Residents of Tunisia’s Sidi Bouzid, the city that ignited the 2011 uprisings, say the revolution has failed them.
Lina Ben Mhenni, a prominent blogger and human rights activist in Tunisia, told her story to Al Jazeera’s Ahmed El Amraoui and Afifa Ltifi.
Like most Tunisians, I am against the notion of an Arab Spring, because I think that each country in the Arab world has its own characteristics; each country led its revolution in its own way. When you see what is happening today in different countries in the Arab world, it has nothing to do with a spring.
I think the Tunisian revolution was a dream and is still a dream. When President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left, I was really happy and couldn’t believe it. But the dream started even before January 2011.
Indeed, bloggers and online activists tried to defy the regime before the uprising began. We had long been working against censorship and the obstruction of free speech; we tried to talk about opinion prisoners, torture and dictatorship.
When the revolution started, we felt we were about to fulfil our dreams and hopes. When Ben Ali left, it felt great. We thought we would be able to build our country in the way that we dreamed of.
We were happy to see that all Tunisians took part in this revolution, demanding employment, freedom and dignity.
The revolution was defined by a variety of different images. There was a famous video of an old woman in Tunis wearing a traditional Tunisian sefseri, and when she saw several lawyers delivering a speech outside the Palace of Justice about the revolution and events in Sidi Bouzid, she stepped up and began speaking.
Another image that sticks with me was a striking scene outside court in Kassrine on January 10, 2011. Lawyers were demonstrating silently outside the court while holding photos of recent martyrs, as armed security forces came after them.
And then there were all the images from January 14, outside the interior ministry, when throngs of people turned out en masse to push Ben Ali to step down.
The most painful images were those of Tunisia’s martyrs. I remember one young man, lying dead on the ground as his mother mourned. I was shaking as his mother asked me to film this and show it to the world: “Look what Tunisians are doing to Tunisians. They are killing each other. Look at this dictatorial regime,” she said.
As a young person who took part in this revolution, I am not happy with its outcome. When young people took to the streets, they were asking for freedom, dignity and employment, but almost none of these objectives were fulfilled.
Many young people are either migrating to Europe, throwing themselves at the mercy of the Mediterranean Sea, or joining up with extremists in Syria and Iraq. Those young people lost hope in the revolution, and it is really painful to see this.
From an economic perspective, the situation is bad. We are experiencing new problems, including terrorist attacks, and the curbing of human rights and freedoms. This must change.
When we join a revolution, we try to improve our situation, but I don’t think we succeeded in doing so in Tunisia. While Tunisia is better off than other countries like Syria or Libya, we didn’t really make a change. Just because we haven’t become embroiled in civil war does not mean that everything is better, or even OK.
To me, success is linked to the fulfillment of the objectives of the revolution. Today, the cost of living has risen, and those who took to the streets asking for change have become desperate.
It is true that people asked for and received the ouster of a dictator, but we also asked for employment, dignity and freedom – and these never came.
Tunisia is lucky to have avoided descending into utter chaos, although our country did not escape violence entirely. Tourists and security forces have been attacked and killed by terrorists in recent months.
Tunisians all worked together to avoid the kind of outright chaos that is now gripping other parts of the Arab world, and civil society played a very important role in this.
What keeps me hopeful and optimistic for Tunisia’s future is the fact that there are many young people who are also hopeful for this country, and who are working to change the realities on the ground, including young artists who continue to express themselves freely through painting or song.
I hope that my children and future generations will be able to enjoy freedom in Tunisia – that they will be able to enjoy their rights with dignity.
Citizenship is very important, and we also have to understand that we have a duty to participate in the building of our nation.
As a dissident voice, even before the revolution, I was targeted by security forces. In 2010, police broke into my parents’ house to seize my laptop; during the revolution, they followed me everywhere.
Today, I am living under police protection after receiving death threats from extremists. But I have also faced assault at the hands of police in recent months.
In the end, we cannot deny that there has been a change in Tunisia since the 2011 uprising. But sometimes it appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same.