mercredi 19 octobre 2011

The youth that changed the world

The Arab Spring, a revolt that spread across numerous countries, was all started by Tunisia in December of 2010. The country will also be the first of these countries to have a democratic election this Sunday, October 23rd.

The uprising was certainly the work of all the population but the true forerunners were those that started the original waves of protests, the youth. Some of them were killed sadly, as a result of their disobedience.

Among those youths, a number of them have made themselves know throughout the country and abroad by writing in blogs and making extensive use of social networks. By gradually denouncing and reporting acts of censorship and corruption by the old dictatorship, the country’s youth grew more and more outraged. Mixed with the prospect of a bleak future and an economy that was kept in a stranglehold by a tyrant, they rebelled and overthrew their master last January.

Yassine Ayari
Sitting at a café in the Les Berges du Lac neighborhood of Tunis, Yassine Ayari, a very popular blogger form the Revolution, tells me about how Tunisians felt in the final years of the dictatorship. ‘‘People had had enough; we were always censored online, in the streets and in cafés. No one dared to speak of politics, even less say anything bad about the government for fear of reprisal. We had the feeling that the police were always spying on us’’.

Besides his implications online, Yassine brought a very particular contribution to the Revolt. In May of 2010, a few months before protests became daily occurrences, he and his friend Slim Amamou organized a contestation activity in Bourguiba avenue cafés. They did not try to hide it from authorities and made the event public. At the end of the day, many patrons had worn white shirts to protest censorship. This was not organized or carried out by unions or large groups but rather by ordinary people trying to send out their message. At the time, amidst the political climate, it was a very powerful message indeed.

According to many young people, the Revolution did not only occur in the streets and on the internet. A few years before Ben Ali’s ousting, there was a growing feeling that the government was getting weaker and could not snuff out all the criticism pointed towards it. A fine example would be the fans chanting anti-regime slogans during football (soccer) games.

Fakhri Louati
The now defunct President was even booed at a pre-game ceremony while he was presenting an individual merit trophy to a star player. ‘‘This was one of the first times that we could express our malcontent towards the government without having the fear of being reprimanded. We were 40 000, there was no way to arrest all of us’’ says Fakhri Louati, an accounting student at the Carthage school of business and die-hard soccer fan. He also participated in many of the protests and sit-ins before Ben Ali’s regime was toppled.

Mr. Louati also spoke about how the government had tried to use sport to draw attention away from politics. “Most of the news that were reported and discussions held in cafés were about football. The government wanted it to be like that, but after a while it backfired on them as angry citizens used the games to voice their unrest towards the dictator”. 

These anecdotes are part of countless more that happened to people implicated near and far in the acts of anti-regime contestations. The Revolution that changed the face of Arab world was fuelled by thousands of citizen’s thirst for change and democracy, especially the younger ones.

If things work out and countries transitioning to democracy can succeed, the citizens of – Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, to name a few – will owe a debt of gratitude to young Tunisians. After all, they sparked the fire that changed the world forever.

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