Diaries of a Revolution by Cecile Oumhani

Paris

December 2010

Days are wrapped up in the cold darkness long after sunrise. I fumble around in the kitchen to get myself a cup of tea, as B. listens to the news. A young street-vendor has set himself afire in a remote underprivileged part of Tunisia because the police would not let him sell his fruit. Hundreds of protestors are now taking to the streets. They will be crushed in a matter of days, we know… The brutal repression that followed the 2008 revolt in the mining area of Gafsa is at the back of our minds. We still dare not imagine that the impossible could come true. For years, B. has kept telling me: ‘I don’t think I will see democracy in Tunisia or any other Arab country in my lifetime.’

January 2011

As time goes by, protests spread irresistibly to the coastal regions and the capital. Our hearts are in our mouths. The regime has set out to quash the protesters and the count of the dead keeps rising as security forces shoot indiscriminately. They shoot them as they walk out into the streets. They shoot them just because they are in the street, no matter if they are just going to work. They even shoot them as they walk to the cemetery to bury their dead. In some places, hospitals cannot cope with the number of casualties. Hospital staff members break down, so unprepared and horrified are they.

Everywhere TVs, radios and computers are now on almost day and night, eclipsing any other interests. Facebook pages, videos on mobile phones, Twitter messages capture our whole attention. More than ever before, I realise that new technologies have introduced different approaches to events, new ways of perceiving them, of experiencing them. They have turned us into first-hand witnesses. They have given us new responsibilities. I had not used Facebook much before the Tunisian Revolution, but I start doing so now, to follow what is going on as closely as possible. At the same time, I notice established newspapers are posting on their sites the messages, the videos they receive, thus acknowledging that protesters are also becoming the reporters and journalists of what we still daren’t call a Revolution.

12 January 2011

Around noon, one of my Facebook friends posts on my wall: ‘I don’t know how I am going to get home for lunch. They are gunning down people in the streets. I am afraid….’ Comfortably seated in Paris, I read her message, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. It takes me a few minutes before I can type one or two lines of support. ‘Hold on, we are all thinking of you!’ This is so little and there is so much I would like to be able to tell her, to do, to help. Several hours later, in the evening, I read on Facebook that another of my friends has directly experienced the cruelty of the regime. Her cousin was shot dead in cold blood as he walked home from the hotel where he worked as a receptionist. He was married, with young children. 

13 January 2011

If only we could bridge distances. If only it were just a matter of smashing the computer screen. If this could be enough to give flesh to your voices… We have been talking to you on the phone almost every night since December. So much emotion as events seem be moving at an ever faster pace… As always, we have been very careful not to speak openly. We never mention the protests, we only ask about the weather, the cold, the rain, anything plausibly unrelated to what we are all concerned about, even in our sleep. For decades, restraint had become a second nature for us, and on either side of our conversations. We had all become experts at using coded references.

Tonight we speak, you speak about the country erupting in massive protests, the people who have been brutally killed. As openly as if we were sitting in the same room… For the first time in ages… As if we already knew what was about to happen. Or had we perhaps suddenly got beyond the point of caring, of feeling frightened? Could we possibly know that it was now a matter of hours before the regime fell?

The dictator starts delivering his last speech. Fahimtkum… I have understood you. Yezzi min el kartouch… Enough violence, he drawls. Hardly has he finished when dozens of cars filled with members of his clique start parading and honking down the capital’s main avenue to express their support.

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