TUNISIA. After weeks of protests and violent riots, hacker attacks and failed attempts to pacify the rage of the citizens, Tunisia has overturned a dictator – a turn of events that brings hope for change not only in Tunisia but also among fellow Arabs living under dictatorship. Today we offer you the point of view of Kacem Jlidi, a young activist from Tunisia who hopes that his country will become the first true democracy in the MENA-region.
The 22-year-old Kacem Jlidi spent the night guarding his house, a safety precaution as it happens to be close to governmental buildings in his home town. In despite of the turbulence, the young activist and student has a positive outlook on the future and for once, he is not hesitating to express his view.
Where do you go from here?
Physics and life has taught me that pressure always leads to explosion and that is exactly what happened to the big prison of Tunisia. We are only half way there, we succeeded in kicking out the prison guard but we still need to get rid of the rest of his regime and supporters. We have a challenge for the next 60 days: to set up a new law and to truly elect for the first time ever a new president and a new parliament. Everyone is waiting for Tunisia to be the first truly democratic country where all liberties are allowed.
How does the recent development relate to the life in Tunisia before the demonstrations?
Tunisia was a police state: 180 000 policemen in the country means one policeman for every three citizens. Zine Abdine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president remained, in power for 23 years, in which time he applied some of the strictest policies in the Arab world, depriving people of their basic rights.
Tunisia was described as a state of fear with blind and hypocrite media. Lawyers, people belonging to opposition parties and activists have been tortured in prisons, threatened and had their houses and families under constant watch by the police for years. A huge number of educated Tunisians and mainly those aware of the system’s oppression left the country and kept on fighting overseas.
How was it to be young in Tunisia, in regards to freedom, possibility to find work and democracy?
In the shadow of the previous regime, no young person ever paid attention to politics, participated in elections or sat down to follow the news. It was like a given deal, it does not matter what you think, decisions are already made and you better not think at all or you will end up in jail. Being a young person I always felt afraid to speak up or share my thoughts with anyone. Spies are everywhere and you cannot guess who might sell you out for few dinars. As a young person I felt suffocated because of the limited liberty I had and I was tired of being cautious all the time.
What does the escape of Ben Ali mean for the country, according to you?
One meaning that can be interpreted is that all the demands from the people were legitimate and rest on a solid base. His escape felt like giving air back to a suffocated person, I actually can’t stop smiling as I’m saying these words, it is simply a dream came true.
How was the news received in the country?
The emergency call and the curfews prevented people from going out and celebrating. Yet facebook and twitter and also the national public and private TV reflected well the reaction of the people – pure joy and relief. Soon after the news was aired and confirmed, a historic show was aired live featuring a group of journalists who were discussing the next step and answering calls live. As an honest and transparent show on Tunisian TV, it was first of its kind.
What do you hope will change?
Now I really hope for my new Tunisia to be a country of democracy and liberty, a country where minorities’ rights are respected, consensus is applied and transparency is adopted.
The role of the internet
- A series of general strikes and manifestations has been called on facebook and twitter each day in each and every city
- As soon as the government found out what was going on online, it called again for the famous “Ammar” (the censor) to hack into event organizers and facebook pages owners using phishing to take over passwords and access emails and inboxes. The “https” mode (security mode) for gmail, yahoo and hotmail was denied exposing online data to risk
- The internet activists fought back: a group known simply as Anonymous claims to have launched successful cyber attacks against various websites associated with the regime, in suppport of the uprising. In addition to being knocked offline, the Prime Minister’s domain (pm.gov.tn) was defaced with a message from Anonymous saying “Payback is a bitch, isn’t it?”
Question to EMAJMagazine readers: What do you think the recent development in Tunisia will mean for the country and other dictatorships in the region?