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A Digital Exhibition of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution

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

452 Illegal Migrants Rescued, Returned to Libya in One Week – IOM

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No fewer than 452 illegal migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast in the past week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports.

“In the period of January 19 to 25, 2021, 452 migrants were rescued/intercepted at sea and returned to Libya,” the IOM said.

The organisation also said that 12 illegal migrants died and 67 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route so far this year.

Thousands of illegal immigrants choose to cross the Mediterranean from Libya towards Europe, as the North African country has been mired in insecurity and turmoil since a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-backed uprising killed the country’s long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In 2020, 323 migrants died and 417 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route, while 11,891 illegal migrants were rescued and returned to Libya, according to the IOM.

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Health

Tunisian Foreign Minister Tests Positive for COVID-19

The minister said he had been exhibiting severe symptoms and urged Tunisians to protect themselves from the virus.

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Tunisia’s foreign minister, Othman Jerandi has tested positive for COVID-19.

Jerandi made his COVID status public on his official twitter page.

“My COVID-19 test was positive today, although I complied with health protocols and adhered to all measures,” Othman Jerandi said on Twitter.

Tunisia’s foreign minister said he had been exhibiting severe symptoms and urged Tunisians to protect themselves from the virus.

“This has made me more insistent on the supply of vaccines to protect my country’s people from the pandemic,” he added.

According to a tally by US-based Johns Hopkins University, Tunisia has reported more than 197,000 infections and over 6,200 deaths from the virus. More than 144,000 people have so far recovered.

Since December 2019 when the virus originated in China, the pandemic has claimed more than 2.12 million lives in 192 countries and regions.

According to Johns Hopkins, recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide have exceeded 99.13 million, with recoveries over 54.69 million.

In terms of cases, the worst hit countries remain the US, India and Brazil.

Earlier this month, a 4-day nationwide lockdown was imposed in Tunisia. The lockdown started from Thursday January 14, as authorities moved to curb alarming covid-19 contaminations.

The measure which the country took reduce the spread of the virus includes a nationwide curfew from 4pm to 6am, suspension of school classes until January 24, and a ban on all cultural events. Restaurants and cafes were ordered not to provide seats for their clients.

The move came a few days after President Kais Saied lambasted the government over the handling of the pandemic despite several measures put in place to stem contaminations.

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News

100,000 Displaced, 250 Dead in Sudan’s Renewed Violence

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No fewer than 250 people died in a flare-up of violence between communities in Sudan’s Darfur region over the past week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday.

According to the UNHCR, at least 100,000 people were left displaced in the renewed hostilities.

The UN Human Rights Office, which published a slightly lower death count, said armed clashes broke out between Arab communities and internally displaced people of the Masalit community on Saturday and Sunday in West Darfur.

As gunshots were fired and homes torched, 160 people were reportedly killed and 215 injured, the UN Human Rights Office said.

In a separate incident on Monday, 72 people died and 73 were injured in South Darfur’s town of Gereida in a land dispute between the Falata and Reizigat tribes, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

“These incidents raise serious concerns about the imminent risk of further violence in Darfur,’’ UN rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at a news briefing.

She added that the region was rife with decades-old ethnic and tribal tensions.

Ramdasani urged Sudan’s government to restore order and to break the cycle of armed citizens taking the law into their own hands to avenge attacks on members of their communities.

The clashes occurred about two weeks after the UN peacekeepers discontinued their patrols in the Darfur region, preparing for a full withdrawal.

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