Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Freedom

This past Saturday, Tunisia celebrated the first anniversary of the day when protestors forced its de facto dictator to flee the country.  In the days leading up to the weekend, you could watch any number of TV programs about the historic events that gave birth to the Arab Spring.  Everyone was talking about it, and I didn't want to miss it.

Crowds Gather at Place 14 Janvier 2011
I met my friend Ahmed downtown, where thousands of other people had gathered to commemorate the day.  We started near a clock tower located at an intersection that has been renamed Place 14 Janvier 2011, in honor of the revolution.  It's not far far from the Interior Ministry.  If we were here a year ago, we would have been dodging bullets and stones. On Saturday, we had to muscle our way through a sea of people.  All the while, various groups holding banners chanted slogans that the crowd repeated in unison.

We managed to make our way through the crowd to a barricade that surrounded the Interior Ministry itself, the flashpoint of last year's revolt.  Behind the barricade, a small cadre of police marched in formation while playing the Tunisian national anthem.  Everyone within hearing distance chimed in, singing the words with pride.

A Family Remembers a Loved One Lost
We walked further down the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare that was closed off to traffic for the day.  Along the way, we encountered lots of small groups passionately debating the future of the country.  There were also families carrying large photos of loved ones who lost their lives in the revolution.  At the other end of the street, the mood seemed to be more celebratory.  There, an enormous crowd surrounded the Theatre Principal to sing songs all afternoon long.

A Youth Waves the Flag While the Crowd Sings
As a guest in this country, I can only imagine what the first anniversary of it's revolution means to its citizens.  Only they can tell you what it was like to live under the oppression of its former president.  Only they can tell you what it was like to challenge his rule.  Only they can tell you what it has been like to live in the country while it charts a course for its future.  The one thing that seemed clear to me is that everyone out in the streets on Saturday was taking full advantage of the chance to commemorate the day in their own individual way.  I was happy to be a part of it.

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