TRT World talks to Tunisian activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni eight years after the Tunisian revolution.
It has been eight years since a frustrated fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself to protest his wares being confiscated and his mistreatment at the hands of police.
He was a 26-year old man living in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia trying to take care of his family.
Tensions escalated quickly across the country, as exasperated citizens took to the streets and violence ensued. The revolt, which is widely known as Jasmine Revolution, lasted less than a month, but sparked the so called Arab Spring in neighbouring countries.
The clashes between the government and the people claimed 338 civilian lives, and injured thousands. They eventually wound down as President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali gave up his post in January 2011.
TRT World talked to Tunisian activist and popular blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who shed some light on what it was like to live through the revolution.
TRT WORLD: Can you tell us about yourself?
LINA BEN MHENNI: I was born in Tunisia on May 22, 1983. Based in Tunis, I reported from all across my country during the 2O1O-2O11 revolution. I risked my safety as one of the few Tunisian cyber-activists to criticize the repressive government openly on Internet and international broadcasts before the ousting of the dictator Ben Ali. Indeed, under Ben Ali’s dictatorship, my blog was one of the most revealing and scathing criticisms of Tunisian society, focusing on issues like women’s rights and press freedom. I also used to write for Global Voices Online.
After unrest began in Tunisia in December 2010, I began traveling across the country to take photos and video footage of the protests and people who were attacked in the ensuing government crackdowns. I visited local hospitals and took pictures of those injured or killed by the police.
Much of my writing focuses on human rights, mainly freedom of expression and women’s rights Currently, I write about the incomplete state of Tunisia’s revolution and campaign for continued reform and democracy.
I also try to launch different initiatives in campaigns to promote human rights such as the initiative books for prisons. Indeed, I succeeded in collecting more than 30,000 books and created libraries inside prisons to fight against the indoctrination of prisoners behind the bars. I am also active in different youth movements such as “Manish Msamah” (I don’t pardon) which started as a reaction to the reconciliation law guaranteeing impunity to the corrupted people of the old regime.
Where were you during the Arab Spring in Tunisia? What were you expecting as an outcome? What are your observations from that time?
LBM: First of all, I want to point out that the majority of Tunisians reject the expression “Arab Spring”. Indeed, each country of the so called “Arab Spring “ countries has its specific characteristics and the outcomes of the different rebellion movements are so different.
During the Tunisian upheaval, I was in Tunisia and I started to follow what was happening in and writing about it on my blog and the different social networks from the first day of the revolution; the day when Mohamed Bouazizi sat his body on fire. In the beginning I was in the capital Tunis. Then I travelled across the country and took photos, filmed and wrote about what was happening.
To be honest I could not anticipate the outcome of the revolution. But as it was the case for the majority of the people who took part in the revolution, I was expecting a positive change that will change the life of Tunisians so that they can be full citizens enjoying their rights and accomplishing their duties. The major slogan was and is: employment, freedom, and dignity.
Eight years on, where does the country stand now?
LBM: The picture seems gloomy and dark but I am still full of hope for my country.
Eight years on and despite several difficulties we cannot deny that some changes occurred. First of all, let me say that the fact that the dictator has left is a big achievement . We are now free to express ourselves, to rally, to demonstrate. We can take part in political life. We are having a thriving civil society working hard to improve things in Tunisia. It is true that the situation is difficult, that we are facing huge problems in all fields: political, economic, social, cultural etc. It is true that we have serious problems that we should face and I am talking about terrorism; but I think that we are on the right track. I believe that a positive change is not a matter of eight years. It is a long journey with ups and downs. It’s an ebb and flow. It is success and failure. By ousting the dictator Ben Ali, we’ve already achieved the first step but there are more and more steps to be achieved.
We cannot fix the problems of more than 50 years of dictatorship in 8 years. Fulfilling the objective of a revolution requires: patience, perseverance, willingness, determination etc.
On the one hand, the country is facing huge economic problems. There are also big terrorist threats. Life standard is deteriorating. There is a risk of regression when it comes to freedoms and democracy. People are not really happy with the outcome of the revolution.
On the other hand, there are historic things that are being achieved: Tunisia succeeded in drafting a new constitution and there several revolutionary laws that has been enacted or that on their way to be passed like equality of inheritance, the law against violence targeting women etc. As I mentioned earlier, the Tunisian civil society is very active and is writing history and trying to change things .
What are the problems plaguing Tunisian society today? Please identify the key issues the government is not addressing today?
LBM: Let me say that one of our biggest problems today is corruption. The government is pretending to face this problem but this is not true. We cannot face corruption by passing such law as the economic reconciliation law which guaranteed impunity to the majority of the corrupted people of the old regime. We cannot face corruption with corrupted institutions and justice. Corruption is spreading its tentacles on all sectors as a result of the politics of impunity and absence of accountability.
I think that terrorism is a big problem too. I don’t think that the government is tackling the problem in the right manner. To eradicate terrorism we should tackle the problem at its root . It is not just a matter of security . We have to look at the real reasons behind the rise of such a huge problem.