I arrived in Tunis yesterday to attend the 2nd congress of the Tunisian Union of Journalists (Syndicat national des journalists tunisiens). It was already several months down the road from the dramatic escape by Ben Ali and his mob and the height of the revolutionary fervour of the masses which crammed daily Bourguiba avenue. But the sequels were still fresh – barbed wire and heavy guns surrounded supersensitive buildings and lots of graffiti everywhere, in Arabic, French, English, all slogans calling for revolution and the ousting of the former dictator.
“Welcome to free Tunisia,” was the first word I heard as I stepped out of the plane. And it was truly a different Tunisia than I ever seen before. I was not heavily questioned by suspicious airport police and I did not have to look over my shoulder just in case I was followed. I even discussed politics in the taxi without having to lower my voice.
As I tried to ask about what was happening so I could try to relive at least a little of what they experienced, the taxi driver had to stop talking many times, speechless not only from a deep sense of nostalgia, but also because they cannot anymore explain things in a few sound bites. Revolutionary euphoria has ebbed, the scruffy camps in the Kasbah, heart of government, have been dismantled and the protesters gone back to Tunisia’s heartlands, popular committees have started splitting like amoeba and running out of steam, over 100 political parties have sprung up crowding the political landscape and confusing the Tunisian masses who are still mourning their martyrs. The question is what next. Who will hold power? Is the counter-revolution now gathering steam? Later on the formal opening of the journalists congress may just give a glimpse of the state of the revolution. One thing is preserved -- the people’s graffiti and no one had the right to remove it, especially not in such haste. Decades of corruption and suffocating oppression can’t be erased as quickly as paint on walls can be covered up.
I’d like to say that I’ve been to post-revolutionary Tunisia, but I am not sure I’m there yet.