Ettadhamen, a large and underprivileged neighbourhood in the western suburb of Tunis. So today we were determined to see what is going on. Around 15hr, we headed down there. As we got close we saw people running away, then we entered the main street to discover hundreds of people. Most people seemed to be blue collars, unemployed, or had daily jobs, they were not organised, and didn’t seem to be fighting or protesting. Police stood on the main intersection a few hundred meters away on both sides. There were large troops shooting lacrymogene bombs towards the intersection to disperse people, but police didn’t seem to be moving forward.

We spent a few minutes in a nearby rooftop, then decided to leave the place. As we headed back, hundreds of kids were flooding towards us, towards the intersection, and towards the police, chanting: “No police, No dicks, Only god can stop us”. The scene was chaotic and violent. It had nothing to do with the peaceful protests the workers’ union organized. This is police engaging in a battle in one of the toughest areas of Tunis.

Hearing rumours of protests in other areas downtown, we decided to check up the city. We did not see much on the main streets of Tunis, but we could feel the tension. Most shops were closed, people were in rushing, police was everywhere, and army troops were protecting certain strategic spots.

Soon after, the news of a curfew came down on us, like a wave of bullets that shot our hopes. To me, the curefew meant that the government was not willing to admit its failure. But what freightens me more than anything, is the instrumentalization of the violence to serve the interests of the current governement.

Before heading home, we decided to check cité Ettadhmen once again. Police was in most areas, but in the few places where there wasn’t police, young kids were burning tires, barricading streets, and putting fire into banks or other institutions that symbolized the government.

At this moment I am broke! I am lost between dictatorship and government violence on one side, and anarchy on the other side. And even though I am weaker than ever, I will wake up tomorrow with the same determination I had for the last two decades, the same determination my fellow Tunisians have, a determination to obtain my freedom and justice.

January 15: Tweeting your revolution

Wikileaks played a major role in fueling the anger / determination of Tunisians. However, the Wikileaks reports only put further light on what we already knew. They confirmed our doubts and detailed the different events.

Twitter and Facebook played a very important role in our revolution, and I am confident that if we were not using social media we wouldn’t have accomplished our goals.

Social media empowered our communication infrastructure.

It countered the traditional media, the propaganda machine of our government. It allowed us to detect patterns that one would not notice if left alone, such as noticing that all the presidential police cars are rented (rented cars in tunisia have blue license plates). Social media fostered crowdwisdom, by sharing thoughts, feedbacks, and opinions. And finally on the battle field, we even used in the final hours of our government to share snipers’ positions. Then, the final demonstration was an event on facebook that everybody shared.

And now we are using it to find the militias, and share their positions. There are volunteers working on developing web 2.0 applications to place events on maps.

More importantly, we knew how to tweet and we were hooked to facebook. Something, that our ennemy, including the state run media, and the brutal yet illiterate “intelligence” lacked knowledge about.

Other governments in the region are as blind as the ben ali’s regime. I hear Morocco blocked and contained a demonstration in front of the Tunisian embassy in Rabat, Syria is censoring what is happening in Tunisia. They didn’t understand that we do not demonstrate and we are not going to demonstrate in the streets until we know that we reached the critical mass, in the meanwhile we will be tweeting our revolution. And they can not beat us in our territory.

January 15: Quick report

Security:
4 prisons are empty and all prisoners escaped.
Militias coordinated by old security members are involved in looting, riots, and criminal activities.
Army is taking over the security issues in the country.

Payback:
The most “influential” tunisian corrupted businessmen related to Ben Ali are being caught in Tunisia, particularly in the Libyan Tunisian border.

New coalition government:
Chief of parliament is temporary president.
Old PM is appointed to form a coalition governement.

Tunisians:
People are happy about the changes even though the situation is relatively chaotic. We are proud because we obtained our freedom ourselves.

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Posted on Saturday, January 15th, 2011

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5 comments on “Letters From Inside a Revolution”

  1. Whilst I can see this happening in Egypt, and soon, it would be so much more satisfying if it happened in Libya. What you give to see Quaddafi go?
    I also sense a real fear inside Morocco’s makhzen. They too know just how corrupt a nation they oversee. Interesting times.


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