Dramatic mobile phone footage, firsthand accounts on social media and other digital content, often made by protesters dodging censorship, have helped immortalise Tunisia’s 2011 revolution in a new exhibition.
With videos of angry protesters in clouds of tear gas and an audio recording ending with the cry “Ben Ali has fled”, the multimedia exhibits chart the 29-day uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in what is known as one of the first Facebook revolutions.
“Work, freedom and dignity!” The slogans that were to trigger uprisings across the Arab world meet visitors to the famed Bardo Museum in Tunis on an audio recording of protesters shouting.
Nearby, a TV plays an interview with the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, filmed the day the young street vendor set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010.
His death sparked riots in protest at unemployment and the cost of living.
His mother’s interview was broadcast by foreign satellite channels, adding momentum to the demonstrations which eventually forced Ben Ali to flee with his family to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011.
One visitor to the “Before the 14th” exhibition, 22-year-old student Hassen Tahri, was in high school when the uprising broke out.
“I was very young at the time and I don’t remember much, but with this exhibition, we can reconstruct the sequence of events,” he said.
“It reminds us of January 13 and 14, when we didn’t know what would happen, especially after (Ben Ali) fled.”
Saving the historical record
The creators of the exhibition aim to bring together a digital record of the days leading up to Ben Ali’s fall.
A storm of images and videos posted online were instrumental in turning a street vendor’s death into a full-blown uprising — but many were only saved as posts on social media.
That worried activists and researchers, who feared that the online historical record was starting to be deleted.
In response, they set up a collective of NGOs and worked with institutions including Tunisia’s National Library to preserve the material.
They brought together photos, videos, blog posts, poems, statements and even Facebook statuses, along with information on their locations, dates and the people who posted them.
The result of four years of work, the archive now holds nearly 2,000 photos and videos, mostly taken by protesters themselves.
It is preserved for posterity at Tunisia’s National Archives.
The exhibition, which will also go on show in the southern French city of Marseille later this year, includes material on protests dating back as far as 2008, through to the mass protests of early 2011.
“It’s important for young people to understand exactly what happened,” said Hiba Jebali, a 21-year-old student visiting the exhibition.
“They are the future of the country.”
Kmar Ben Dana, a historian who took part in the research, said it had been challenging to verify digital content created by people who had braved Ben Ali’s censorship.
“It’s unprecedented, because it’s made up of digital material,” she said.
Tunisia’s democratic transition has been held up as a success story in a region since rocked by uprisings and wars.
But unemployment in the North African country remains high and Tunisia has faced a deadly jihadist insurgency.
The exhibition venue itself was the site of a massacre in 2015 when two jihadist gunmen opened fire, killing 22 people.
And eight years after Ben Ali’s departure, many in Tunisia say the hopes of the revolution have been unfulfilled.
In the face of insecurity and the high cost of living, some even say they now miss the rule of Ben Ali.
But Ben Dana hopes that as well as being a record for historians, the archive can preserve the gains of the revolution.
“We hope it (the exhibition) will help to show that the revolution was an extremely positive, extremely liberating event,” she said.
And it will help in the future “to write history based on these archives”, she added.
Russia, Turkey, France agree to stop meddling in Libyan conflict
The talks however failed to deliver “serious dialogue” between the warring parties — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce.
The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France including other world leaders have committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya’s civil war at a Berlin summit held Sunday, and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the long-running civil war.
The world powers signed up an agreement to stop interfering in the Libyan civil war whether through weapons, troops or financing, an AFP report said.
But the talks failed to deliver “serious dialogue” between the warring parties — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce.
“Ensuring that a ceasefire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee,” said summit host Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“But I hope that through today’s conference, we have a chance the truce will hold further.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that there are “still some questions on how well and effectively” the commitments can be monitored.
But he said he is “optimistic that there will be less violence and… an opportunity to begin the conversation that (UN special envoy) Ghassan Salame has been trying to get going between the Libyan parties”.
Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Most recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces.
Clashes have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12.
Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what some have described as a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests.
Alarm grew in recent weeks after Turkey ordered in troops to shore up Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
– ‘Small step’ forward -UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world powers had made “a strong commitment to stop” the conflict escalating into a regional confrontation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to some positive takeaways from the talks, but said the summit failed to launch necessary talks between Sarraj and Haftar.
“It is clear that we have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue between them,” Lavrov told reporters after the conference, where Haftar and Sarraj did not meet face to face.
Nevertheless, the Libyan parties had taken “a small step” forward, Lavrov added.
Pro-Haftar forces upped the ante on the eve of the talks by blocking oil exports at Libya’s key ports, crippling the country’s main income source in protest at Turkey’s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj.
In afternoon trade on Asian markets Monday, oil prices rose more than one percent on supply concerns following the move.
– Vested interests -The flaring oil crisis underlined the devastating impact of foreign influence in the conflict, in which Sarraj’s GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar while Haftar has the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Haftar, saying he needed to drop his “hostile attitude” if Libya is to have any chance at winning peace.
Russia has been accused of sending in mercenaries to help Haftar as Moscow seeks to extend its influence in the region — allegations it denies.
For Turkey, the fall of Sarraj’s GNA could jeopardise a maritime boundary agreement the parties signed. It gives Ankara extensive rights over the eastern Mediterranean where the recent discovery of undersea gas reserves has triggered a scramble by littoral states.
Erdogan has repeatedly urged Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, warning that Tripoli’s fall could allow jihadist groups like the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda to regroup.
Further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for Europe, he has cautioned.
Amid the latest apparent ceasefire violation — according to GNA forces Sunday, Haftar’s militia opened fire on them in southern Tripoli — Sarraj issued a plea for international “protection troops”.
The call echoed a similar suggestion by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, who stressed that monitors must be present to check that any ceasefire and weapons embargo are respected.
With the idea gathering pace, Britain and Italy had voiced readiness to help, ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday that will discuss how the bloc can contribute to implementing Sunday’s deal.
But as Guterres noted, that discussion remains premature.
“First, we need to have a ceasefire — we cannot monitor something that doesn’t exist.”
UN envoy warns ‘foreign interference’ is destroying Libya
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame on Saturday warned international players to stop meddling in the Libyan conflict as ‘foreign interference’ was destroying the North African country.
Salame spoke with AFP on the eve of a summit of world powers scheduled for Sunday in Germany to try to bring peace to Libya and its people.
“All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop. That’s one of the objectives of this conference,” Ghassan Salame said in an interview ahead of the Berlin summit.
Leaders of Russia, Turkey and France are due to join talks in Berlin on Sunday held under the auspices of the United Nations, which wants to extract a pledge from foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop meddling in the conflict — be it by supplying weapons, troops or financing.
Both leaders of the warring factions — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — are also expected at the first gathering of such scale on the conflict since 2018.
Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi and toppled his regime.
More recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces, with clashes killing more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displacing tens of thousands.
– ‘Vicious cycle’ -Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, some powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war with international powers jostling to secure their own interests from global influence to oil and migration.
Alarm grew internationally when Ankara ordered in troops early January to help shore up Sarraj, while Moscow is suspected of providing weapons, financing and mercenaries to Haftar — something Russia has denied.
“We must end this vicious cycle of Libyans calling for the help of foreign powers. Their intervention deepens the divisions among the Libyans,” said Salame, noting that the place of international players should be to “help Libyans develop themselves”.
The UN envoy said Sunday’s meeting will also seek to “consolidate” a shaky ceasefire.
“Today we only have a truce. We want to transform it into a real ceasefire with monitoring, separation (of rival camps), repositioning of heavy weapons” outside urban zones, he said.
The UN had sought on multiple attempts to bid for peace, but talks have repeatedly collapsed.
– Erdogan issues warning -On the eve of the Berlin talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, as Tripoli’s fall could leave “fertile ground” for jihadist groups like IS or Al-Qaeda “to get back on their feet”.
Erdogan also played up Europe’s fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in his commentary for Politico news website, that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.
Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the general would be a “mistake of historic proportions”.
France has denied it was backing Haftar. But a diplomatic source noted that the fact that the general already controls 80 percent of Libya needed to be taken into account.
The European Union is watching with growing alarm at the escalating strife on its doorstep as it counts on Libya as a gatekeeper deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.
New Sudan intelligence chief resumes amidst tension among operatives
The Transitional Council which runs the country also accepted the resignation of General Abu Bakr Dumblab, who previously headed the NISS.
Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council has appointed General Jamal Abdul Majeed as the new head of the General Intelligence Service, formerly known as National Intelligence and Security Service, NISS.
Until his appointment, Majeed had previously headed the country’s military intelligence, a council statement said on Thursday.
The council which runs the country also accepted the resignation of General Abu Bakr Dumblab, who previously headed the NISS.
Dumblab resigned “to open the door for a new leadership to take over the agency at this sensitive and delicate stage,” the intelligence service said in statement.
Dumblab had become head of the service after the removal of Bashir, a Reuters report said.
Majeed’s appointment came days after putting down an armed revolt by former agents linked to toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir, the sovereign council said.
The army said two soldiers were killed and four wounded in fighting late on Tuesday in Khartoum with former members of the country’s once-feared security service before government forces quelled the uprising.
It was the biggest confrontation so far between the old guard and supporters of the transitional authorities, which helped topple Bashir in April after 30 years in power.
Former agents of the intelligence service, who had been protesting against their severance packages, also shut two small oilfields on Tuesday.
The military took control of the two fields, which have an output of around 5,000 barrels a day, and production resumed on Wednesday.
The revolt also forced the authorities to close Sudan’s airspace but it was reopened on Tuesday.
In a speech early on Wednesday, the sovereign council head, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, vowed to stand firm against any coup attempt and added that the army was in control of all buildings used by the intelligence service.
Restructuring the security apparatus, blamed by many Sudanese for suppressing dissent under Bashir, was a key demand of the uprising that had forced his removal. However, once dismissed by the new transitional government, many of the security agents returned to barracks without handing in their weapons.
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