The people’s uprising in Tunisia is not just about the state of the economy, but also about civil rights and dignity, says Tunisian opposition activist Sihem Bensedrine in this interview with Reiner Wandler
Ms Bensedrine, Tunisia was considered the most peaceful and modern country in North Africa. Why are its young people suddenly so angry?
Sihem Bensedrine: We human rights and civil rights activists have been warning for years that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s repressive policies would lead to this kind of violent outbreak. Unfortunately, no one listened to us. In Tunisia, it is not only the young people who have no rights; the citizens in general don’t either. All attempts to portray Tunisia as a country where everything is going wonderfully are nothing but marketing. The revolt has torn the mask from the face of the regime.
How could the regime preserve this image for so long?
Bensedrine: The whole world stared entranced at North Africa and the only thing it saw was the threat of terrorism. The Tunisian regime exploited these fears and blew them out of all proportion in order to justify its repressive policies and garner support for them. Ben Ali used the so-called “anti-terror laws” to curb any kind of freedom at all.
If I understand you correctly, you consider Europe to be partly responsible for what is happening in Tunisia.
Bensedrine: The European Union is directly responsible for what is happening in North Africa. The EU closed its eyes and ears to the reports from Tunisia. There is no economic miracle in Tunisia; nor is there a social miracle, as some people are always claiming. There is no miracle whatsoever. The recent massacres began one day after the Tunisian foreign minister visited France. That is definitely not a coincidence.
So you believe that France approved this course of action?
Bensedrine: The facts speak for themselves. France has supported Ben Ali’s dictatorship right from the word go. The special units were deployed the day after the visit to France. More than 50 people have been killed and the international community is not responding. When something happens in Burma or anywhere else, the EU always protests. And now in Tunisia, which is only an hour-and-a-half away from Paris by plane, Europe remains silent. This makes the EU an accomplice of this criminal regime. (…)