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Middle East

Tunisia's Facebook generation revels in new-found freedom

Whether it's Hip Hop with a message or film-making, Tunisia's youth is enjoying its new-found freedom as well as discovering a new sense of political consciousness and responsibility.

Tunisian rap singer Hamada Ben Amor, also knows as 'The General'

Rapper El General's political lyrics inspired young Tunisians to rise against Ben Ali

"Hey, president, your people are dying, they’re starving and living like dogs – and you’re setting the police on them." That’s a taste of the highly political lyrics by popular Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor, better known as "El General."

His song "Rayes Le Bled" – a direct address to former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – was circulating on the Internet even before the president was toppled in January after a popular uprising.

It’s a scathing, angry critique of the unpopular leader. The song, which became an instant hit on Tunisian Facebook pages, earned the 21-year-old rapper a spell in prison. But it also provided the spark for angry anti-government protests, inspiring many young Tunisians to take to the streets. The revolt ultimately led to Ben Ali's ouster, forcing him to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Today, no one is afraid of Ben Ali’s regime anymore. Young Tunisians have turned to writing and film-making, poking fun at their former leader.

On the campus of Tunis' Technical University, one student imitates the ex-president reminiscing nostalgically about his time as dictator. But then he utters a sentence that would never have passed the lips of the real Ben Ali: "Long live free, democratic Tunisia!"

It’s a heady time in Tunisia as young people savor the victory of ending the 23-year rule of a deeply autocratic ruler.

People power fuelled by the Internet

The country’s so-called Jasmine Revolution also seems to be alive and kicking on the Internet. Demonstrations, rallies and events are announced and organized via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and numerous blogs. It’s proved highly effective.

The lecture hall at the Tunis university is packed with an electrified crowd, celebrating the heroes of the revolution and themselves. A new feeling of solidarity and community is in the air. IT student Walid is amazed at how quickly his generation has changed. Everything, he says, feels different.

Tunisian students sweep a street in Tunis

Young Tunisians send a clear message to the political establishment

"Young people are suddenly interested not just in their studies or sports or parties – they’re getting involved politically, organizing demonstrations. They have creative ideas – you can’t compare it to how it was earlier."

Tunisia’s youth seems to be awakening from a long slumber, proud of their country and what they’ve achieved with their revolt. There’s hardly a sit-in, march or concert without the Tunisian national flag being waved about or the national anthem being played.

Young groups of students have begun to sweep the Bourguiba Avenue. It’s a symbolic move, meant to indicate that the young want to get rid of the old order and are willing to take on responsibility.

Seba, an engineering student, says students felt worthless during Ben Ali’s rule. Now, she says, all young people suddenly had a pressing need to catch up on their freedom and liberty. It isn’t easy to grasp what’s happening, she adds.

"For 23 years, people in this country didn’t get any air to breathe in," Seba says. "And now it’s as if the bird can fly out of its cage but still doesn’t know how to do that."

Tunisians, she says, now need the courage to take a few more steps to help forge a new country.

Energizing a new generation

Courage is one thing musician Bendir Man has in large supply. Under President Ben Ali, he could only ever play underground at secret concerts attended by a handful of people. Today, thousands come to see the energetic singer with the baseball cap and overtly political lyrics perform on stage.

His concert dates are spread via Twitter and his music can be found on online platforms such as Youtube and Dailymotion. His song "System", a satire on the country’s stagnant and entrenched politics and the personality cult of Ben Ali, has been a huge hit on the Internet.

Demonstrators in Tunis

Young Tunisians aren't willing to be fooled by their rulers any more

Bendir Man himself is overwhelmed by the events in his country. "It’s absolutely crazy…it’s pure energy," he says. "And I’m playing my part to ensure that this power helps people along on their way to a new country."

The musician warns against seeing young Tunisians as creative but harmless people only interested in celebrating revolution parties.

This generation won’t be fooled anymore and neither will the artists, Bendir Man says.

"If the politicians don’t stick to their promises, then we’ll help remind them… that’s why we’re here," he says. "It’s up to us, the young generation, to help build a new Tunisia."

Author: Alexander Göbel (sp)

Editor: Michael Knigge

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