Mohammed, a Tunisian socialist living in London, flew to Tunis last week to take part in the mass protest that forced Ben Ali to flee the country. He spoke to Socialist Worker:
“I landed in Tunis on Friday at 12.30 and went directly to the demo, in Avenue Bourguiba. It was humongous. I’ve heard numbers up to 65,000 and I’ve never heard of demonstrations in Tunisia of more than a couple of hundred in recent years.
It came after shocking pictures and video circulated on the internet of people shot in the head, brains out and skulls broken after police attacked earlier protests.
That really mobilised people. The fear changed sides.
We were in front of the Ministry of Interior. It was extremely peaceful.
The main chant was ‘Leave, Leave’, and shouts for ‘Ben Ali cartouche’ (to be shot).
At around 4pm the police suddenly attacked. A funeral procession for a protester killed the night before was passing by, and the police took it as an excuse to attack everyone.
They used tear gas and I heard shots. People were saying ‘This is not tear gas, this is bullets.’
Two hours later people were still battling in the same area.
My brother in law was trapped on a rooftop nearby. He was telling me, ‘People are falling down, police are beating people.’
The protests were spontaneous, but trade unions have been instrumental in what has been a month-long insurrection.
The UGTT union has for a long time been a tool of the regime, but it switched sides very quickly.
It got more and more radical.
It is the UGTT that was the main actor in this revolution. The UGTT started the movement in the centre of the country and called the demonstration in front of the Ministry of Interior.
The UGTT is in the lead.
There are rumours that the Trabulsi family, the relatives of Ben Ali’s wife, tried to flee quite early at around 2pm on Friday—but the plane crew refused to fly their plane.
Emad Trabulsi, a key figure, was stabbed nine times and died in hospital. Everyone was jubilant.
Houses belonging to leading figures in the regime were burnt. Practically every big shopping centre has been burnt, and the police stations.
Like many in Tunis, we set up a district committee to protect our local community from the armed militias, remnants of the presidential security forces, who are roaming the city and shooting at people.
We made barricades from furniture to block the roads. We patrolled the area and decided any car moving after curfew was assumed to be suspicious.
Tunisian television channels have all changed their message. A huge debate has opened up: people are talking openly about what should be done about corruption.
We had two presidents in 55 years—and then two in 24 hours!
After the prime minister, Ghannouchi, assumed power ‘due to temporary incapacity of the president’, there were more demos in the south.
Tunis is locked down, but people are already out in the streets elsewhere, not wanting the old gang to stay in power.
The government has blamed groups of communists or Islamists for the protests. So people have been saying we are neither communist nor Islamist.
This is really a popular movement. The government made politics a bad word, so many say we are not political, we are just people.
The government was pushed to the wall, giving up step by step. Every concession was a bit too late.
If they had made concessions earlier maybe it would have stopped things, but every time the people were always one step ahead.”
We want you all to go
“The rulers hope they can limit the amount of change and keep the army running things, but the people are rediscovering the old slogan from Argentina: ‘We want you all to go!’
“I think the rulers hope that, by having elections soon, they can get their people in before we have time to organise.”
Nadim Mahjoub, Tunisia Solidarity Campaign in Britain