Fix Perspective

Proudly Tunisian And Part Of The Revolution

Ameni Mathlouthi
wasn’t supposed to be in the crowd of protesters on the streets of Tunis last
year, but my desire to be part of my country’s historic revolution pulled me
there anyway.
who rose up against former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, scared him into
leaving the country on January 14, 2011, and it wasn’t long afterward that I
began to join their protests.
for my safety, my mother and my uncle told me not to go to the demonstrations,
but I couldn’t resist. Just a little detour from my usual walk to the bus after
school took me right to the center of the action on a busy street near the
capital’s central train station.
started going to the protests in February as a student in Tunis. At the demonstrations, I saw police
officers, their faces covered with black cloth, pounding protesters with nail-studded
clubs, and arresting anyone they could reach. Tear gas hung in the air. It
makes it hard to open your eyes or breathe. It burns and water only makes it
feel like you are about to die, but it doesn’t kill.
police didn’t appear to care about who was suffering. The crowds were made up
of people of all ages and included workers heading home, travelers, students
and the unemployed. Not everyone was there to protest. Some were just passing through.
of the protesters seemed to be there to honor a friend who had been killed,
sometimes writing the names of the martyrs on the walls of buildings.
had heard from friends that the news coverage of the protests wasn’t an
accurate portrayal of reality, and I wanted to see for myself what was
learned that being out in the streets, being part of the event, is not as scary
as staying home.  I felt safer in the
crowd than I did in my house.
I could see what was going on and I could run in any direction. Because I am a
girl and was wearing a student backpack, I felt the police would not bother me,
and they didn’t.
Shannon Zimmerman /


Crowds run from the clouds of tear gas 

during an aggressive move by police


home, I heard shooting and people running outside. Live television coverage of
intruders made me afraid someone would break in and hurt us.
being in the middle of the demonstrations made me part of them. I felt it and lived
March, I witnessed something even worse.
was going home from the American cultural center where I was studying English,
but couldn’t take the metro, the Tunis subway train. It was closed because of
the protests.
had to walk to the station, then take the bus from there. It was cold, windy
day. I could see the crowd around the station and everybody coming out.
Shannon Zimmerman /


The Tunisian Army didn’t get involved

was pretty much the only one going toward the station. I was bundled in my
winter clothes and could barely hear people saying to me, “Are you crazy? Don’t
go there.”
just kept on going, because until I met a helpful soldier from the Tunisian Army,
I didn’t know what was going on inside the train station.
Shannon Zimmerman /

Outside of the main Metro connection

started his duties at 10 p.m. but he was on the street early, around 7 p.m.,
because of the transportation problem. At first, I didn’t stop walking to
listen to him. I was walking faster and faster, and he wasn’t in uniform, but when
he showed me his ID, I stopped.
soldier told me that protests were going on at the station and tried to
convince me not to go there. I knew he was trying to be kind, but I wanted to
see it for myself, and I thought the trains might start again.
he walked me to the station and there I saw people getting attacked by the
police with tear gas. I saw officers throw small cans into the underground
station and into the trains themselves – closed areas – to force the people out
of there.
was dark and loud, but overhead, I saw a bright light and I could hear shooting.
It was from police up above in helicopters. I got into the train where I
couldn’t see anything or breathe because of the gas, so I had to run out of
there, the army guy still following me.
ran into a gathering of protesters a few minutes away. On the way, I saw young boys,
perhaps about 11 years old, throwing rocks towards the police, who were far
away. It was cold, and they were wearing just tee shirts. But I don’t think
they noticed because they were red with sweat.
stopped and asked them why they were throwing rocks. They said that Tunisia was
their country, and that they had the right to be out there, that they wanted to
live their history and get rid of the old government.
no way to get home, I used the soldier’s phone to call my uncle and asked him to
pick me up. After about an hour, he called back to say he couldn’t get closer because
of the police roadblocks in the area. So he had to park a bit far and walk to
get me from there.
Photo provided


Aymen Abderrahmen in a crowd of 

protesters early in the Tunisian revolution


night, three people died from getting shot, the government said, but I don’t
remember how many were injured.
joined the protests again in May. That time, I went with my American drama
teacher, Shannon Zimmerman, and a group of Tunisian friends, Aymen Abderrahmen,
Mourad Brahmi, and Ynez Hedy.
Shannon Zimmerman /

Protests started in mid-morning in front of the National Theater

we were taking part in a play about the revolution. After rehearsal, we went
downtown to the protest that was already going on near the national train
station, which links Tunis to cities outside the capital region.
Shannon Zimmerman /


Tear gas at the train station

of the vast amount of teargas outside, we went inside the station and looked
for places to hide. We even tried the bathroom, but there were so many people,
it was impossible.
When the police finally entered the
station, about 40 of us fled into a waiting room overlooking the platforms to
watch what happened. We saw all young men were rounded up with kicks and clubs
and taken away by police.
Shannon Zimmerman /


Police enter the train station

One policeman noticed us and he ordered
us to sit down as the police moved through and dragged out anyone who looked
the least bit suspicious.
The police beat anyone who protested his
Shannon Zimmerman /


Police at the train station

One of those taken away could not have
been more than 12 years old. He was with his mother.
Another brave woman took a risk and claimed
a young man was her own son – he wasn’t – to spare him from what she feared the
police would do. Luckily, after brief questioning, they let him go with her.
Overall we were trapped in the train
station for almost three hours. I’ll never forget the cries of the children in the
station or the fear and insecurity that people felt.
Why did all this happen?
After 23
years of corruption, 23 years of stolen rights and 23 years of restriction, people
had had enough from the government.
had been waiting for change for long time. Somebody had to take the initiative,
to take the first step to bring a better future.
needed to bring light to Tunisia and spring to the Arab world.
Arab Spring, the Jasmine Revolution – it all started with 26-year-old fruit and
vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi.
was from Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, a city located in the central part of the
country. On December 17, 2010, he set himself on fire after a policewoman slapped
him and ordered him to pack up his street cart. He didn’t have a license, but it
was the only way for him to support his family.
was not complaining about having to resort to selling fruit to support his
family. But he could not handle this insult to his dignity. He died January 4,
2011 in the hospital, 18 days after his self-immolation.
U.S. State Department
Bouazizi still in the hospital, demonstrations
began breaking out in response. On December 24, 2010, people took to the
streets in Sidi Bouzid, and in the following days, protests spread to the Menzel Bouzaiene part of Gafsa,
the Ben Gardane part of Medinine, Al-Qayrawan, Sfax and Sousse, all the way from the center of the country to Tunis in the
the police were firing on protesters, and the president warned that he would
punish those who use violence, the people did not back off. More than 1,000
people took to the streets and many protesters were organized on Facebook and
January 14, 2011, about 76 people had died in the protests, though the government’s
estimate was only 23. That day, the government declared a state of emergency and
Ben Ali promised to dissolve the
parliament and hold legislative elections within six months.
by that evening, was on a plane to France. France turned him away, so he went
to Saudi Arabia, where he remains.
responsibilities were passed to the speaker of the parliament, Fouad Mebazaa.
demonstrations that started out of respect for Bouazizi and for universal human
dignity rapidly turned to general protests against the government.
called for wholesale change. They demanded democracy, freedom of speech and
religion, job opportunities and social equality.
many websites, including YouTube, were blocked in Tunisia. Facebook and Hotmail
were monitored.
dared to say anything about the president or his party or even talk about it on
the phone, because all the lines were monitored and people got arrested for talking
about him.
government-controlled news media was working in favor of the government’s
interests regardless of the facts. In some cases, the media hid the facts,
downplaying Bouazizi’s death, and trying to make people believe that there were
fewer needy people than there really were, and promoting the view that the government
was doing its best to make life better for people.
school, social studies books show only pictures of the president visiting
hospitals, giving donations or shaking hands with the poor. There are pictures
of the new train station or a new machine at the hospital to show students how much
he was doing to improve the country.
students were never were allowed to discuss our politics in class because
teachers were afraid of being fired.
though Tunisia’s official religion is Islam and that is stated in the country’s
constitution, the government closed the mosques, opening them only for about 15
to 20 minutes, five times a day when they are supposed to be open all the time.
addition, names of people who prayed the required five prayers in the mosque were
listed and reported to the government and they were sent to jail.
as a middle school student in 2009, I witnessed religious persecution at my
school, Ibn Sina.
was sitting in math class taking a test when the headmaster of the school came
in and dragged one of the students out of class by her head scarf, just because
she was practicing Islam by wearing the hijab.
girl in school who covered her hair had to remove it and sign a paper saying
that she would not wear a scarf the following day. That didn’t happen just at
my school, but at many.
always stood by the front door of the school, especially on exam week, picking
the girls who covered their hair. They then forced them to take the scarf off themselves
or have it removed with no respect and in front of everybody in school.
Islamic outfit was considered inappropriate dress during Ben Ali’s day. Women
were not able to be in public wearing religious clothing or they would be
pulled into police stations and forced to take the hair cover off.
policemen would uncover a woman’s head on the street, and take their national
ID card from them.
people who had enough money to leave, did.
who stayed in the country and continued to practice their religion openly spent
more time in jail, enduring torture, than out of it. Plus, they had to shave
their beard.
is a Muslim country, but the government was intent on building a secular nation.
It always encouraged people to move away from religion.
YJI photo

Youth Journalism International’s
Ameni Mathlouthi in Tunisia

people in Tunisia believed that it could be a better country, and because of
that, they protested.
when police were killing demonstrators, even more turned out. 
They did not
think about getting shot or hurt.
They thought about making life better for the
country and easier for them.
continued until July, when preparations began for the national elections held October
23, with official results announced November 14.
Tunisia’s newly elected leaders are working on the county’s new constitution,
and my country’s future looks brighter.
the revolution, one thing that really changed was that everyone started talking
politics – something we hadn’t been able to do freely before. Even little kids could
tell you what happened because they were witnesses, and the shooting kept them
awake at night.

Click here for a video of Ameni Mathlouthi talking about her experiences during Tunisia’s revolution.