Since the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali was ousted by mass unarmed demonstrations, successive waves of protest and self-organisation have dismantled many of the old structures of that dictatorship.
But earlier this month the old regime showed it could still strike back. The prospect of a coup by the old dictator’s party, which had one million members, after the elections in July led to further demonstrations. This time protesters were beaten and journalists – male and female – were singled out. It emerged that a censorship law had been secretly rushed through by the interim government. News from the Tunisian heartland, where the democratic revolution started, is being censored.
La Tunisie profonde is where the uprisings began. The Jasmine Revolution is seen as bloodless, but when you reach the small towns almost everyone knows someone who died, and almost everyone marched and organised against the regime. Since then, they have been setting up their own local councils, been central participants in the independent trade unions, made organisations for the graduate unemployed whose plight kicked off the uprising, held women’s marches, and begun court proceedings to prosecute the snipers who killed the young men and women demonstrators.
Regueb, with 7,000 inhabitants, is one of the most fully mobilised places. High on a hill outside the town is a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: “Welcome to Regueb, the land of free people.” Its tiny trade union hall is filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. Hand-painted portraits of past labour heroes flank the image of linked hands inside a red crescent, logo of the General Union of Tunisian Workers. Over the ceiling and walls are dotted more recent collages inspired by the uprisings.
In February women from all ages and backgrounds filled the streets here under banners reading “Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte.” In April citizens came together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous gap between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and new elections in July.
Mohamed Abidi is a schools inspector whose son Chady used his IT skills to organise and publicise the resistance. When Chady went to the streets, “armed with nothing but his voice”, he was shot and paralysed by a police sniper. Mohamed Abidi wants the “papers in London to know about the latest events in our town, if possible”.
Representatives of the inhabitants of Regueb attended a meeting in the provincial governorate of Sidi Bouzid calling for a regional hospital for the town; a local covered market square for the fruits and vegetables produced in Regueb; and the removal from power of all the groups of people connected to the regime of Ben Ali.