Kefteji’s anniversary – one year of covering the Tunisian uprising

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year, but 126 articles later, the Kefteji blog still has plenty to say about the ever-changing political and social landscape in Tunisia.

Last year in my first post on this site I wrote:

I am writing to document this moment in history and to think about the joy, the optimism, the contradictions, and the fear borne of this new found freedom. The Tunisian revolution has been an opportunity for an entire society to have a debate (sometimes publicly, sometimes privately) about what society should be…It’s an opportunity that has raised profound questions about what government should be, the value of democracy and its limitations, the role of religion and the state, and the intersection of development, corruption, and international finance.

Today, as I write, instability has continued to plague the country, Tunisians debate openly about whether they are on the right track, and religion, corruption, and the economy are as important as ever.

Despite the peaceful handover of power following free and fair elections and the appointment of a representative assembly, Tunisia’s future is still very much up in the air. Which is all the more reason to continue monitoring, analyzing and debating Tunisia’s politics and culture.

Thanks to all my readers for a great first year. The growth in readership over the last year has been astounding to me and I appreciate all of the comments, feedback, and support. Keep it up and I will too! Happy reading.

May Day in Tunisia – what you’ll see and what you will not see

Protests are planned today in Tunis and other major cities to celebrate labor day. If the protests follow the story arc of other recent protests led by opposition groups, the headlines this evening will talk of the mobilization of Tunisia’s opposition, whether the government is prepared to deal with workers’ issues, and the continuing frustration many  Tunisians feel about their economic fortunes.

While Ennahdha has called on its supporters to join the protests in an effort to neutralize this potential bad publicity, the move has the potential to backfire. Opposition groups, angry at the violent crackdowns during recent protests, will be none too pleased to share the stage with supporters of the very regime that cracked down on them. The potential for confrontation is real.

Photo-journalists will ensure that any violence is captured and broadcast around the world; the headlines will scream of further clashes between the opposition/secular forces and the Islamists – with some Salafis thrown in for good measure.

But a far different story is playing itself out across cities and towns across the country. This is a story one is unlikely to see in the newspapers. It is the story of Ennahdha’s massive mobilization and organization that is taking place all across the country. While opposition parties debate in the halls of Tunisia’s big cities, most small cities have one political party – Ennahdha. In a recent trip north of Tunisia, I was struck that every city I went to had an Ennahdha office that was large, open, and active. Opposition offices were invisible. This was true before the elections, when secular parties were crushed, and it remains true today.

Opposition parties remain fragmented, weak, and unable to reach out to ordinary voters.

It is likely that Tunisia’s opposition movement will congratulate itself tonight after what they perceive is a groundswell of support they received in Tunis today. They will read headlines in the Washington Post or Le Figaro and know that the world is watching their struggle. They are correct that many Tunisians are frustrated at the government and its ability to change things quickly. They are correct that the world is watching. But they are mistaken if they believe that marching downtown today will suffice to reach their voters. The lessons of October’s defeat have not yet been learned by Tunisia’s opposition.

Will Egypt’s disfunction spillover to Tunisia? The presidential race raises questions

Despite the obvious parallels between the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and the clear effect Tunisia’s successful ouster of Ben Ali inspired Egyptian activists, there has been surprisingly little cross-pollination of democratic ideas between Egypt and Tunisia. But as the Egyptian presidential race heats up and Tunisia enters another dangerous escalation between secularists and Islamists, there is the possibility that Tunisia’s Islamists, long a bastion of moderation among Muslim Brotherhood-inspired parties, will adopt Egypt’s more conservative approach. This could have two contradictory effects in Tunisia, both of which could drive further fissures through Tunisia’s increasingly divided political landscape.

Despite the dominate narrative of the Arab Spring – as a collection of uprisings linked by common cause against authoritarianism in the Arab world – Tunisian public debate has been largely insulated from events elsewhere in the Arab world. While Tunisians are aware of and sympathetic toward the other uprisings – especially in Libya and Egypt – there has been little public discussion of the paths toward democracy these countries have taken. Tunisians rightly see their path as a model to follow – rather than the violent and chaotic paths followed by their neighbors.

Tunisia’s separate path has also been due to the much more moderate inclinations of its leaders. After well-run and fair elections, Tunisia’s Islamist party immediately joined hands with secularist counterparts to run the government and write the constitution. Unencumbered by ultra-conservative political parties in the government – such as Salafi parties – the coalition has taken many moderate stances, including the announcement last month that Ennahdha would not endorse inclusion of sharia law in the new constitution.

Ennahdha’s moderation, however, has cost it support both among its more conservative members, many of whom are more influenced by traditional Muslim Brotherhood political ideas (from whence the movement began) and by an increasingly vocal Salafi movement, which while officially excluded from politics, is making itself and its views seen across the country. And despite its moderation on key positions, its inaction against rising extremism and its seeming complicity against very public threats to basic freedoms has made Tunisian secularists skeptical if not openly worried about the future path Ennahdha will take.

It is against this backdrop that events in Egypt could conspire to influence Tunisian politics. The New York Times reported today that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate has taken a much more conservative line:

“This is the old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he said, recalling the group’s traditional slogan in his first television interview as a candidate. “It has been developed and crystallized so that God could bless society with it.” At his first rally, he led supporters in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution, and Shariah is our guide!”

One month before Egyptians begin voting for their first president after Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi’s record is escalating a campaign battle here over the place of Islam in the new democracies promised by the Arab Spring revolts.

The article goes on to describe how throughout the post-Mubarak period, Egypt’s MB has played a much more moderate game:

The Brotherhood, the 84-year-old religious revival group known here for its preaching and charity as well as for its moderate Islamist politics, took a much softer approach in the official platform it released last year. It dropped the “Islam is the solution” slogan, omitted controversial proposals about a religious council or a Muslim president and promised to respect the Camp David accords with Israel.

What effects could a more conservative Egypt have on Tunisia? They are twofold:

Firstly, while Ennahdha is a well-oiled and disciplined political machine, its leadership is widely recognized as lying at the more liberal end of the party’s political spectrum. The debate over sharia was, by Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi’s own confession, widely contested within the party before being decided upon. Ghannouchi’s argument was not a defense of civil institutions, but rather a wish to avoid a controversial debate at a critical time for the country.

If Egypt tilts further to the right, Tunisia’s more conservative Islamists – many trained side-by-side with their Brothers in Egypt – could begin to press for more conservative stances within Ennahdha – testing Ghannouchi’s leadership. Tunisia’s Salafi groups may be further emboldened at pressing for more radical change. At the same time, Ennahdha’s secular partners in the government (CPR and Ettaktol), already under pressure from opposition groups to join them, would be forced to choose between abandoning their partner in government, or going along with a platform much more conservative than they had agreed upon.

Secondly, Tunisia’s secularists (in this case I use the term to describe both secularists in the liberal sense, as well as those from the Bourguiba mold), already anxious about a country run by Islamists, may take bolder actions against the government. Already Tunisian secularists are sounding the alarm bells. At a meeting yesterday, secularists from various parties gathered to voice their extreme concern over events over the weekend which saw Salafi activists disrupt a planned event of a well-known secularist activist and a physical attack on a political figure. The events, troubling in and of themselves, caused even greater alarm by the perceived luke-warm response of the Ennahdha ministers at the justice and interior ministries. The meeting yesterday included calls for the opposition to boycott the Constituent Assembly and to change their tactics from those of opposition movements to “resistance” movements.

Tunisia’s secularist will look with anxiety to an Egypt which has turned further to the right. Coupled with Ennahdha’s moderate rhetoric, secularist alarmism has mostly fallen on deaf ears in Tunisia. Most Tunisians simply do not see their country following the path of Iran or Saudi Arabia, and the Algerian civil war – with its complex moral narrative – is already a decade in the past. An Egypt which has turned toward the extreme would provide secularists with a narrative that could be a call to action among secular sympathizers in the country.

Both of these effects would be dangerous for Tunisia. Already polarized, Tunisia’s fragile political system would break down if the CPR and Ettaktol abandoned the government. Neither Ennahdha nor the secularists have enough seats to form a majority government. But even barring this extreme example, political parties will find it increasingly difficult to compromise in an even more polarized political environment. With elections scheduled within a year, the government may find it difficult to write the constitution on time – creating further pressure in the system as the country would face a constitutional crisis and the government (in whatever form it took) would face criticism that it could not act.

Ben Ali’s chauffeur extradited and jailed, boss remains free

The French daily Le Parisien reports (paywall) this morning that Ben Ali’s chauffeur, who had fled Tunisia after the revolution, was denied his request for assylum and has been extradited back to Tunisia. He is currently incarcerated in Monastir.

Meanwhile, Ben Ali’s lawyer went on Al Arabiya to defend his client’s innocence.

Former Tunisian President Zein ElAbedine Ben Ali’s lawyer Akram Azouri refuted allegations about his client’s escape from Tunisia following the protests, denied that he issued orders to shoot protestors, and contested reports about his wealth.

“Ben Ali left Tunisia on January 14, 2011 in what he planned would be a short trip as he expected to return within a few hours,” Azouri told Al Arabiya’s Point of Order Friday.

Saudi Arabia has refused Tunisian requests for the former dictator’s extradition. Le Monde Diplomatique attacks the Gulf monarchy and the subservience of other countries to its will.

The Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali has provided another example of the preferential treatment automatically accorded to the Saudi monarchy. Jebali, who belongs to a movement savagely repressed by former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, praised his Saudi hosts on one of his first official visits abroad. Yet Riyadh, which supported the Ben Ali clan to the bitter end, refuses to extradite them and provides a safe haven for their finances. Gulf money also helps encourage the Salafists’ provocative behaviour in Tunisia, funding TV channels that spread their medieval interpretation of Islam.

Photo Gallery – Tunisia Year 1 – Bourguiba Avenue Januar 14, 2012

Some photos from yesterday’s happenings on Avenue Bourguiba in downtown Tunis in commemoration of the one year anniversary since Ben Ali’s departure. Reports say that up to 20,000 people took to downtown Tunis, many to celebrate, many to demonstrate that the revolution is not yet over. Ennahdha supporters were well numbered, as were Salafi groups, waiving their typical black and white flags, as well as communists and union members. I heard protesters chanting for all sorts of causes – for the return of the caliphate, for human rights, and for Bashar Assad’s degagement. 

Ben Ali’s Propaganda from Bouazizi to January 14

In addition to writing about the impact of Mohammed Bouazizi on the occasion of his tragic self immolation,  I thought it would be intersesting to explore the evolution of Tunisian propaganda as it became increasingly unable to deal with the growing protests. I have used the main Tunisian French daily, La Presse to show how the message changed from December 17 to January 14 – a month of protests that changed the course of Tunisian history.

La Presse is Tunisia’s oldest French language newspaper (founded in 1936). It is linked closely with the government. Under Ben Ali, as with all media in the country, they were closely monitored and censored by the government.

December 17, 2010

On this date, Mohammed Bouazizi self immolated in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid in southern Tunisia. La Presse, unaware as everyone else of what would transpire that day in Sidi Bouzid, leads with a story on Ben Ali’s visit with Hamad ibn Khalifa al Thani, and furthering Qatar-Tunisia relations. The irony is unmistakable as Qatar has emerged as a key supporter of Arab revolts in general, and specifically of Tunisia’s long-oppressed Islamist leaders, Ennahdha.

December 21, 2010

From the 17th until the 20th, neither Bouazizi nor the protests in the south were mentioned. The first headline in La Presse regarding protests in Sidi Bouzid occurred on December 21, a rather terse and ominous one liner on “Incidents that have happened in Sidi Bouzid: Precisions from an official source.”

December 24, 2010

In the following days, the press continued to float stories about the president’s plans for economic development, but it wasn’t until the December 24 that La Presse reported on actions being taken in Sidi Bouzid. This was clearly an effort to ensure that the events would stay, at least in the public’s eye, as a localized event. But by this point, the protests were already spreading. The headline reads that the regional counsel of Sidi Bouzid sends its strongest thanks to President Ben Ali. In an adjoining story, Ben Ali’s hated wife is praised for her tremendous work in support of Arab women.

December  25-27, 2010

From the 25 until the 27, La Presse made a targeted effort to direct attention to positive work in vulnerable regions. Beginning in Kasserine (close to Sidi Bouzid) on the 25th, to Le Kef and Jendouba near Algeria in the west. Protests had been spreading and this can be seen as another effort to cut them off before they reached the important coastal cities of Bizerte, Sousse, Sfax, and Gabes. The interior regions have long suffered form underdevelopment compared to the richer cities on the coast, which benefit from manufacturing and tourist income. By the 27th, Ben Ali was calling for decentralization of government – at the time, if it could have been taken seriously, this would have been considered a major reform.

December 28-29, 2010

ByDecember 28, the myth of Bouazizi had spread far enough that it could no longer be ignored by the press. A small headline toward the top of La Presse refers obliquely to “Reactions (of the government) following the isolated and painful incident in Sidi Bouzid.” The following day, Bouazizi’s name makes its first appearance on the front page, reporting that Bouazizi is at the burn unit of a Tunis area hospital, Ben Ali was keeping vigil at his bedside. An editorial reports on the humanity and ethics of Ben Ali, for both Bouazizi and the country (he also called for greater social protections that day)

December 30-31, 2010

By the 30th of December, Ben Ali was forced into announcing major jobs and investment programs as well as changes in the government. On the 30th he announced a partial cabinet reshuffle, the following day he announced the replacement of several regional governors (largely hated by local populations). Protests had spread to all major cities, including Tunis, leading to the issue of travel warnings by foreign embassies. The U.S. issued its warning on December 30, before the protests had been reported in the local papers.

January 3, 2011

The first few days of the new year the Tunisian press tried to capitalize on the new year festivities and well wishes of the president. By the 3rd, as protests continued, La Presse was in full propaganda mode. They lead with: “Le progrès est humain ou il ne l’est pas. Un principe universel adopté par la Tunisie, un pays qui avance à pas sûrs sur le chemin de l’excellence sous la sage conduite de son président.” Or in English: “Progress is human or it is not progress. A universal principle adopted by Tunisia, a country that is marches forward on its path of excellence under the wise leadership of its president.” Perhaps reinforcing Tunisia’s stability, neighboring headlines describe the conflict in Palestine and the unraveling security situation in Cote d’Ivoire.

January 6, 2011

By Thursday, January 6, regular protests were underway in all major cities in the country. The government announced a 900 million dinar (~$600 million) stimulus, with 1,000 jobs for Sidi Bouzid alone. The media kept the country in the dark on protests. But it was too late, foreign and social media provided information to Tunisians, and Washington had begun using the term “Arab Spring.”

January 7-8, 2011

Never a strong believer in pluralism, protests had driven Ben Ali to listen to opposition parties and civil society representatives by January 7. La Presse continued its tried and true formula of touting Ben Ali as a champion of education and a promoter of jobs. In the south, the unemployed are offered 20,000 spots in a training program. On the 8th, opposition parties, as well as youth movements, show there support for Ben Ali.

At a moment when things were falling apart, these headlines perhaps show the greatest disconnect between the propaganda machine and current events. While Tunisians never held much faith in their newspapers – except for sports scores and as glass cleaner – these headlines clinched the utter madness of the regime, simply unable to respond to its people.

January 9, 2011

La Presse continues to ignore the situation on the 9th with an article on the banking sector. The corruption in the banking sector had been a major source of frustration for Tunisians under Ben Ali. The middle class were often obliged to pledge loyalty to the regime before being approved for loans. And loans outstanding were used against citizens as a form of control. This aspect of Ennahdha’s platform was an underreported story from October’s elections. Their desire to implement an Islamic finance system was seen as many as a foil against the abuses of the dictatorship.

January 10-11, 2011

By this point, the country was in full scale revolt. Foreigners had started to flee the country en masse. The entirety of the security apparatus was on the streets, with the exception of the military. Rioting and looting, and massive police violence were being reported in the foreign press, especially by AlJazeera. The Tunisia Scenario was being used to describe protests across the Arab world.

La Press called for being civil and good citizens on the 10th. On the 11th, Ben Ali announced the creation of 300,000 new jobs. La Presse also reported that Islamism would not happen in Tunisia.

January 12, 2011

By January 12 the army had been called in to quell the violence. This was seen as an extraordinary measure that would have an important impact on protecting protesters. Many Ben Ali apologists had been shocked that he had used live ammunition on protesters and by calling in the army, he was showing his humanity. La Presse reports little of substance beyond support for the regime – total satisfaction with his recent speech.

January 13, 2011

A day after the army had been called in, it finally appeared in La Presse as if the government had received the message. The people were now in revolt against the police, who they blamed for Bouazizi, relentless harassment, and the use of live ammunition on peaceful protesters. In addition to mobilizing the more pacific army, Ben Ali sacked the former interior minister, replacing him with another party member.  Ben Ali also called for freedom of expression – under peaceful means.

January 14, 2011

The day that ended with Ben Ali leaving the country did not begin on an optimistic note. In a speech the previous night, Ben Ali spoke for the first time in Tunisian dialect, with the famous lines, “I understood you, I understood you all.” These lines headlined the issue of La Presse. In a carefully orchestrated propaganda coup, the regime had organized interior ministry minions to drive through the streets after Ben Ali’s speech to show their elation with the president’s speech – another newspaper headline screamed “National Joy!” On a personal level, after having my apartment filled with teargas, running battles down my street, and several deaths in the neighborhood alone, it didn’t quite feel like a national joy. Another day of protests on the 14th would prove that Ben Ali offered too little too late.

As we reflect back on the beginning of the Arab Spring, it is useful to remember the propaganda and to see how far Tunisia has come. These headlines are also a reflection of how much the Arab world has moved on from conventional propaganda pushing media. From social networks to international news channels, the traditional propaganda machines simply cannot compete with news that acknowledges the intelligence of its readers. Perhaps most telling about these headlines, is that the person who most embodies the Tunisian uprising is mentioned but once on the front page of the paper. And yet, by the end of December, he had become a household name. Sometimes the most powerful message is the one that is left unsaid.

Reflections on Bouazizi and Tunisia’s social contract

Tomorrow Tunisia will commemorate Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian fruit seller whose self immolation one year ago tomorrow sparked revolutions across the region. While myths abound (see here, and here) about Bouazizi, the origins of civil disobedience in Tunisia’s restive south, and his true motivations – he remains a powerful symbol of the price Tunisians paid during the 23 years of Ben Ali’s dictatorship. Bouazizi embodies the breakdown under Ben Ali in the relationship between the governed and the government and his story remains at the heart of Tunisia’s new experiment in democracy.

A memorial to Bouazizi - "Tunisian in mourning" -

I first heard of Bouazizi on New Year’s Day 2011, nearly two weeks after his immolation. I had recently arrived in Tunisia and had heard about the protests that took place in the south of the country – but had not thought too much of it. Under this deeply authoritarian regime it was a bit surprising to hear about protests, but it was not unheard of, especially in the region around Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, and Kesserine – which have long been subject to strikes, social movements and revolts, and tribal rivalries.

Not only was Bouazizi’s story shocking, my Tunisian hosts, who told me the story, had a telling reaction. My friends typified the Tunisian middle class in many ways, they concerned themselves with their work and their families, never delving into the domain of politics. They hated the Trabelsi’s and their kleptocratic ways, but they appreciated the security of Ben Ali’s regime. With two daughters, they appreciated that they were able to get a good education – one was working in France, the other in a local store. When they heard about Bouazizi they were horrified and completely sympathetic. They were also worried about the protests going on, which had by that point spread to Sousse, Ben Ali’s hometown and Tunisia’s third city.

As I became more engaged in the news, it became clear that the events surrounding Bouazizi represented everything that Tunisian’s hated about the regime. Ben Ali’s visit to Bouazizi in the hospital before his death appeared only as a photo op, lacking humanity or understanding. The government’s pledge to create jobs seemed outlandish. Its declarations for regional growth were seen as little more than propaganda from the politburo. And the idea of decentralization was clearly unrealistic given Ben Ali’s highly centralized, authoritarian control structure.

The uprising in Tunisia, as in many revolutions of the Arab Spring, was broad based. Support came not only from Bouazizi’s region, but from students, young people, the unemployed, and professionals from all walks of life. For both protesters and onlookers alike, Bouazizi reflected every failure of Tunisian society. Since independence, the first president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, had emphasized education as the fundamental way Tunisia could modernize and prosper. Investment in education was seen by many as the governments most important social program and the ticket for Tunisians to a more prosperous life. With Ben Ali, economic liberalization and opportunity became the motto du jour.

While Ben Ali nominally had the same philosophy as  Bourguiba, his commitment to improving educational standards was suspect. In a country that used to see its doctors and nurses, engineers and businessmen in demand at home and in Europe, increasingly, Tunisian diplomas were not being recognized by European governments. Coupled with tighter immigration standards from the European Union, the release valve Tunisia had relied on to help check its demographic pressures was no longer available. Even educated Tunisians looking to emigrate could expect low wages and an unwelcome population on the other side of the Mediterranean. Many Tunisian universities were becoming diploma mills for degrees that were no longer in demand, while secondary education was not meeting a growing demand for skilled laborers, such as plumbers and welders.

But it didn’t end with education. Entrepreneurs were increasingly punished under Ben Ali. If you ran a successful business, the family would demand ownership. If you were a taxi cab driver, your permit would be renewed only if you bought a car from a Trabelsi dealership. If you were a civil servant, you were obligated to take out loans from one of the Trabelsi owned banks. While the government touted economic growth figures, the average Tunisian increasingly felt marginalized.

The two things the regime touted, education and economic opportunity were no longer the keys to success under Ben Ali. The social contract was breaking.

Tunisians saw in Bouazizi a young man who had played by the rules of the game. He graduated from high school (some say university – though this part is unclear), a sign of his commitment to society and desire for employment. And yet despite his education, he was a fruit seller – a clandestine one at that. But even in this modest job – the police confiscated his stand and humiliated him.

In this young society, less than 60 years from independence, even well-off Tunisians are rarely far removed from le bled – the country side. Bouazizi touched the hearts of a country that was seeing its sons and daughters play by the rules, submitting to Ben Ali’s strict authoritarianism, and still not being able to achieve economic independence.

Ben Ali Visits Bouazizi in the Hospital - Al-Jazeera

As protests grew throughout the month of December, the government cracked down and spewed propaganda. But it was all just a little too much. The paternalism of Ben Ali rang hollow. If he was so committed to the country, why would young men be humiliated and forced to such extreme measures as Bouazizi was?

State controlled television portrayed the protesters as vandals and Ben Ali as the nation’s guarantor of stability. This contrasted with images and accounts of the police using live-ammunition against peaceful protesters. But while extensive censorship allowed the government to propagate this narrative, the story of Bouazizi kept spreading – and the government had no good responses. Bouazizi’s selflessness in the face of injustice was the recurring image  Tunisians came back to.

Of course it wasn’t Bouazizi that caused the uprising. The Tunisian uprising was the result of years of struggle by all facets of Tunisian society. No where is this embodied more than in the two leaders of the new Tunisian government. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali languished for 16 years in a Tunisian jail cell for his involvment in the Islamist party Ennahdha, while President Moncef Marzouki was exiled for most of his life for support for human rights and basic liberties. Behind these figures are thousands of activists who risked their lives over the years.

However, Bouazizi was able to accomplish what no activist had been able to – he captured the hearts of Tunisians. Bouazizi brought home to every Tunisian the reality of what the Ben Ali government had become, brutal kleptocrats. Bouazizi represented the betrayal of Tunisia’s social contract by the Ben Ali regime. By exposing the regime for what it was, Bouazizi unleashed the energy of all the forces of Tunisian society, both the activists and non-activists alike. He was a real Tunisian, with real problems, and he could not take it any longer. Neither could the Tunisian people.

On the occasion of this tragic event, there is a sweetness to know that Bouazizi’s tragic act was not in vain and will be remembered.

Gallery: Election day arrives in Tunisia

Creating the Future in Tunisia

Never in my life have I ever felt like I do today, or have for the last 6 months. I arrived in Tunisia on December 30, 2010, 16 days prior to Ben Ali’s departure. Prior to the revolution Tunisia was a suffocating place intellectually. Political thoughts were kept to oneself and the media was heavily censored, including some of the tightest controls over the internet in the world.

And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a people rose up. And there was freedom.

This was freedom not in the way that you say you are free in America or in Europe, where it’s a metaphor for the acceptance of the social contract you were born into. But freedom in that now you could go out on the street and yell at the top of your lungs what you thought about anything. Freedom that you could log into facebook and not think you were being monitored. Freedom in that you could write a blog about whatever you wanted and not fear getting kicked out of the country.

It is that freedom that has compelled me to write here. I am writing to  document this moment in history and to think about the joy, the optimism, the contradictions, and the fear borne of this new found freedom. The Tunisian revolution has been an opportunity for an entire society to have a debate (sometimes publicly, sometimes privately) about what society should be. Who has that kind of opportunity in their lifetimes? I certainly haven’t. It’s an opportunity that has raised profound questions about what government should be, the value of democracy and its limitations, the role of religion and the state, and the intersection of development, corruption, and international finance.

Today in Tunisia I feel like a special guest. A guest that has been given the opportunity to see a people make choices that could impact generations and inspire people around the world. Having been given that opportunity, I am writing to document what I see, what I feel, and what I hear and I hope this will give my readers (and myself) a better understanding of the world that we live in and the choices we make as citizens.