Monday, February 7, 2011

Normalcy?

Things seem to be returning to normal.

I haven't seen any soldiers in almost a week, and police seem to be back in charge of security.

Anti-RCD protests across the country have been getting more violent. About a week ago masked youths attacked high schools in my neighborhood and injured students and teachers, but were scared off by the military.

The return of the police has also led to people being killed at protests again. It's been happening all over the country, and just today supposedly police killed two protesters in my neighborhood.

Many people completely blame the police, and it is true that they seem to be more brutal then the Army. However, anti-RCD protesters tend to respect the military and probably wouldn't overtly attack them. The police on the other hand are a much bigger target of rage and may be acting, at least partially, in self defense.

Anyways, despite the fact that police are back on the streets, shooting people, and despite the fact that there is intense political uncertainty here, people are still happy. I'm not a particularly optimistic person in general, but I think things will be better a year from now then they were in 2010.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What the kids think

Today was my first day teaching teenagers post-revolution. Not surprisingly, it was an interesting experience.

It's hard to overstate how dangerous it was to talk about politics under Ben Ali. Even teenagers and younger children had to toe the party line or there would be serious consequences.

Before the revolution I always tried really hard to avoid talking about politics. American politics were fine, as was Israel/Palestine, as long as it never touched on local things (for instance, Israel was bad but Ben Ali's support of them wasn't). Bringing up Tunisian politics would at best elicit uncomfortable lies and at worst put my students in serious trouble.

Since the revolution has happened, all anyone here can do is talk politics,  so I decided what hell, and used Tunisian current affairs to practice grammer points (we were going over modals and comparatives).

My students are all 15 year olds who wear jeans and ironic trucker hats, and who listen to Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber, so I was sorta surprised how religious they are. Ben Ali's repression of religion was very hard on them, and the freedom to practice their religion freely was one of the things they looked forward to the most.

One boy in my class said that he was happy that he could go to morning prayers (in the wee hours) at his Mosque with his dad. This is a pretty normal practice for serious muslims, but in Ben Ali's day (6 weeks ago) youths who did this faced arrest or worse. Also many girls in my class said that they were thinking about wearing hijab now, because due to government policy women wearing hijab had a harder time getting employed and educated.

Since the revolution many of my friends have started wearing Hijab and growing beards (having a long beard and going to prayers could supposedly get you disappeared) and it's one of the most visible signs of the revolution. We hear a lot in America about regimes around here that repressively enforce Islam,  but a lot regimes are just as oppressive in the opposite direction and it's nice to see people take their basic rights back.

Things in Egypt look like Tunisia about a month ago. Mubarak fired his entire government and filled it up with Military guys. This is clearly a ploy to keep the Military invested in the regime so they don't go and side with the protesters like Tunisian Army did.

Things in Egypt also make things here look pretty good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egypt next? Ask the security forces

On Al Jazeera and the BBC I'm seeing a lot of coverage about Egypt and the protests there. Obviously Masri looks a lot like Tunisia did about two weeks ago.

Even people who thought Tunisia was stable two months ago generally agreed that Egypt was a turbulent basket-case, and it would not surprise me if a a Jazmine Revolution part II(/Muslim Brotherhood Revolution) happened in Egypt.

Many outside observers have been wondering aloud why the Ben Ali regime fell. Some people think it was wikileaks, others think it was because he started shooting his own people on camera. Neither of these things helped his cause, but in my dubious opinion he fell because he didn't worry enough about maintaining good relations with the military. When his loyal police needed help, the army and it's leader General Rachid Ammar, decided for whatever reason to side with the people.

Had the army followed Ben Ali's orders, there might have been a civil war, but Ben Ali would still be in Carthage with his gold and pet tigers.

I know very little about the Egyptian security forces, but I'm sure it's a sprawling network of competing organizations and interests. If the Mubarak regime has been managing it well they will survive. However, if any major sector of the Egyptian security forces feels mistreated or slighted, they could take General Ammar's example, and when the regime desperately needs them, simply decide not to show up.

General Ammar went from being a no-name head of an underfunded military to the most popular man in Tunisia. Any ambitious soldier or policeman would do well to follow his example.

Instability and military rule

The protest I went to yesterday was definitely different then the protests that went on before the Revolution.

First of all it was two sided.

Though both sides were ridiculing Ben Ali and Leila, I think (once again, I'm not sure) the much bigger group was also ridiculing the UGTT, (the main labor union and a major impetus behind the revolution) demanding an end to the mass strike and an acceptance of the interim government.

The side waving UGTT flags was much smaller, and was basically being protected by soldiers.

The UGTT and their supporters want the interim government to be completely purged of all Ben Ali's ministers, or at least the most powerful ones. (defense, interior, etc) However, many of Ben Ali's former cronies (members of the RCD party) have been able to hang on to power and as a result all attempts at creating a unity government have collapsed. This has left Tunisia in a state of parliamentary limbo.

Perhaps people in other regions blame this on the RCD, but in my region almost everyone I talk to thinks that the RCD ministers should be allowed to stay, for the sake of stability.

These people have a point. Even though the RCD did terrible things, most(/all) of the opposition has absolutely no experience running a government. People who were unemployed bloggers or working in Paris a month ago now have prominent positions in government. Many people I talk to say that RCD members should be allowed to stay, at least for the next two months (after which there will be fresh elections).

Also the terrorists killing people in my neighborhood last week were almost certainly security forces loyal to the RCD apparatus. I doubt the military got them all, and a real purge of the RCD would probably mean more indiscriminate violence.

Another reason that people around my way feel amicable to the interim government is that almost all the highranking RCD party members are from my region.(the Sahel)

Regionalism here is at least as bad as racism in the United States, and the Sahel has gotten a lot of investment and development as a result of the RCD's patronage. While everyone in Tunisia sees Ben Ali as a criminal, most people around here want to keep their regional privilege.

In any case all this instability is making an overt military take over of the government more and more likely. General Rachid Ammar is the head of the army, and basically allied the army with the revolution at a very critical moment. No one has a bad thing to say about him at this point, and so far he hasn't seemed particularly interested in making himself the next Ben Ali. However, if the political chaos remains General Ammar will be under pressure from America (supposedly) and even common Tunisians to step in.

I have one close friend who lives in my neighborhood, but whose family comes from Sidi Bouzid. He hates the RCD and thinks that every high ranking member should be deposed and put on trial. I asked him if this was worth instability and he basically told me "whatever, the military can just take control."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mass Strike/More Vacation

There have been peaceful protest Marches on my street the last few days. This, like the amplified Mosque sermon on friday, would have been impossible a month ago.

The protests are part of a campaign, organized by the main labor union to completely purge the current government of all regime creatures (members of Ben Ali's RCD party).

The main part of the protest is a nation-wide mass strike. It doesn't affect cafes (of course) but everyone else, (including me) is getting a revolutionary vacation.

There is going to be an anti-RCD protest today, since they have been peaceful in Sousse I might go.

UPDATE

I went to the protest downtown, and let me tell you it was confusing. There was a relatively small group of demonstrators in front of the UGTT office, who were waving a UGTT flags


video


Separated from them by a large group of gun toting soldiers was a much bigger anti-UGTT protest. They were yelling slogans against the leader of the Union (Mr. Jrad) and against the mass-strike. Some signs seemed to call for acceptance of the interim government.(?)







Interestingly, both sides were yelling slogans against Ben Ali. This protest and demos like it across the country point the potential for instability here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mosque Sermon

Today the neighborhood Mosque broadcast it's entire friday sermon over the loudspeaker. Until this friday, they only announced the call to prayer over the loud speaker.

I only barely understood parts of it, but it definitely referenced Tunisia and current events. Until about a week ago, broadcasting an amplified religious sermon, especially one about politics would have been unthinkably stupid and would get you some very negative attention from the interior ministry.

This illustrates something important about the so-called "Jazmine Revolution". This movement might not be able to create a European-style democracy here, or end pervasive corruption and unemployment. However, freedom of expression, especially relating to religion and political dissent, will increase.

Yesterday I went downtown to meet my Tunisian friend who came in from Gafsa. We went to a bar for a few beers and on the way I was able to take some photos.


On the way we walked past a peaceful demonstration that was wrapping up in front of the local trade union office. The trade union (the UGTT) is one of the most progressive (or at least anti-regime) organizations that operated above ground over the last few years. The army's actions in support of the people started the revolution, but the UGTT's actions are what started the protest movement.

If I had to guess I would say any left of center/secular political group here will probably coalesce around the UGTT

The people here were demonstrating in favor of the the union and against any members of the old regime staying in positions of power. The UGTT has been threatening a mass strike if former regime figures stay in power.


Police offices are still in pretty bad shape.



Even worse off are companies (like TunisAir) that were owned by the ruling families. This office was right next to a police station, and it still got looted and burned.



My friend Leila was nice enough to talk about the political future of Tunisia

video

What she says is pretty in line with what I've been hearing here, although it might be different outside of the Sahel.(my region)

The attitude at the barricades is very apolitical. Everyone I have talked to has expressed hatred of the former regime, but this was because of their corruption, brutality and incompetence, not their ideology. Also people often praise the army and hope for "stability." So far I have heard no endorsement or even much mention of any political party, or ideology.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some barricades being removed

My neighbors who are relatives of Ben Ali (the ones in the nice house I mentioned earlier) supposedly got attacked today. It was nothing major though.

Rumor is that they had taken out some loans when their relative was President and never paid them back because they didn't have to. Supposedly, now that their license to steal is gone, the people who they owe money to were trying to get some of it back.

Anyways I guess the lenders punched a guy and threatened them, and now a squad of 5 or 6 military guys is posted up on my block.(unfortunately they were the first people I have met in this conflict who refused to have their pictures taken) This is a good thing, as it makes us extremely secure, and as a result we didn't even bother building the barricade on my street tonight. (we take it down every morning so people can use their cars and park for the stores and mosque)

Since our houses are safe, My neighbor invited me to come hang out at his friends barricade. His friend lives on a main street close to my house, so we grabbed our Assahs (sticks used for defense) and walked over.

On the way over, we stopped by a black market beer shop and picked up a bunch of beers. The beer dealers were operating out of a somewhat run down house and got down just like dope dealers in America...a bunch of big older guys were sitting around watching, and 14 year olds would take your money and give you the beer.

We got to the barricade and chilled out and gave beers to the guys who don't pray. We had checked about five or ten cars when a military truck came rumbling by. He said that though the situation was still not settled, things has improved enough that the Soldiers wanted us to remove the barricades on the major streets, although we could still keep them on the side streets.

We quickly removed the the main barricade but still controlled access to the side streets. The local police are driving around now, but in every car of three policemen must have one soldier in it. This is because neither the military, nor anyone I have talked to, trusts the police.

When one of these mixed cars drove by our barricade, one of my new friends yelled at it something that basically means "much respect to the soldiers, fuck the police."

Eventually I headed back towards my house and went to my other friend's corner, where practically the entire block was out drinking coffee and eating cake.

As much as I hope things get back to normal, I hope the blockparty-like atmosphere atmosphere in my neighborhood continues.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gunshots, sanctioned looting and.... soccer (football)

As night rolled around, I had just started changing out of my daytime clothes into my all black, athletic nighttime ensamble when I heard gunshots.

I was just starting to go outside to see what was going on, when a female canadian friend of mine who lives in my neighborhood (we're the only westerners here) called me. Her Tunisian boyfriend was out on the street already and she wanted to know if I had seen him or knew what was going on.

Per usual I had no idea whatsoever what was going on and she told me that the shooting was coming from Rue Imam Muslem, and that she had seen people running down the street carrying electronics and other valuables . 

I ran over there and saw a huge group of people standing around a large, well built house with broken windows. There was an Army truck outside and soldiers were shooting in the air to make people give them room.

I saw my friend Leila there and she told me that the house belonged relatives of Ben Ali. The relatives had fled the country and now people were looting the house.

The soldiers had come on the scene midway through, but since everyone hates Ben Ali, the soldiers allowed people to take anything they could carry away. After everything was gone the people had wanted to burn the house down for good measure.

While the soldiers here are typically laisse faire when it comes to robbing the former ruling families, they have a strict "no burning anything" policy and began firing in the air to stop people from setting things on fire.

They then talked to a local group of stick wielding citizens who built a barricade around the house.

Then i went up the street and played soccer (football for all you non-Americans) with a bunch of kids at a barricade.

video

In the last two days the terrifying gun battles and tense traffic stops are being increasingly replaced by recreation (the gunfire and traffic stops are still occasionally there though).



I have been very well fed


And learned some Tunisian/French card games.


Many of my friends at home have been asking me about the new government, and what I think it's going to look like.

Not surprisingly I had no idea, so tonight I asked some of my friends who they thought would do well in the next elections. Interestingly, not a single person had any idea, or even any opinions on any of the political parties.

If the Ben Ali regime (and the regime that came before him) was good at anything, it was crushing any form of political opposition. In the '70s and '80s leftist groups challenged the him, so if you expressed any sort of views to the left of the status quo you were blacklisted or worse. In the '80s and '90s Islamist groups challenged the regime, so if you grew your beard too long, or spent to much time at the mosque you would be "in trouble".

As a result the opposition developed in exile and has very little base among the Tunisian people. However if I had to guess, I would say a moderate Islamist party (ala AKP in Turkey) will probably get a plurality. Moderate Islamist parties tend to put a big emphasis on social justice/economic redistribution and tend to shy away from doing things like forcing women to wear the hijab and stuff like that.

Tunisians practice a very tolerant, easy form of Islam. (most young guys drink openly, it's cool if you never go to the Mosque) However, being a devout, practicing Muslim gives you a lot of social capital here, and I think there is a view that a politician who goes to the mosque and prays regularly is less likely to screw you then one who doesn't. Also Ben Ali's regime was so repressively secular that there is bound to be a backlash against that.

There are also many Tunisians I know with very secular values, and they generally tend to hold vaguely center left views. There are many political parties competing for this group, and who will win will probably depend on personality and platform rather then ideology.

Police on my street

There is a building on my street that does not look like it belongs in Tunisia.

It is brightly colored and has a design that what look more comfortable in Southeast Asia then in North Africa.

It clearly took a lot of money to build.

I learned this week that relatives of Ben Ali live there. Someone at the barricades told me that the head of the family worked as a traditional musician, a career that would not generally support the construction of such an ostentatious building.

The people at the barricades assume that the family who lived in this house paid for their life style in a corrupt manner. They were angry about this, and angry because the presence of Ben Ali's family here could bring looters, or worse.

A few minutes ago there were well armed pro-army/government police going in and out of the house. Many people at the barricades last night hopefully speculated that these people would have some of their money and/or property confiscated. Whether this process is starting is anyone's guess.

Even though the police are local, and therefore presumably on the up and up, after the events of this last weekend it was still a little nerveracking to see police with assault rifles on my street.

UPDATE

xerocada asked

"Would you define "pro-army/government police"?

BBC's coverage today indicated that there is still a lot of sporadic violence in the capital as well as confusion as to the composition of the interim government. Please comment."

______________________________________________________________________________________________


The worst violence  of the last few days involved the army and local citizens groups fighting (unidentified and partially identified) well armed and well organized cells of terrorists.


I generally have referred to these people as "terrorists" and Tunisians have been using the term "militia." They are the ones going around shooting random people and soldiers and burning down government buildings.


This "militia" is almost definitely made up of former security forces, and most likely certain elements of the presidential bodyguard and/or high ranking "special police" linked to the interior ministry. (these are two groups Tunisians have mentioned, but they could be the same organization)

In the first day of the violence these men kept their uniforms on during the day, and my friend saw a bunch of non-military security forces in black uniforms open fire on a group of people peacefully celebrating the end of the regime.

At night they changed into plain clothes and drove around killing soldiers and civilians and generally doing nasty things.

These are the anti-military/government police.

However, it seems that most local police were not involved in this terrorism and they are currently working with the army, especially during the day. These are who i mean by the pro-army/government police (ie. they are not shooting at soldiers and they are not trying to terrorize the new government out of existence.

The clashes in Tunis have been protests, and I haven't heard of anyone being shot at them yet. As of yesterday my friends in Tunis were seeing machine-gun toting Militia exchanging fire with Army helicopters. As far as I have heard those pitched gun battles are over.

Monday, January 17, 2011

All quiet


There was no shooting tonight, hamduallah. While people are staying vigilant, when 10 pm rolled around with no violence of any kind a party like atmosphere settled over my neighborhood.



video

Cars, motorbikes and strange pedestrians still got searched and interrogated (it was a curfew after all) when they came through, although it was with out incident as far as I know.



This young guy above was passing out mini-pizzas and pop corn in the various check points

It ain't easy.....


I can only hope and pray that this peace lasts, and that the army and politicians do the right thing. I have heard reports of protests in the capital, but here it's all quiet. Hamduallah

Per usual I have no firm idea about the reason for this lull in violence but I have heard rumors. Some people have said that the former head of the presidential bodyguard got captured today. That group (as well as special police and interior ministry agents, it's all very confusing and they could be the same organization for all I know) is often blamed for the most brutal violence going on here. Hopefully his arrest has put a serious damper on the ability for the terrorists (or Militia as tunisians have started calling them) to operate.

Other friends of mine think that the lull in violence is only temporary and might resume depending on the actions and the makeup of the new government.


UPDATE

I heard rumors that a European Sniper team was caught in Tunis, and I recently saw footage of them being captured and ammo (and maybe guns?) being found in their luggage.

The people capturing them didn't look too happy.

me and yassine show you what we living like/my block continued




my apologies, it turns out i'm a terrible camera man. after about 30 seconds my khoya Yassine takes over and it's much better. This took place between a relative lull in the drama last night. More videos from the main barricade I was at later.

UPDATE...

5:50 pm Monday,

The garbagemen emptied out the dumpsters today. Also the pillar of smoke rising from the south (supposedly the smoldering bus station?) has disappeared and the mixed gender cafes have generally reopened.

Most importantly the local police (who seem to be largely not responsible for the terrorism, either during or after the regime) have started working with the army on the streets.

All of these are good signs.

My students who live in a working class neighborhood to the south of Sousse told me via facebook that the corner crews in their neighborhood had found a handfull of gun wielding men in plain clothes walking the streets and driving around (ie. rogue special police/terrorists ). Per usual the men were badly beaten and handed over to the military.

The new government was formed today, and it's full of people from the old regime (defense minister, foreign minister and rather surprisingly interior minister). There are also many ministers who are former anti-government activists recently released from jail. Its only a temporary government, but many people will be unhappy that ANYONE from the old regime is taking part in it.

There is some speculation that all the terrorism might not be directly on the orders of Ben Ali, but rather former members of his regime who wanted to use it (and their ability to stop it) as leverage to keep power/avoid prosecution (ala the Awakening Councils in Iraq), but who knows.

The evening call to prayer just happened and as I write the sun is setting. Inshallah, tonight will be quiet.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mah block

Tonight turned out to be pretty exciting/terrifying after all, especially towards the beach. Some of my neighbors found a terrorist sniper sitting on the neighborhood post office early in the evening. They dealt with him, but i dont know they called the military or just did him themselves.

 Last night there had been extremely heavy fighting around my house starting at around 6 or seven. I had only heard a few bursts of automatic gun fire before 9 or 10 pm tonight, so i figured we were out of the woods......

Turns out I was wrong. The rumors on the barricades were very confused (as rumors generally are) but I guess the army started following two suspicious looking vehicles driving down the main tourist road by the beach.

The two cars were indeed filled with police/terrorists, and when they opened up on the military, killing two soldiers. they then went on a very violent car chase that went through my neighborhood (I didn't see it but i sure heard it)

The military and people's militia killed most of the terrorists in the car after that. Unfortunately one got away, but if he isn't on his back now he will be soon, hamduallah.

I took a nice video of the people's volunteers and the barricades in my area, it will be up soon...

My new friends

From worse to better

I just got in from the road block and I'm happy to report almost no shooting tonight.


The former police/terrorists have been switching up tactics (roof top snipers, drive-bys, they even may have poisoned the water in some places) so I don't want to get too calm yet, but things were definitely better tonight.

Hamduallah

Supposedly the army has most of the remaining terrorists holed up in a presidential palace in Tunis. The rumor is the terrorists have extremely sophisticated (American made) weapons, but inshallah they'll all be dead or in jail by morning. Now many Tunisians are saying they want the Saudis to send Ben Ali back so he can stand trial.


Now that the last elements of the old regime seem to swept away, the question is whats next.

The opposition political parties communists, social democrats, islamists (i'm not sure if they're Muslim Brotherhood affiliated or what) have all tried to claim some credit for this, but regular Tunisians don't really know that much about them or particularly support them.

This was a truly spontaneous, popular revolution and no exile political party can claim to be the impetus for it. The one institution that everyone loves and credits with helping the revolution is the army.

The Army never had a close relationship with the Ben Ali regime, and when he told them to fire on protesters the head general refused. After Ben Ali left, the army organized and legitimized the popular-defense groups that have been defending the neighborhoods from looters and terrorists and aggressively hunted down rogue police.

 The people here love the army so much that if they wanted to start a military dictatorship they would have the blessing of the majority of Tunisia.

However, I have heard completely unsubstantiated rumors that the general who refused to shoot protesters plans to run in the early elections for prime minister. The people love him and he would be a shoe in.

UPDATE

massive shooting as of 9:54 pm. different stories, some things sound like they could be large caliber, semi auto rifles (ie. snipers) most of it is full auto.

Either the badguys were laying low and the army got the jump on them, or they just started later then usual tonight.

Barricades, My narration

video

Next Morning



I hadn't really slept in about 2 days so i woke up today at around 1 pm. Hamduallah

My experiences last night at the barricades were pretty intense.

As I wrote last night, I initially went out there to stop potential looters from robbing me or 
any of my friends. I had also never have had to opportunity to "man the barricades" before, and I enjoy new experiences.

I had heard rumors that there may be members of the interior ministry connected security forces (aka THE POLICE, NOT THE ARMY) causing problems, but i thought they were just corrupt cops killing people for their stuff.

When I got to the barricades people were a little surprised I was there. I don't speak Arabic very well, and I was probably one of the only foreigners who was stupid and bored enough to stand on a corner in the entire country that night.

I was only there for a few minutes when we were told that looters were not the real enemy tonight. Like I have written before, there has been a highly organized and brutal attempt by the interior ministry (i think its safe to call them the "former" interior ministry now) to sow chaos by going on a campaign of seemingly-random mass murders across the country.

These terrorists were armed with automatic weapons and driving around in cars, and we were all on foot armed only with axe handles, knives and badly constructed barricades. At this point I started getting a little nervous.

However, despite the terror and despair everyone was feeling, the barricades were sort of like a block party, albeit a block party with terrifying undertones of violence.

As the night went on people started bringing out water and tea, and more people came out to join us. There were a lot of people there who seemed like they wanted to practice their English and i wanted to practice my Arabic (jaiysh=army, katush=gun shot, tahan=asshole=policeman)

When the police start killing random citizens out of spite, and then a newly revolutionary army goes a head and deputizes everyone with a knife or stick, it really brings out the worst and best in people.

There was one drunken fat man, who's breath smelled of liquor who was wielding dual butcher knives. He kept threatening other volunteers and vandalizing things and eventually people made him leave.

Most of the people were extremely inspirational and there were some people who took it upon themselves to be sort of leaders or messengers and ran from corner to corner, letting people know what was up. In my neighborhood the people who were doing this were two old men, and (implausibly) one young woman.

The young woman, named Leila spoke some English. She said "you are in our country, in our revolution" I started to say "I just don't want anyone taking my shit or shooting at my house" but she cut me off "you should get citizenship here, like Che in Cuba."

My motives are far from revolutionary, and she was totally busting my balls, but it still felt nice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"we are the not the police, we are the army, we do not shoot our people, we are with the people"

Today at around 2pm I went to downtown Sousse with some friends to see the damage.

The louage (bus) station was on fire. So was the the Tunis train station. I'm not getting out of here anytime soon. Huge pillars of smoke are still rising into the sky.



On the way downtown our cab had to stop. the army and police were both outside the town liquor store arresting looters. The army was arguing with the police and eventually made them leave, then this happened...

video

I wrote in the last page that, despite what I would have assumed, the Army is LOVED by the average Tunisian and the police are generally hated and feared. Today showed why.

In this video he's basically saying "we are not the police, we do not shoot our own people like the police, we are the army, we need your help but we will defend you" the people cheered and then the army drove away.

The only police that are still working are the elite, political police. They shoot people for the most minor infractions. Today my American friend saw some Tunisians stomping on a picture of the former president and cheering. All of a sudden police came up and began indiscriminately shooting into the crowd. He didn't see anyone die but still.

The army sent young boys around to distribute leaflets today. They said if you want to defend your neighborhood put a white rag around your arm and grab any weapon you can. The people are clearly for the army at this point.



As I write there are mobs of civilians (including, foolishly and implausibly, myself) wearing white armbands on every corner. Someone, almost definitely the former special police/secret service, has been driving around shooting at these groups of people and getting in gunfights with the army.

I'll write more and post pictures later, but people are shooting around my house and I want to check it out...


UPDATE

I should say that the regular cops, the ones who direct traffic and write reports are almost definitely NOT RESPONSIBLE for this stuff. My good friends father is a cop, and both him and his dad are wearing white arm bands at the barricades. The people doing this are the elite/worst.

To the barricades/"Don't Trust the Police"

Coming back from downtown today (more on that in next post) on every corner we saw huge groups of men boys and even a few women holding every manner of blunt object.

They were all wearing white arm bands that showed that they were with the army and protecting their neighborhood.

I had already gotten some axe handles and given them to some friends, and my one friend invited me to stand on his corner with him and his boys. His corner is a few blocks away from my house so I decided to go against my better judgement and go with him.

Walking to his corner was surreal. Every single corner had a collection of men, young boys and even a few women brandishing all sorts of weapons (except guns). They had built barricades out of random trash to block traffic and were standing around them.




When i got to his corner i was introduced to all the guys standing there. To say I was completely out of place would be a gross understatement, but they were generally friendly with me.

 Shortly after I got there learned some very disturbing news. Men in unmarked cars had been driving around Sousse and shooting random people out of their cars. Since these men were killing seemingly random people and since they had guns it was assumed by most Tunisians that they were probably former members of elite police/interior ministry units. These men are roughly comparable to the Republican Guard in Ba'athist Iraq and were the people who did the dirty work of the Ben Ali regime.

I've been hearing stories about them since I got here, and to put it mildly they are not to be trifled with. They have a lot to fear from a new regime, since they could probably be convicted of human rights violations.

Now the theory was they were murdering random people, to sow chaos and maybe bring about a return of the old regime.

My new friends and I stood around the barricade, axehandles in hand waiting for something to happen. I'm pretty sure we had all come there initially for the same reason, we didn't want looters taking any of our shit. But with this new information the stakes became much higher.

Finally at like 8 pm (as i'm writing it's 845) I got hungry. I also felt less brave now that my potential enemies were hardened, homocidal secret agents out for political revenge, not skinny teenagers trying to steal my laptop.

I decided to walk back to my house to make pasta. I was stirring the sauce when I heard loud, opposing gun fire come from the street where my friends were. If I had thought about it I would have stayed in the house, but i ran out to see what had happened.

My friends had not been shot at. Instead the mysterious assassins had murdered some people in the next town and got caught by the military coming into Khzema. Soldiers rolled up and explained.

Basically they said that they had caught one of the assassins and indeed he was interior ministry. The soldier then said that they were looking for the rest and that we should all watch our back. then he said the most chilling thing.

"Don't trust the police, don't trust ANY police, if you see them attack them"

A member of the Tunisian military just told a mob of stick wielding civilians to attack any policeman on sight.

gunfire is continuing and it seems different then last night.

last night it seemed very one sided, like security forces were firing on looters.

now it sounds more like a gun battle, where both sides are armed.

This is not good

Friday, January 14, 2011

don't open your doors for anyone

It's 4 am tunis time. I was laying in bed, trying to go to sleep when I was startled by violent explosions.

It was really close, coming from past the mosque, towards the neighborhood souk (market). There was the familiar automatic gunfire and something else that sounded like it could have been a grenade launcher or a tear gas canister (one smaller explosion, followed immediately by a large, extremely loud explosion).

My tunisian friends have been warning me about people who are either police, or claim to be police who come to your door and rob you. Don't open your doors for anyone they told me.

I'm probably not gonna get any sleep tonight, but tomorrow is a big day. We must buy food, axe handles and survey the destruction.

It's too early to tell, and I'm delirious from lack of sleep, but at this point the one Tunisian institution that really looks good in all this is the army. The progressive in me wants to disagree, but so far they have been the only institution that hasn't brutally and callously disregarded the rights of the average Tunisian.

According to rumors I've heard at cafes all week (an tonight online) Ben Ali activated the army and expected them to beat and shoot peaceful protesters like the police have been doing the entire month. However, the Army commanders supposedly refused to do so, and instead of scouring the streets disrupting protests, kept their soldiers stationed by banks and government offices to prevent looting.

Earlier this week i even heard (completely unconfirmed, cafe) reports of the Army actually getting into gun fights with police who were firing on unarmed civilians.

Whether or not all of this is true, the army seems to have enormous cache right now with average Tunisians. Hopefully they do the right thing and allow the opposition political parties (who also did their part in what is being called, rather cheesily, the jasmine revolution) to return and contest free and fair elections.

Time will tell.

UPDATE

Somewhere, somehow a mosque managed to let out the morning call to prayer....It's alway beautiful, but especially tonight.

looters vs the posse

i just heard a smash, then the shriek of an alarm.

i looked outside, about 5-10 teenagers with hoods and masks were trying to break into the cell phone store across my street. all of a sudden they ran off, then from all sides i saw men with axe handles and stuff running to the store, i guess we got a local militia watching our back.

hamduallah

UPDATE

police looting a liquor store

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=177664052272822&set=a.112176435488251.6913.112166148822613

my roof, their gun fire

this video was taken by me and my roommate on my roof. the picture is bad, but the audio is alright

video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFEyQj2BTzM

"want to go looting?"

The big group of kids walked off, for a while there was only stray dogs walking around the streets, like they couldn't believe their luck, no humans.

then off my roof i saw a bunch of tunisian boys, their profiles showing the distinctive trucker hats walking past my house, they were pushing a cart loading with looted electronics.

Right then my tunisian friend called me breathless "you in home? come to the door, i am coming." He was dressed all in black. with a watch cap pulled over his ears. "You want to go looting?" "Hell no, motherfucker" a few moments a burst of automatic gun fire came from the direction he just came from.

just chilling in the living room. the gun fire is close, and ubiquitous.

UPDATE

i heard that the police are now looting. my student who lives in my town said hooded men tried to break into her neighbors house.

my police station

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1777326789899&set=a.1777326269886.102102.1141240450

Police Station On Fire

The police station in the president's home town, where I work, less then a mile from where i live is on fire.

My Tunisian friend told me "every monoprix, every carfour (two big, european corporate chains ala walmart) have been looted. in my neighborhood it was a mess, i saw a man carrying a whole washing machine"

I just came down from my roof. Cars are driving around with their head lights out, a gang of youths (even some girls) has gathered by the cafe near my house. I saw some other kids walking down the back streets, some of them were carrying what looked like soda or liquor, the two others were carrying something heavy in a satchel between them. They couldn't have been shopping.

Scattered automatic gunfire, it seems like it's coming from towards the coast, thats where all the good stuff to loot is. I had thought that Ben Ali stepping down would mean an end to the violence, or at least a decrease in violence. At least in Sousse I was wrong.

841

definitely lots of gunfire. they are spraying.

Gunfire

830 pm

I just heard what im almost sure was automatic gun fire to the west of me.

the streets were deserted, but a group of youths has been gathering in front of the local cafe. they might be up to no good.

just got a text from my boss "respect the curfew, stay away from windows"

shiiiit

President Ben Ali Stepped Down


via bbc

1749: Mr Ghannouchi vowed to respect the constitution and restore stability. It is unclear whether Mr Ben Ali has left the country, but al-Arabiya reports that he is flying to Malta under Libyan protection.
1745: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has stepped down. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president.


Supposedly the army is in control. Honestly I expected this for about a while. The army seems to be relatively respected as tunisian institutions go. i hope everything works out....

UPDATE

"this is fucking crazy" -my roommate

more rumors of army forces fighting with police units. these are only rumors and i haven't heard anything very substansial.

tunisian state tv is playing a loop of some woman from the early '90s singing the national anthem and scenes from the tunisian country side

live ammo

any gathering of more then three people will be a target of live ammunition

-tunisian security forces

http://storify.com/acarvin/sidi-bou-zid-a-jasmine-revolution-in-tunisia

Emergency Rule

al jazeera and youtube are here, but the president just fired his entire government and imposed emergency rule.


emergency rule means curfew. i of course had no idea and was sitting at cafe downtown and all of a sudden the place emptied out and the waiters started putting everything away. the sun is going down now and i just barely made it back to my apartment, everyone outside is running around looking for cabs


i saw small protests in my neighborhood today for the first time ever.


supposedly the police weren't using live ammo on the protesters today in the capital, but supposedly that will change tonight.


inshallah lebes


UPDATE


my student lives near the center of sousse and i guess people in her neighborhood were fighting police and looted a monoprix (sorta like stop and shop). she said the police used live ammo (my student is about 15, so take it with a grain of salt)


rumors are that there are no flights out of tunisia, so it seems that i am stuck here. fuck




http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/201111410345507518.html

concessions

things are moving extremely fast


a month ago people were literally afraid to talk about politics. in tunisia having a political conversation is known as "dangerous talk," something you only do with those close to you.


now protesters are openly demanding the removal of the president, and  he is backtracking. before today we had to use internet proxies (programs that disguise your ip address) to access websites like youtube and al jazeera. they were unblocked this morning.


more importantly, it's always been assumed that president ben ali will be in office until he dies, or at least for the foreseeable future. on thursday night ben ali promised not to seek "reelection" in the next poll (in 2014).


these changes are huge, but probably too little too latethe protesters clearly don't want another 3 years of rule by ben ali, the people in the streets want him out now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

American Shot

a friend of a friend who works in my company was shot today in tunis. he was walking home from work and got caught up in a protest. out of nowhere police started throwing tear gas bombs and shooting into the crowd and he got hit in the thigh.


it didn't hit a bone or artery so he will probably be fine. god knows how many other people were hurt.
 protesters took over  the resort city of hammamet and the protests in other cities are getting out of control.


my city is the home of president ben ali and is relatively peaceful (only a few people have died here in the last week), however there is anger here too and i dont know how long the peace will last.


most disturbingly there are rumors that in the west of the country the army (which has been brought in to help repress the protests) has begun getting in gun battles with policemen.


the army is mainly conscripted and is seen as less necessarily loyal to the regime then the police are. i started this blog assuming that i was going to stay here, but even the hint of violence between the two ends of the security apparatus makes me think it might be time get an airline ticket.