Sophia Baraket
Last updated: 16 January, 2013

Voices from Tunisia two years after the revolution

Tunis-based photojournalist Sophia Baraket reflects on post-revolution Tunisia and portraits ordinary citizens and their views.

January 14, 2011. What a date! A month-long popular uprising scares the deposed Ben Ali after 23 years in power. But let’s not dwell onhistory, as everyone here knows the story.

Let’s go further.

January 14, 2013. Equally historic, this date winds up two years of ups and downs, of economic crisis, of media blackmail, of democratic exercises. Meanwhile, the 217-seat Constituent Assembly elected in October 2011 that is dominated by the Islamist party Ennahda has a mandate to write a new constitution, for the avent of a new Republic, a second Republic.

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The picture seems simple for a transitional period. Nothing too daunting, some might say. And yet, this period has extended over several months, and seems to be lasting forever.

As for the constitution, it remains sidelined, delayed to the detriment of alliances and internal compositions. Absenteeism of members within the assembly is increasingly observed, unless it comes to voting increases in (their!) wages, while the state itself is unable to pay the salaries of its own employees. A new burden on the taxpayer’s back, against the backdrop of election sacredness.

“Two years on, nothing has changed” – a phrase we hear more and more in cafes in the capital but also in the regions. One that has proved to be true, with still the same system in place. Only faces have changed.

Even within the press and elsewhere, the reflexes of a thick-skin dictatorship are always palpable. On the other hand, there is no governmental or constitutional will ready to show us the way towards change. Conversely, they set the country in a total blur, the consequences of which may lead to a new kind of servitude. Investments are plummeting, unemployment rising, and life is increasingly expensive.

As for the citizen, he moves painfully in this transition. Accompanied by the hope for better days, he adapts as much as he can, more worried about his ability to feed his children than about his fight for the revolution.

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What about this Tunisian, for whom everyday life has come to resemble a commando course? What about his revolution? What does he have to say or hope for? Surprisingly enough, in the course of meetings and discussions, I have come to realize that everyone firmly believes, almost as though it were a fatality. You just need to believe and everything will eventually turn out for the best. Here is what some ordinary Tunisians have to say about the state of the country:

Amina, 34-year-old apprentice bookseller:

Voted for PDM (Modernist Democratic Pole), a coalition composed of four political parties of various ideological currents and five independent initiatives that proposes a separation of religion and politics. Amina wants her next vote to be useful and will therefore go for Nidaa Tounes in the presidential election, even if she remains unconvinced by them.

“23 years of mess,” she said, regretting that the uprising of 14 January 2011 took place so late.

She has fears concerning the daily lot of petty crime and also the tardiness and lack of involvement of the civil society. She remains perplexed as to Tunisia’s future, and no longer believes in Tunisians’ maturity. Nevertheless, she continues to believe, especially as freedom of expression is now a right. In her work everything has changed, as she no longer suffers censorship when it comes to her book orders. Everyone is now free to read, speak and exchange ideas.

Marwen, 19-year-old waiter:

Didn’t vote last time, and will not vote next time either. He doesn’t understand politics and is not interested, as he doesn’t feel concerned.

Om Ezzine, 53-year-old cleaner:

Ever since she was a child, Om Ezzine has lived in different houses where she worked as a cleaner. She voted for the secular, social democratic Ettakatol party, which she said is the only one that corresponded to her desires and needs.

She has no regrets about the revolution and is delighted to have a voice today. She feels important and taken into account individually – even if nothing has changed for her.

Om Ezzine does not blame others, but all of us as a people. If things are not moving forward, we are the only ones to blame. Disunity will ruin our revolution.

In view of the forthcoming elections, she thinks the incumbent president, Moncef Marzouki, isn’t so bad. Another possible alternative for her is Beji Caid Essebsi of the secular Nidaa Tounes party, who she said did an ok job as Prime Minister of the post-January 14 interim government.

Karim, 35-year-old grocery store owner:

In the last election, Karim voted for Ettakatol, and he will vote for Nidaa Tounès in the upcoming presidential election. He has no fears and remains confident in the future of Tunisia, its evolution and civil society.

According to Karim, the 2011 elections were biased from the start, which led people to make bad choices. This in turn explains why we are still walking on shaky grounds. However, the awakening of the street is strong, and only the people can change things for the better.

Kacem, 55-year-old ticket seller in a train station:

Kacem was politically active in the 80s, when he was an active member of the MDS (Movement of Socialist Democrats). In the 2011 elections he voted for the populist Al Aridha party, led by media entrepreneur Mohamed Hechmi Hamdi, and he will vote for Ennahdha in the presidential elections.

For Kacem, these things take time, nothing changes easily. He believes that Ennahda should be given a chance. It is necessary that things calm down in Tunisia in order for us to finally enjoy the benefits democracy has to offer.

Today nothing has changed in his view: the system remains the same, and everyone has the same lust for power.

Abdelaziz, 42-year-old garbage collector:

Upon his release from prison, where he served for 3 years, the Municipality of Tunis forced him to take this job. Abdelaziz voted Ennahdha and will probably vote for them again.

He does not regret the revolution and leads his life the best he can, even if things are more difficult post-January 14. His situation is precarious; prices have risen and continue to rise. He gets by thanks to the generosity of passersby. He sometimes begs but that’s another story.

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