Saturday 19 February 2011
Today, a delegation of journalists and political activists, including John Rees of Stop The War, flew into Tunisia, alongside a local man exiled for the past 21 years.
Mohamed Ali Harrath is a former Tunisian dissident. In the early 1990's he was imprisoned and tortured for helping to create a Muslim political party in Tunisia. Unlike an as yet unknown number of Tunisian dissidents under Ben Ali, he survived with his life and managed to flee the country.
My daughters and I were with the CEO of Britain’s Muslim television station, the Islam Channel, and his family as they nervously, made their return, to Tunis after two decades.
We journalists watched the returning dissident for a sign of emotion at Customs, for it was certain he must have suspected atleast the chance of trouble, for Tunis is not 'free' not yet. His tight smile gave nothing away. . For, despite the rolling news channels need to turn their focus towards other uprisings currently taking place, it is clear that Tunisia and its people are far from politically 'in the clear' yet. Local committees have been set up to protect the 'Blessed Revolution' from the machinations, still in evidence of special police forces to hamper a total clear out of the old regime, or atleast to slow down the rate of change. Since the beginning of the revolts January the 14th, here in Tunis, it has been been the US President's clear wish too, that the urge for real democracy in North Africa and beyond be slowed (to a stop?) in order for what Obama calls a 'smooth transition' to take place from Dicatorship to People's Democracy.
There was an eery calm then as the twenty or so of us made our way to the arrivals hall, unaware of the joyous anarchy beyond. Instantly, Mohammed Ali, stepped onto Tunisia soil, all Heaven (not Hell, no not this time) let loose. For there were around 200 hundred people gathered to greet the family member/Muslim dissident, on his return. Banners were waved, drums beaten and women raised tear strained vocal chords in the traditional Arabian yodel of victory and joy. Mayhem.
Tears and sobs, songs, chants and cries of 'Allahu Akbar' and we were in Tunisia 2011. The beating heart of what is beginning to look like a full on Arab uprising, that will change the shape and tone of the Middle East for decades, who knows, even centuries, to come/
On a personal note, I managed with my usual, luck, to appropriate a white sweatshirt from a student in search of his nation's destiny. On the front of the sweatshirt is a thrust fist above the legend; '14/01/11'. The date it all began.