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A Digital Exhibition of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution4 minutes read

The slogans that were to trigger uprisings across the Arab world meet visitors to the famed Bardo Museum in Tunis

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Exhibition entitled "Before the 14th" at the Bardo museum in Tunis - AFP

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.

People visit an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

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.

A man visits an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

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.”

‘Unprecedented’

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.

Arab spring
A woman visits an exhibition entitled “Before the 14th” at the Bardo museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis on January 15, 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

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.

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North Africa

Sudan gets new defence minister

Maj. Gen Yassin Ibrahim, 62, was sworn in Tuesday before Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, a statement from the council said.

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PHOTO: Maj. Gen. Yassin Ibrahim Yassin, left, takes the oath as Minister of Defense in front of Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, at the Presidential Palace, in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 2, 2020/ AP

Sudan has sworn in new defence minister, Maj. Gen Yassin Ibrahim, two months after the death of the former defence chief, General Jamal al-Din Omar who died while in neighbouring South Sudan for peace talks with the country’s main rebel groups.

Ibrahim, 62, was sworn in Tuesday before Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, a statement from the council.

The new defence chief came out of retirement to take the position.

His appointment comes a year after long-time autocrat Omar Bashir was toppled in mass protests in April 2019.

“We will work side by side doing our best… to achieve the goals of the constitutional declaration,” the official SUNA news agency quoted Ibrahim as saying after he was sworn in.

The swearing-in came amid tensions with neighbouring Ethiopia over a cross-border attack allegedly conducted by a militia backed by Ethiopia’s military.

Since August last year a transitional government, comprised of civilians and military officials, has taken over the reins of power in Sudan after political factions adopted a constitutional declaration.

The declaration paved the way for the new government to steer the country to civilian rule during a three-year transition.

But the transition has been fragile with the government facing major challenges, including soaring inflation, a huge public debt, tribal clashes and efforts to forge peace with rebels. 

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Tunisia to reopen borders, airspace on June 27

Tunisian Prime Minister, Elyes Fakhfakh also said Tunisian nationals abroad will be repatriated from June 4.

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Tunisia's new Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaks during the government handover ceremony in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on February 28, 2020. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Tunisian Prime Minister, Elyes Fakhfakh has announced that the country will reopen its land, air and sea borders from June 27.

He also said Tunisian nationals abroad will be repatriated from June 4.

Fakhfakh made the announcement after a meeting with the national commission to combat coronavirus on Monday.

Tunisia has reported 1,084 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, a Xinxua news agency report said.

The North African country has received support from various countries including China.

On April 16, China donated a batch of medical aid to Tunisia’s Ministry of National Defense, including facemasks, test kits and medical protective googles.

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North Africa

Egypt, France plan to end terrorism in Libya

Both countries showed support for international endeavors as well as implementing the results of the Berlin process to end the conflict in Libya.

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron discussed the matter during a telelphone conversation on Saturday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have discussed the development of several regional issues, including the situation in Libya.

During a phone call on Saturday, Macron said he is keen to exchange views with Sisi over these issues as Cairo plays a key political role in the region, Egyptian Presidential Spokesman Bassam Rady said in a statement.

For his part, Sisi affirmed Egypt’s firm position towards the Libyan crisis based on restoring Libyan national state institutions, ending the spread of criminal groups and terrorist militias.

He added that Egypt also gives top priority to combating terrorism, achieving stability and security and putting an end to illegal foreign interventions in Libya, a Xinhua news agency report said.

The two presidents agreed to intensify their coordination in the coming period, stressing the necessity to end the Libyan crisis by reaching a political solution that paves the way for the return of security and stability in the country, the spokesman said.

They showed support for international endeavors as well as implementing the results of the Berlin process to end the conflict in Libya.

Libya has been locked in a civil war since the ouster and killing of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The Libyan conflict escalated in 2014, splitting power between two rival governments, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in the capital Tripoli and another in the northeastern city of Tobruk allied with self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar.

While Egypt supports Haftar’s LNA that seeks to take over Tripoli, Turkey backs the Tripoli-based GNA. 

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