[Labouratorio interviews Haithem Jarraya] “Is this really happening?”
|sabato 29 gennaio 2011||Scritto da Redazione - 2.105 letture|
What did you feel when Ben Ali resigned?
Friday 14th of January 2011 is a day that I will always remember. I woke up earlier and logged in on my accounts. Twitter, facebook, news channels, everything was setup to follow the demonstration as close as possible (Wanted to be there!). 8 am London time, 9 am Tunis time, but nothing yet. Friends were still connected on facebook getting ready to join the protest. Shortly after, journalist reporting, the crowd was getting bigger and bigger, elder, women, kids, young people, smart dressed, casual dressed, basically everyone was joining. I called my friends over the phone, I couldn’t hear much, apart my friend saying “Haithem It’s amazing! People are peacefully shouting BEN ALI DEGAGE” (“Ben Ali out” in France, n.d.r.). My feeling is still hard to describe. I felt relief from an oppressive regime, I felt proud to be Tunisian, I felt optimistic. I strongly believe that a brighter future is now.
Did you expect that outcome after the first demonstration?
Honestly not at all. I know people that live in the north side of Tunis. They weren’t with the protest in central Tunis but they were gathering to march to the Presidential Palace. In the mean time tweets started announcing that Ben Ali and his family fled the country. I couldn’t believe the video on facebook, showing the presidential flight taking off, and then channel news confirmed the rumors. I was thinking, or more trying to think (with all the emotions and the flow of online information): how come? is this really happening? could he just leave as simple as that? and then I asked my self the questions: what now? what’s going to happen?
Why do you think the regimen felt down now and not before?
I think it’s due to the economic situation. At the beginning it was good and the growth rate accommodated most people but on the other side we were restricted in our freedom. At some point injustice and social gap between rich and poor widened making the middle class smaller than 10 years ago. This revolution started as economic revolt from inside the country, which was lacking the large investment made on the cost (tourism), and changed quickly to a revolution for dignity and against injustice.
What kind of people was in the street demonstrating against the government?
It started with the poorest region of the country. In Sidi Bouzid, on the 17th of December with Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolation. I felt so sorry for him and so angry at the goverment but again I never thought that it would have gone this way. Protest on that region started to grow everyday more, especially when the police opened fire. At that point, no one could stand this injustice no more. When protest arrived in Tunis, everyone was present, rich, poor, educated, young, old, women, men and even kids.
How was Tunisia under Ben Ali?
I grown up in a middle class family, where we criticised the government at home with close friends. There was a general and distributed fear of Ben Ali police. They were above the law and could get you in trouble if you publicly criticise the regime. Therefore, I did like many other, I kept it to my self, study, go out with friends, enjoy drinks and parties. As I grown up, I started hearing about the president family aka “the clan”, it was a publicly organised crime organisation, from inside trading to historical artifact trade. They had a hand on all sector agriculture, banking, tourism… Clearly business was good for them and people around them. In many other cases if your business were healthy and you were doing well, “the clan” will come and ask for part of equities, sometimes all of it. Thus many people with growing business, slowed it down to pass under “the clan” radars. Many of the brightest young Tunisian, preferred to seek a better future somewhere else in the world from New York to Tokyo.
Do you trust the trade union UGTT?
No. For now it’s hard to trust any party; anyone seems to be trying to get to the power. Nobody is trying to reveal his intentions and how he is going to bring calm and democracy in Tunisia.
They have some support on the streets, It’s difficult to assess organization and intention of any political party in a country which hasn’t had a political democratic culture in the last 50 years, since even the former president was against pluralism.
Do you think there will be a ruling class able to take over the regimen and lead the country towards a stable democracy?
It’s still too early, for now it’s important to see if the interim government manage to bring the country towards a democratic election. I’m optimistic that if this happen a debate about the future of the country could arise. Some good events have happened: last Friday Tunisian people overthrown a dictator. On Saturday they fought his militia, on Sunday they cleaned their streets and neighbourhood and on Monday they were back to work.
What do you think of the islamic parties? Are you afraid of them? Do they have support?
Honestly I’m not, because I think that there is a logical reason which tells us they are not going to take the power. Our economy depends mainly on the tourism, Islamic party on power would threaten the economy and the western countries financial support, then I think that on the election polls, people would consider this and they would not win.
I don’t know how much support they have, but surely they have sympathy from the people. Since 11/9 I saw radicalization in the Arabic and western world, more religious in one side, more intolerant on the other, with many young people becoming more religious. It was a sort of reaction to the US foreign politics. Also having a regime taking freedom from people was an incubator for people to find spiritual safety.
Do you think what happened in Tunisi could cause analogous democratic movements in other Northern Africa coutries?
As we speak many self immolation are happening in Algeria and in Egypt, watching middle east news channels, they are praising the Tunisian achievement and they are wishing to do the same. The question still is: is this gonna happen? I’m not sure. In Algeria is more likely than elsewhere but while we had the army on our side, in Algeria is the army itself which is corrupted and in power.
Did you know and what do you think of Mr.Marzouki, who has announced his nomination to the next presidential election?Is he popular? Does he have some chanches to win?
He came back to Tunisia yesterday he went straight to the city, where the revolution started – Sidi Bouzid. I think it’s nice what he did, a good communicative style, but we are still far away from the election. And the problem now is to go to the election. I’ll be watching some video on facebook. He seems to be a smart person with a lot of common sense. He has some support and in this condition everyone has really a chance. Not so many people knew him since almost none political information were available.
What do you think could be the role of the Tunisian comunity in Europe and of Europe itself?
Tunisian community will be helping more on the economical level, investing heavily to help the economy to recover. Another point could be the education, Tunisian professors and scholars will need to come back home to help give knowledge to the next generation.
I think Europe can help with financial support, helping to set democratic elections. A democratic Tunisia is good for Europe too.
What is the role of the youth in the Tunisian Revolution?
This is a young people revolution. One thing Ben Alì did good. His government facilitated people to buy computers, giving low interest credit. It was a sort of cyber-revolution. Thanks to that, there were people on the street filming shooting and sharing on social networks. He tried to control tv and newspapers but he underestimated the impact of this social networks.
These young people in the streets were educated too, thanks to the fact that university is free in Tunisia. Thus they managed to took over Ben Ali and its clan. This has been a spontaneous movement.
Do you know the blogger Slim Amamou? What do you think of him?
I don’t know him personally but I remember that about 1 year ago he and one of his friend posted a video on facebook. In the video he asked why we had Internet censorship and we couldn’t access youtube and many websites. It was very common to get on your screen the error “404 – page not found” whenever you were browsing “illegal” (for the regimen) content on the web. At some point there was this song “leave us alone Ammar” which become very popular (see youtube video n.d.r.).
It was a protest against the censorship. Ammar referred to a car model, the 404 Ammar made by Peugeot, which has become the nickname used by Tunisians as a metaphor for the invisible censor blocking their access to many websites.
Their movement were stop by the police.
Last October I saw a video with Slim speaking about free Internet. It was a conference in which he was talking about the Anonymous Movement (http://vimeo.com/15763928) and I was really impressed by this guy and its movement. After December 17 the Anonymous Movement made cyber-attacks targeting government website.
I respect his point of view and I totally agree. Now he’s part of the government and I really hope he will represent the voice of the young people clearly and loudly.