Tunisia′s dreams of change fade by the day despite sentencing | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 21.06.2011
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Tunisia's dreams of change fade by the day despite sentencing

It was over almost as soon as it had begun. A court in Tunis has sentenced former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to 35 years in prison. However the discontent of the local Tunisians remains.

Tunisian protesters

Protesters are demanding justice

"It's outrageous that he spends the rest of his days peacefully in Saudi Arabia. We must bring him back so he is judged by the people who suffered him for more than 20 years," says Bassid, who has gathered along with like-minded protesters at the Human Rights park in Tunis to voice their demands.

Despite the arrest warrant issued by the Tunisian military court and the extradition request to Saudi Arabia, few here think Ben Ali and his wife will ever again set foot in the country they left behind on January 14. The former presidential couple face charges of theft, fraud, and even weapons and drugs possession. At first sight, the main reason for their absence may look obvious, but there might be many more underlying issues.

"The interim government is selling an image of freedom in Tunisia which hardly matches with reality. The current executive is full of Ben Ali's former executive members and we are witnessing constant harassment and arrests of peaceful protesters like us on a daily basis," Nasradin, one of the participants of this sit-in at the centric park, told Deutsche Welle.

The young protester pointed to the case of Muhammad Amin Slam, who was arrested after he released footage online of two policemen brutally beating two kids. Slam will be tried next month on charges of terrorism.

"The government is trying to boost the idea that we are terrorists but there is no terrorism at all in Tunisia. We are just humble people whose hopes for the future are starting to fade, they are stealing our revolution," Karim, another protester, told Deustche Welle, as he collected the litter from the ground in a plastic bag.

"They also claim that we are being paid by political parties like the Islamists or the communists to gather here but that is just another blatant lie. We came here on our own four days ago, the same way as all those who are now demonstrating in their thousands in Spain," added Maryam, a university student in charge of preparing sandwiches for the rest of the people.

Impact on image

protester

Tunisians are hoping for better times

But the image of Tunisia under the threat of terrorism has already had an impact on the number of people visiting the country in the last five months. The first statistics recently released by the OTE (Office for Tunisians Abroad) point to a reduction of 20 percent of Tunisians returning home for their summer break. There is still no official data on the effect the alleged instability has had on tourism as a whole - one of Tunisia's biggest sources of income - but some estimates suggest that the influx of foreigners could have dropped by half, and with no visible signs of recovery.

Nonetheless the benefits generated by tourism are of the lesser importance for Saida, a veteran protester in her fifties.

"A sniper killed my son during the days of the revolution but nobody has been tried for this crime yet," she told Deutsche Welle producing a photograph of Halib, her 23 year old son.

Saida is one of the many mothers who lost their sons during the uprising against Ben Ali, during which around 300 people are believed to have been killed. The lack of any legal action against the members of the security forces responsible for the murders so far is a major cause of unrest among the Tunisian population.

"They say the regime has changed but the police is still acting with total impunity. We fear our phone conversations are still monitored -we often hear strange echoes - and we are threatened with jail if we try to gather in Bourghiba Boulevar - the city's main avenue. On Saturday we had an unpleasant encounter with plainclothes police who destroyed some of our tents and asked us to leave," explained Juhan, a 24-year-old demonstrator who says he was beaten by security forces during the incident.

Solidarity despite a curfew

The sit-in at the Human Rights park gathers pace but it is far from being the only place where local Tunisians demonstrate. Conversations in the crowded terraces alongside the main avenue of the Tunisian capital are often interrupted by slogans against repression in Syria and also in neighboring Libya.

T-shirts

Tunisians have been showing solidarity with people in Libya

The arrival of tourists may have diminished considerably in the last months but the country has been flooded with refugees from the other side of the border since the beginning of the insurrection against Moammar Gadhafi. Banners and stickers displaying Libya's pre-Gadhafi flag are recurrent in shops and kiosks in Bourghiba boulevar, but t-shirts boasting the "Free Libya" logo are best sellers - a graphic example of the sympathy the Libyan rebels generate among local Tunisians.

Nonetheless, the barbed wire and armoured vehicles still deployed along the main boulevard speak volumes about the current situation in the streets of Tunis.

"We are still living under a state of emergency with a curfew in force from 12 to 4am," Muhamed Bakr, a local attorney, told Deutsche Welle. Bakr is back in his native Tunis after having spent the last 15 years in exile in Paris. However, the solicitor can hardly hide his concern for the delay of the elections - initially scheduled for July 24 but now postponed until October 23.

"It was clear for everybody that July was a very early date given the current situation and, very especially, due to the lack of an electoral census. We have 92 registered political coalitions among which the Islamists and the supporters of the old regime have solid chances of success," explained Bakr.

Author: Karlos Zurutuza, Tunis
Editor: Rob Mudge

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