Between Twitter and the Street: Tunisia Celebrates its Second Independence

Tens of thousands of Tunisians gathered just like the old days on the Habib Bourghuiba Avenue, Main Street of Tunisia’s capital. A year ago, on this same day and on this same street, Tunisians came united to shout “Dégage” (Leave), a key word of the Tunisian Revolution. Today, they come to celebrate the first anniversary of their revolution.

On the ground, the street is creating new rituals of celebration for what we claim to be the Second Independence Day for Tunisia. Different political parties are present along with a number of not-for-profit organizations and civil society organisations, each contributing a different gesture in this ritaul, patriotic songs, drawing workshops and revolutionary speeches.

By Wassim Ghozlani

There is a feeling of less unity among those present on the Avenue, a phenomenon easily noticed today. A year ago, Tunisians demonstrated together by waving the same flag and shouting the same slogans.

Twelve months later, and more diverse and divided groups belonging to different political parties and different ideologies are waving different flags and chanting different slogans. Such diversity is not alien to Tunisian society. Nevertheless, many would have preferred it except if everyone had decided for once to come together under the same umbrella of the Tunisian flag to celebrate such a day.

Haythem El Mekki, a journalist and well-known figure describes the Avenue: “Before the Ministry of Interior there are nationalists and communists chanting slogans against Qatar. Before the Municipal Theater (on the same street) nationalists and Islamists are chanting slogans against France.”

“I'll be back when there are Tunisians and nationalists against both Qatar and France and we are calling to continue the fulfillment of the objectives of the revolution,” he added.

The image of France, traditionally Tunisia’s favourite economic partner, has received a bit of a knock since Michèle Alliot-Marie, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, offered French help to quell the uprising in Tunisia.

Qatar Leave Credit _Thierry Brésillon

Qatar too is getting its fair share of criticism over the biased coverage of events in Tunisia through its Doha based Aljazeera, news channel. Tunisians are watching with wide open eyes the deals taking place between the newly elected government and the Emir of Qatar, suspected to be financially supporting the Ennahda, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Party.

On twitter, the revolution’s first anniversary is celebrated differently. The hash tag #BackToBenAli started trending quickly. Tunisian twitter users, or tweeps, started live-tweeting their memories of what they did, what they faced and what they fele one year ago on this same day, January 14.

Emna El Hammi, a blogger and doctor/engineer in biotechnologies tweeted [fr]:

“my mother dying of fear begging my father not to let me go to the avenue. My father said, this is important, let her go”.

Credit_ Thierry Brésillon

Slim Amamou, a blogger and former Secretary of State at the Ministry of Youth and Sports tweeted:

“it was the end of torture for @azyyoz and me. The Minister of Interior transferred us to the Ministry of Justice and then at night to Mornaguia prison”.

Afef Abrougui, a Global Voices blogger tweeted:

“I remember myself having a big fight with my sister because I shared an anti-regime song on Facebook: she was my own #Ammar404” (referring to the internet censor).

Emna Ben Jemaa, a journalist and marketing professor tweeted:

“A year ago, I stopped the lesson to listen to Ben Ali’s speech with my students in class and I was translating it for the foreigners”.

France24 covered the live tweet and tweeted:

“Yesterday, security forces killed 50 people in Kasserine and Thala. Today, the victims are buried”.

Amel Boussetta, a teacher and human rights advocated tweeted:

“In front of the Ministry of Interior, I was screaming out loud along with thousands of Tunisians #dégage #dégage #dégage #dégage #Jan14 #Tunisia

Moez Jaballah, a student, tweeted:

“A year ago, Tunisia was united and cohesive. Now, it is cut in two: The Islamists and others!”

Sameh Bel Haj Ali, a landscape and urban planning engineer, tweeted:

“A year later I am still looking for the man who put his jacket on the ground under my head when I fainted! Thank you”.

Credit_ Nicolas Fauque

As for me, I remember when I got arbitrarily arrested on the same Avenue by two secret policemen, for carrying a laptop and a Palestinian scarf. I wasn’t hurt but I will never forget the scenes of those young men heavily beaten, their big bruises, open cuts and their torn clothes in the cold winter. I will never forget the big blood drops almost everywhere on the ground of the Ministry of Interior.

Equally, I remember soon after Ben Ali fled the country the militias’ attacks, I remember the long cold nights young men spent outside watching their homes and streets and reporting to the soldiers camping in their trucks not so far away.  I remember my mother up most part of the night making sandwiches and tea for the solders outside.

These are our celebrations of our new custom – Tunisia’s second independence day. We celebrate both online and offline, the way that our so-called Revolution actually happened.

Cross-posted on openDemocracy

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