samedi 5 novembre 2011

Azyz Amami, a fearless activist



The topic has made headlines over a thousand times since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The uprisings in each country involved all the citizens, not only a few people. Among the people, certain held different roles and took more risk than others.

Activists in Tunisia, in great part via their blogs, social networks and Youtube, publically denounced the acts of the old regime and contributed to organising demonstrations, bravely ignoring the repression and attempted censure perpetrated by the authorities. Azyz Amami, one of the most involved young people in the protest movement that put an end to dictatorship in Tunisia, accepted to be interviewed and shared his experiences and impressions on the ongoing political transition in his country.

For Azyz Amami, opposition to the former regime didn’t start in December 2010.  Protesting in the street and on the web had begun years before. Obviously Facebook and Twitter were useful tools and the first criticisms often denounced poverty and censorship.

Sign asking to free Azyz
Amami and Slim Amamou
from jail on January 2011.
According to the activist, anyone wishing to criticise the former dictatorship was advised to do so in a subtle way to avoid censors or major problems with the authorities. Surprisingly, at certain times, direct insults to the regime would be tolerated. For example, the activist called Ben Ali a “son of a bitch” and invited him to “dégager” (leave) on Facebook on the occasion of his 73rd anniversary. He was somewhat surprised that there were no consequences following this commentary. This contrasts with him being manhandled by police in 2009 after making fun of the regime’s political slogan.

In the weeks before January 14th 2011, the day on which the former president and his family left, he was at the front of the popular uprising by constantly publishing information on social networks about demonstrations and the repression exerted by the police forces. This brought the justice system down on him. At first, in December 2010, the authorities prevented him from joining the protesters in Sidi Bouzid at a time where the uprisings were gaining strength.

Then on January 6th, he was arrested and jailed at the same time as another well-known activist, Slim Amamou. This affair created a shock wave among protestors who saw this as proof that the regime’s repression wouldn’t stop in spite of promises to the contrary made by the president. Released on January 13th, the two young men witnessed with the crowd the departure of the dictator for Saudi Arabia on the following day.

Today, Azyz Amami, like a couple of other activists, is known across Tunisia and continues to be heard. He was recently brutalised by policemen for making a sarcastic joke. More precisely, he made fun of them by asking an officer if he had bananas the day after the Prime Minister gave a speech in which he compared violent policemen to monkeys.

Caricature of the situation Azyz Amami faced after he
made fun of policemen by telling a joke on bananas.
On social networks, his commentaries are sought after and generate many reactions among Internet users. However, he doesn’t seem to be affected by his relative notoriety. Always very humble when he discusses his role in the Tunisian revolution, he remains realistic about the future of his country. "Each revolution takes time and all the problems can’t be solved in the blink of an eye. There haven’t been many economic changes up to now but they will happen in time. Over the next two years, we must establish a reliable and transparent justice system and make sure that individual liberties are guaranteed" he explains.

About the evolution of the democratic transition, M. Amami considers that things didn’t progress as people hoped, in part because of the great number of apparatchiks from the former regime still working in the civil service. In spite of all these imperfections though, the present situation is much better than it was a year ago. "People were suffocating and tired of always having to watch what they said. Not that long ago, it wasn’t possible to discuss politics in cafes without fearing of being spied on by the police. In addition, we all had the impression that foreign countries supported the regime and its practices, since it was in their interest to maintain political stability irrespective of the consequences" states M. Amami.

To those who call for a boycott of the Constituent Assembly and suggested not voting at the elections, the young activist replies that we must look at the situation in a positive light. "If we don’t participate in the process, we must be ready to accept the consequences. We have two choices: either we bring about change or we submit ourselves to it. Every citizen living in a free society has a right and a certain obligation to choose. The Constituent Assembly, in spite of its shortcomings, offers us this possibility."

Azyz Amami in a protest.
Finally, though it is still early to make assertions about the future of the country, the activist isn’t worried about the political situation reverting back to or even becoming worse than it was before the revolution. Moreover, he concludes the interview with an inspiring thought that demonstrates his faith on the matter: "I am confident about the future of Tunisia. Whatever the next leaders of the country do, I believe there will not be compromises on the question of individual liberties. And if it's not the case, people will immediately go back to the streets. The message is now clear: as long as our rights are not respected, we will never stop."

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