FEATURE-Protests in Tunisian town show anger at Islamist government

By Tarek Amara

SILIANA, Tunisia | Sun Dec 2, 2012 10:21am EST

(Reuters) – In a remote town in Tunisia’s interior, protesters angry over joblessness and harsh police tactics call for the downfall of new Islamist rulers, echoing the revolt that ignited the Arab Spring two years ago. Continue reading FEATURE-Protests in Tunisian town show anger at Islamist government

Tunisia secures more loans as protests hit deprived town

By Francesco Guarascio and Tarek Amara | Reuters – Wed, Nov 28, 2012

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia, struggling to ease economic difficulties that have provoked unrest since its democratic revolution, said on Wednesday it had secured more international lending to cover its 2013 spending.

Tunisia’s new, elected Islamist-led government has sought to revive the economy in the face of a decline in trade with the crisis-hit euro zone and disputes between secularists and hardline Salafi Islamists over the future direction of the North African Arab state. Continue reading Tunisia secures more loans as protests hit deprived town

Arab Spring films revive days of Egypt, Tunisia revolt

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Tue Dec 13, 2011 1:23pm EST

(Reuters) – The first cinematic output covering protests in Egypt and Tunisia this year recreates the euphoria of revolutions that many thought would never happen, but reveals signs of the conflicts that lay ahead over Islamist groups.

The last stage of the revolt that brought down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and then the entire three weeks of upheaval that led to Hosni Mubarak’s fall in Egypt took place before the eyes of the world with media and other documenters on the ground observing events day by day — unlike uprisings such as Iran witnessed in 1979 or Sudan in 1985.

In “Tahrir – Liberation Square,” Italian documentary maker Stefano Savona uses stunning camerawork in the midst of the lively crowds who spent three weeks in central Cairo in January and February in dreamlike sequences which capture the hypnotic chants and rhythms of Egyptian protesters.

Drummers and lead chanters who come up with an innovative array of rhymes party into the night in a record of events that emphasizes the hope of protesters whose spirits never flag and whose means of entertaining themselves is endless.

Young people also have animated discussions about the future, which given the lead Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood have established in Egypt’s first free elections, seem eerily prescient.

“I don’t know what to think of them (the Muslim Brotherhood) because everything we heard about them came from the state,” says a young woman called Noha. “Whether the future state is religious or not doesn’t matter, the important thing is that we get rid of the regime.”

After news of Mubarak’s resignation comes through, the camera focuses on another young Egyptian, Ahmed, who declares in English: “We will have now a civilian (secular) state, we won’t have a religious state.”


In “1/2 Revolution,” film-makers Omar Shargawi and Karim El-Hakim record their experiences of the revolt while staying in a flat in central Cairo. A raw personal account, it captures the violence of the security forces and thugs who controlled much of downtown Cairo outside Tahrir Square.

Shargawi is beaten up at one point, and fearing for his young child, Karim decides to leave. “It’s just gonna get worse, this place is gonna be unliveable,” he predicts.

Seven days later Mubarak stepped down, but the street is still an arena of political protest and confrontation several months after the Egyptian president’s February departure. More than 50 people died in November alone during clashes with police over the military’s continued grip on power.

“Things have settled down now a bit but on November 19 the violence really exploded,” Hakim said after a showing. “The police and army have blended into some kind of armed force, I’m not sure who they’re protecting.”

The documentaries, being shown at the Dubai International Film Festival, undercut the claim, oft-cited by supporters of U.S. power in the Middle East, that the revolts were not anti-American or driven by foreign policy concerns.

In “1/2 Revolution” Egyptians chant anti-U.S. slogans and angrily display bullet cartridges and teargas canisters made in the United States. Egypt is a major U.S. ally in the region.

“USA, it’s our decision not yours!” a placard held up by one protester to camera says in a third Egyptian revolution film, “Born on the 25th of January,” the day the protests began.

Rashwan, a feature film maker among an artistic community worried about an Islamist future, said the fear was overstated.

“I think the revolution is continuing. When people are disillusioned, all they have to do is go to YouTube and see all the footage there from before,” he told an audience.


Tunisian director Mourad Ben Cheikh’s “No More Fear” documents the reactions of a blogger, a rights lawyer and a journalist during the latter stages of the Tunisian revolution after security forces had lost control of the streets.

It offers a reminder that although Egypt is famous for its street sloganeering, Tunisia is the origin of the signature Arabic chant of the Arab uprisings, “the people want to bring down the regime,” as well as “Get out!.”

“If you haven’t got it yet, here it is in Japanese,” says a placard held up by one protester in Tunis.

A smaller country than Egypt and easier for Ben Ali to control, Tunisia brooked far less dissent than Mubarak’s Egypt did, smothering civil society almost completely.

Lawyer Radhia Nasraoui discusses the ongoing events over a meal in a restaurant with colleagues.

“We couldn’t even meet like this before, they would have word in advance where we intended to dine,” she says.

Nasraoui recalls colleagues whose lives were ruined by police surveillance and harassment.

“We had a revolt in 1984 that was about bread, but this one is different, it’s about freedom, rights, duties,” she says.

Ben Cheikh said he felt he was witnessing the reawakening of a nation.

“In these two weeks while the world was watching, Tunisians view of themselves changed. I felt it was important to document this moment,” he told Reuters. “For the first time, a director could have the ability to deal with real-time events, we didn’t have this before.”

Starting a riot in Sidi Bouzid

Tunisia’s election is finally over and we have the first post-uprising victory of a Brotherhood calque.  But the events in Sidi Bouzid certainly marred the process. I turned up there mid-Friday afternoon when the  town courthouse and National Guard building were still burning furiously. Teenagers were talking around with burning plastic bags to spread the fires further. Documents were lying all over the road, with some desks and chairs. Some two dozen cars were burned out, while their tyres had been removed. The destruction inside the buildings was total. Shelves of archive inside the justice building were smouldering away, electricity wires dangled around dangerously, a few soldiers wandered in and out in an attempt, I suppose, to declare the state’s desire for the vandalism and looting to end. Townspeople came in to gawp at the ruin of the justice building and they appeared as bemused by the scene as the few journalists who had driven for hours along the unkempt country roads. Continue reading Starting a riot in Sidi Bouzid

Cradle of Tunisia revolt rocked by new protests

By Andrew Hammond

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia | Fri Oct 28, 2011 9:36pm BST

(Reuters) – Smoke billowed from a wrecked police station in Tunisia’s Sidi Bouzid Friday after protesters angry that their election candidates were disqualified rampaged through the town that was the cradle of the “Arab Spring” revolt.

The only sign of any security presence were a few soldiers at the top of the street leading into the town centre, but they were making no effort to restore order, leaving several hundred protesters in control.

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The rioting appeared to stem from widespread sentiment in Tunisia’s provinces that while the revolution in January brought democracy, it has so far failed to deliver the jobs and better housing many people had hoped for.

Flames and a thick plume of smoke were coming out of the office of the municipal police after rioters earlier set fire to it, and the streets were littered with burning rubbish.

Sidi Bouzid was the town where, 11 months ago, a young vegetable seller called Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in an act of protest at poverty and official repression.

His suicide unleashed protests which swelled and forced autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee.

This in turn inspired uprisings in Egypt and Libya that forced out entrenched leaders, and protests which have convulsed Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.


At the root of Sidi Bouzid’s protests during Tunisia’s revolution was the fact that residents feel marginalised and ignored by the ruling elite, 280 km to the northwest in the more prosperous capital.

Even with a new administration now in power in Tunis, those same issues appeared to have sparked the latest violence.

Officials with the independent commission overseeing an election for a new assembly ruled that candidates in several districts with the Popular List party would be disqualified because of alleged campaign violations.

The party, headed by London-based businessman Hachmi Hamdi, had a strong following in Sidi Bouzid. It ran a populist campaign that was heavily promoted by a television station which Hamdi owns.

Thursday night, after the disqualification was announced, rioters set fire to the mayor’s office and other buildings.

The violence resumed Friday morning, when soldiers fired in the air to stop a crowd attacking the office of the regional governor, witnesses told Reuters. The Interior Ministry imposed a night-time curfew that comes into force from Friday evening.

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party that won the election, appealed for calm in Sidi Bouzid.

“Ennahda calls on Tunisians to pull together, for dialogue and the rejection of violence … Sidi Bouzid will be given priority in our program of development,” he said.

He also said he suspected that people loyal to ousted President Ben Ali’s now-banned RCD party were behind the clashes.

Many Tunisians suspect Ben Ali loyalists of trying to sabotage their revolution, and Hamdi said publicly before Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia that he backed him.

Even with some of its candidates disqualified, the Popular List came fourth in the election, beating more established parties and surprising observers.

Cradle of Tunisia revolt still angry at rulers

By Andrew Hammond

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia | Fri Oct 28, 2011 1:50pm EDT

(Reuters) – This provincial Tunisian town became the cradle of the “Arab Spring” revolts nearly a year ago because residents were fed up with being talked down to by elites in the distant capital.

On Friday the town erupted into violence once again because, local people said, despite a revolution that swept away the country’s rulers and installed a new Islamist leadership, nothing had really changed.

Protesters angry that election candidates they backed had been disqualified rampaged through Sidi Bouzid, setting fire to a court-house, a police headquarters, the mayor’s office and the offices of a rival party.

In the worst clashes of the first post-“Arab Spring” election, one that otherwise passed off peacefully, troops fired into the air to try to disperse a crowd attacking the office of the regional governor.

“Where did my vote go?” said a local man called Ahmed who, like many in the town, did not want to give his full name in case he was prosecuted over the violence.

“It was an open election and I can vote for who I like. They took away our rights,” he said.

It was in Sidi Bouzid 11 months ago that Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller, set fire to himself in an act of protest that swelled into a national revolt.

After forcing out president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s revolution inspired uprisings which ousted entrenched leaders in Egypt and Libya.


The spark for the latest violence in Sidi Bouzid was that the independent commission overseeing an election for a new assembly invalidated seats won by several candidates with the Popular List, a party headed by London-based businessman Hachmi Hamdi.

That was only the first insult, in the eyes of people in this town, 280 km (170 miles) south of the capital.

Senior officials in the Islamist Ennahda party, which won the election, said they would not work with Hamdi’s party in the assembly and went on television to describe the people of Sidi Bouzid as poor and marginalized.

When the disqualification of several Popular List candidates was announced by the election commission, journalists at a news conference broadcast live stood up and applauded.

To some local residents, it felt like a slap in the face from the capital.

“When the journalists started clapping and ululating, that’s when it started,” said another man, who gave his name as Mohammed.

Officials from Ennahda “insulted us,” said a resident called Lamine. “This is the reaction.”

He also touched on another grievance: that while the revolution in January brought democracy, it has so far failed to deliver the jobs and better housing many people in Tunisia’s provinces had hoped for.

“Tunisia’s revolution started in Sidi Bouzid,” he said. “What we demand is an end to regionalism. We are the sons of Sidi Bouzid and we suffer massive unemployment,” said Lamine.

“To these political parties I say: we are proud of Hachmi Hamdi. He has votes and he has supporters.”

By Friday afternoon, the violence had subsided, leaving behind wrecked and gutted buildings.

Flames and choking smoke were coming out of the office of the municipal police after rioters earlier set fire to it, and the streets were littered with burning rubbish.

The town’s court house and municipal government office were gutted. Charred chairs and tables were strewn around, papers were scattered everywhere and electricity cables hung from the ceiling.

A Reuters reporter saw two dozen burned-out cars in the streets. There was no sign of any police. They appeared to have pulled out, leaving the military to try to keep order.

Four soldiers had shown up to guard the burned-out hulk of the courthouse. Asked why they were not there to stop it being torched, one of the soldiers said he did not know and had only arrived on Friday morning.

One man touring the wreckage was angry at the destruction. He echoed the view of Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi that the violence was orchestrated by Ben Ali loyalists still trying to sabotage the revolution.

“The people behind this are the former regime,” he said, and then pointed angrily at the soldiers. “Look at them, they are just standing, watching us.”

Ghanouchi is at liberal end of Islamist spectrum

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi is seen by many secularists as a dangerous radical, but for some conservative clerics who see themselves as the benchmark of orthodox Islam – he is so liberal that they call him an unbeliever.

Ghannouchi’s Ennahda party won Tunisia’s first free elections, 10 months after an uprising brought down ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had banned the group and imprisoned Ghannouchi before he took up home as an exile in London. Continue reading Ghanouchi is at liberal end of Islamist spectrum

Tunisian Islamists to do well in first “Arab Spring” vote

By Andrew Hammond and Tarek Amara

TUNIS | Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:46pm EDT

(Reuters) – Islamists are expected to do well in Tunisia’s first democratic election Sunday, 10 months after the ouster of autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in a popular uprising that set off protest movements around the Arab world.

The Ennahda party will almost certainly win a share of power after the vote, which will set a democratic standard for other Arab countries where uprisings have triggered political change or governments have tried to rush reforms to stave off unrest. Continue reading Tunisian Islamists to do well in first “Arab Spring” vote

Tunisia rivals stake positions in election rallies

By Andrew Hammond and Tarek Amara

TUNIS | Fri Oct 21, 2011 7:54pm EDT

(Reuters) – The main contenders in Tunisia’s first free election after the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali held final campaign rallies on Friday, with both Islamists and their secular opponents claiming they would protect women and represent modernity. Continue reading Tunisia rivals stake positions in election rallies