Sunday, July 10, 2011

Postscript: Tunisia

Tunisians are still grappling with their revolution. The prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took office after Ben Ali fled, resigned at the end of February. Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were convicted in absentia of embezzlement and misuse of state funds. A planned election in July for forming a commission to write a new constitution was put off until October. Dozens of political parties have sprung up. Jobs for young graduates have not materialized. Protests continue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Jasmine Revolution

Day of Mourning, Tunis, January 21, 2011

Who names a revolution? Is it the pundits, the journalists or the revolutionaries themselves? Ukraine's Orange Revolution. The Green Revolution in Iran.

Jasmine is Tunisia's national flower. I don't know who first started calling the uprising in Tunisia the Jasmine Revolution, but it must have gained the nickname after the violence in Tunis finally subsided on Wednesday. Someone at the top decided something needed to change. The police maintained a line blocking the Ministry of Interior building, but allowed the protesters to protest. The mood lifted, like a flower suddenly blossoming.

Above, a woman watched an impromptu speech. The demonstration took on the qualities of a street fair. People came to Bourguiba Avenue with their families, carrying toddlers on their shoulders.

It was a victory. It was perhaps the first completely peaceful protest in Tunisia.

The guy in the middle is holding a sign in his teeth that says, "We want a new system."

Several colleagues by this point had had their cell phones stolen during the crowded demos. I was taking this photo when I felt someone reach inside my jacket pocket. I turned around and gave an evil stare to the young guy behind me. He was looking over my head, but not yelling like all of the people around him. Luckily my phone wasn't in my pocket. Ha! Foiled you, Pickpocket!

Old and young sang songs and chanted slogans together.

People carried an effigy of the RCD ruling party members, in the form of a coffin, through the crowd.

On Thursday, protesters tried to storm the party headquarters of the RCD, located in a skyscraper not far from Bourguiba. This time, the Tunisian army protected the building, but they didn't disperse the protest.

Demonstrators put flowers in the barrels of the soldiers' guns.

The energy was cheerful and at times reminded me of a college basketball game.

The protesters tried to move toward the building's iron fence, but were pushed back.

A woman was overcome by emotion in front of the RCD headquarters.

Then an amazing thing happened: the police protested! The police, who had been tear-gassing and chasing peaceful demonstrators just days earlier, decided they too wanted something to change.

Hundreds of police took over Bourguiba Avenue. Most of them were not wearing uniforms.

They called for higher pay. They also wanted their fellow Tunisians to know they're not the bad guy. We swear we're not the bad guy! I have to admit, I would not have wanted to be a member of the police force during the uprising.

A young man wearing a Tunisian flag as a cape displayed his police ID card.

Revolution really is contagious, apparently!

Of course, the police have since gone back to clashing with protesters in the streets of Tunis. Still, incredible to witness that day.

My assignment with the New York Times ended Friday and I was on a flight Saturday home to Cairo. By then I was exhausted and ill, and looking forward to a city absent of tear gas.

It's strange to look back on it now and realize Tunisia was just a warm-up for what was to come.