COLUMN: A look back at 2011

Shereen Rafea | Website Editor

 It was not the perfect place for an interview, nonetheless there we were in the middle of an overflowing Tim Horton’s early in the afternoon. At some point I felt like I was yelling to be heard, however despite the chaos, the meeting was worth it. I had met Imen Lajmi, a Tunisian girl, at a Journalists for Human Rights event earlier in September  2011. Something she had mention interested me and I wanted to ask her about it.

Tunisia was the first country to erupt in massive protests in the beginning of the past year, and compared with the other revolutions that took place, it  appeared to be the most successful. In January 2011 Tunisians had managed to oust their president  Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , who had ruled for over 23 years . Meeting Imen, it was only natural to ask how she felt during the protests and what it felt like to go back home. When she told me how amazing it was in the summer to go to a coffee shop and hear people talking about politics, that is when I wanted to know more.

What did it feel like to walk into a country after a revolution? How was life before? A couple of months later we sat down to talk.  I had not known much about Tunisia prior to the protests, and I was quick to point this out to her. She said: “ It was like our country was wearing a mask of prosperity.” To the outside world everything appeared normal, however inside Tunisia, the regime ruled with an iron fist. There were restrictions and control on opinions, politics and on the economy she said. Talking about the government or about politics was a sort of Taboo. “ It felt suffocating,” said Lajmi.

She had lived part of her life in Tunisia and another part in Montreal. Therefore having lived in two different regions she could see how different things were between the two countries. Ironically when she enrolled in Concordia University, she chose to study Political Science. One of her goals was to start the first free journal in Tunisia. Going back to Tunisia in the summer after the protests had ended, Lajmi was full of enthusiasm. She noticed that there were no more governmental posters in the airport, and she exclaimed to the police inside, we are free!  While the streets were messy and disorganized, and the country still had a long road ahead of it , the differences were still noticeable. People were talking about politics, sharing their opinions. They were then able to vote for a new goverment. In another sense they were more united then they ever were before.

The Tunisian people aspired for democracy , freedom and for change . While democracy is not achieved over night, they appear to be off to a good start. Other countries that protested in 2011 such as Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen also had similar goals. Whether it was about poverty, unemployment or censorship, they all wanted change. Despite the progress, their fight is still not over. The most alarming situation is currently in Syria. The United Nations have estimated that over 5000 people were killed in Syria last year, and that number is still increasing. The Syrian regime, despite all objections is still clinging to its post. Viewing the protests from our computers, from our televisions or reading about it in our newspapers, we caught a glimpse of the struggle that has been going on for years before. Oppressive regimes do a good job of creating a false pretence, until their people rebel against them and attract worldwide attention. With hundreds behind jails for protesting and thousands killed, the Arab spring brings to attention the many human rights violations that need to end. Imen Lajmi spoke of suffocation and restrictions. Despite bloodshed and struggle, 2011 was  a year where thousands of people stood up for themselves and refused injustice. Lajmi’s dream to start the first free journal in Tunisia did not seem likely at first. Now it just might happen.

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