Does democracy come with tear gas?

TUNIS – It was out of plan, to have my head dug into a box of milk in order to take the burn away after being thrown tear gas straight to the face when I’ve decided to have a walk along the “Tunisian Champs-Elysee” Avenue Bourguiba, at the capital of Tunisia.

It first seemed to be a pretty calm day in Tunis when my photographer friend and I had sat in a random café litteraire to have a unique melange of French and Italian breakfast at Avenue Bourguiba.

The police "counting down" for tear gas

We’ve just taken a few steps ahead and a sudden impulse of  ‘news catching’ has captured us when we spotted a group of around 50 protestors holding anti-regime signs in their hands and chanting against the interim government. As soon as we found ourselves in the middle of the crowd, the warning of plain-clothes policemen has echoed in our ears.

I was absolutely blind and deaf. My excitement has made a complete fool out of me, but pretty determined to catch the best shot and thus the “best story” of my slowly arising career. I honestly could not predict what those plain-clothes policemen were trying to tell me, till my photographer friend insistently dragged me out of the crowd… More experienced and eventually more professional, my friend has sensed the signals, and that we shouldn’t be there.

“Mademoiselle, veuillez-vous éloigner de cette coté s’il vous plait?” (Mademoiselle, would you please kindly stay away from this side…)

“No, pas maintenant!” (No, not now!) –What was I thinking??? Pulitzer with just a protest coverage?-

It was a matter of seconds… The ashes have stormed an immediate fire… As soon as I voiced my last letter, I’ve had a huge tear gas weapon triggered straight ahead to my face and I found myself running after the “pro-democrat Tunisians”, desperately searching for my friend and a shelter. I’ve sacrificed a part of my camera with which ‘I was hoping to take the best shot ever’.

When I saw my friend rushing into a coffee shop through a broken door and I followed him. I was hardly able to stand up from where I felt down on my knees and had a few Tunisians stepping over me.

The crowd found shelter in a coffee shop

Tunisians in tears… Tunisians in the hope of a new Jasmin Revolution have just been sitting in front of me with their burning faces, dug into a milk box… In tears… In tears… Swearing to the past, to the present and to the future… Far from enjoying being the pioneer of ‘Arab Spring’ they were cursing the rights they’ve asked for, and never granted to.

Security forces clearing the protesters with tear gas has apparently a daily dose adrenaline that the Arab youth has been experiencing for the last couple of months… But they now question what they’ve asked for… Democracy shouldn’t have been that painful at this siècle.

In the coffee shop we were still trying to capture a few shots from the street of police running after protesters, but as soon as we spotted the cameras they’ve collected in their hand we were asked to hide ours. They were preventing the press to picture them and thus the uncovered revolution…

When we left the coffee shop I spoke to Izraa Hodeib, a Tunisian pharmacist working at Bourguiba Avenue.

“Our revolution has not been understood” she said. “Police does not want to see what the people want, they turn blind eye and as an organ of the interim government, they want to postpone the elections,” she continued.

Avenue Bourguiba after the clash

While the police is targeting the protestors, my eyes are being dragged to the army vehicle parked in the mid of avenue with its soldiers just standing solid and watching the clash without any single move taken. They seem pretty determined not to take any single action.

According to Tunisian lawyer Fethi bin Jinnah, ‘army gains confidence of the people without taking any side in this conflict.’ Jinnah thinks that ‘police is pathetically making the people accepting their existence in the new system.’

While sipping his red wine glass at the restaurant we are having Tunisian delices, Jinnah points with his fingers the crowded tables and says, “Before, those tables were occupied by intelligence agents and the policemen. We wouldn’t be able to discuss anything related to politics here. And now we can. That’s the only positive outcome of the revolution.”

Army: silent tiger

Is democracy was “extra large” for Tunisia? They already formed 63 political parties in the last 6 months time. But the fear of Islam has eventually hit Tunisia as well. A few residents I’ve spoken after the clashes have voiced their concerns over En Nahda and the fear of Islamic rule if they come to the power.

Obviously, even the Tunisians did not know that the smell of Jasmine was that ‘fugacious’…

Tunisians I’ve interviewed have united onto a common saying: “This was a spontaneous revolution, but we could not manage to carry on in an organised way.”

This article has also been published in Turkish for Radikal Daily Newspaper.

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Filed under Libya, Tunisia

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