Six months afterward – the revolution remembered (part 2 of 3)

Part two of my series on posts from Facebook in the days immediately before and after the Tunisian revolution. Part one (here) looked at the days before. Part two discusses the day after Ben Ali’s departure.

RCD Headquarters in La Marsa

From Tunisia 2011

January 15, 2011 – Looking for answers, but safe and sound 

…Now a bit of an update from last night until today….To recap, the fall of the Ben Ali was nothing less than extraordinary. Having been in Tunisia in 1999 (12 years into his reign of terror), and having seen how he silenced the opposition and a vote in which he won 99.9 percent of the vote, I thought I knew a bit his power structure. Coming back here 12 years later it had certainly gotten worse. The wikileaks cables that were released in November described the kleptocracy that the regime had become. And while this was news to me, the stories of pet tigers and wild shopping sprees seemed to be very well known among Tunisians. The first family is reviled here.

And it was the first family’s property that was the first to go last night. The mobs that had formed after the police broke up the peaceful protests yesterday in Tunis went about last night systematically burning and looting their personal property, their mansions, and their business. The car dealerships and the supermarkets that they owned burned. Neighborhoods with their houses were saved while their houses were singled out and destroyed.

As the president fled and martial law was declared the city felt tense, happy with the joy of being rid of the dictator, but nervous about what was next. After all, Ben Ali had set up a security apparatus that some have compared to the Stasi of East Germany, informers everywhere, up to 1 police man for every 40 inhabitants. While the population trusts the army, the police are a different story. And it was they who had the most to lose with Ben Ali’s departure.

While events around our neighborhood seemed calm last night, military helicopters circled overhead and sporadic gunfire could be heard form around the city.

We woke up to calm. We were able to sleep late as the call to prayer was cancelled because of the curfew that was in effect until 7 a.m. We spoke with our neighbors who seemed happy, but nervous. The funeral of a young man killed by the police the day before in our neighborhood was going to happen at 2 p.m. If we wanted to go out, we’d better do it in the morning. So, we ventured out into a somewhat normal, but still very tense city. We’re about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown La Marsa, with a nice walk through the park, by the French ambassador’s house, and finally to the seaside.

As we walked in to town, things seemed pretty calm. There was noticeably less people around, but still enough families and couples for us to remain pretty confident in our safety. As we approached the main train station in the center of town we noticed that at the roundabout an immense tank was parked with about 6 soldiers standing guard around it. Remember, the army is trusted here, so this was reassuring, but the orders they were giving on their megaphones did some seem particularly inviting (are any orders given from a megaphone by a soldier on a tank good orders?). We turned back, went to the market, stocked up on oranges and tomatoes, and headed back home. While things were ok, the tension seemed to be building.

After lunch one of Eloise’s work mates came by the apartment to stay with us. He was alone and it seemed like a good idea for us to stick together.

As sunset approached we could see from our fleeting looks from the balcony that neighborhood men were beginning to assemble. They had clubs and were going to defend their neighborhood. Gangs of rioters (perhaps supporters of the ousted president) were thought to be going around town terrorizing civilians, inciting violence, and looting property. While the military were set up at the major intersections, there weren’t enough to defend the entire population. And so the women gathered rocks and brought them to the rooftops, prepared to throw at any looters, and the men stood guard at the entrance to our small street, baseball bats in hand.

And so we sit. We hear shouts from outside as I write. Most far, some a little closer than any of us would like. The gunfire is sporadic, and the sound of an automatic weapon is always jarring. It’s never been close, thank goodness.

We’ll go to bed soon, try to relax, see what happens tomorrow….

RCD Headquarters La Marsa

From Tunisia 2011

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