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Tunisia: Fears of Insecurity Overshadow the Joys of Freedom

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

On January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali abruptly fled the country he ruthlessly ruled for more than two decades. The people of Tunisia took to the streets to celebrate the dawn of a new independence. The euphoria rapidly gave way to fear about the security situation. News spread about vandals rampaging across major cities, looting shops and homes and setting fire to properties and buildings. The sound of gun bursts echoed in the deserted streets of the capital city, while the Army deployed its troops around key areas in the capital, Tunis. The mood among citizens remained joyful. They formed vigilante groups to defend their families and properties. Some of those have been sharing their thoughts on their blogs.

Picture courtesy Nawaat.org

As the night falls and the curfew is imposed, a few venture outside their homes. Unlike this man, whose joy of freedom has made him brave his fears to chant: “Long live Tunisia! Ben Ali has fled! Don't be afraid! We are free!” (video [Ar] posted on Youtube by Nawaat):

The blogger Winds of Tunisia writes:

Un peu partout en Tunisie et de plus en plus à Tunis les sbires de Ben Ali organisés en bandes armées sement la terreur chez les citoyens.

Soit c’est leur dernière cartouche afin de créer le chaos dans la population pour un éventuel retour de Zinochet, soit c’est la politique de la terre brulée.

Ils tentent de s’introduire dans les habitations tout en ravageant les commerces.

Mais les citoyens s’organisent pour défendre leurs biens.

Soyez vigilants tous ensembles,éloigner les enfants, protéger les accès de vos habitations, le tout sans panique!

Everywhere in Tunisia and increasingly in Tunis, henchmen loyal to Ben Ali, organized in armed gangs, are spreading terror among the citizens.

Either this is their last card to create chaos in the population in preparation for a possible return of Zinochet [Zine El Abidin Ben Ali compared to Chilean dictator Pinochet], or it is a scorched earth policy.

They try to break into homes while others are ravaging businesses.

But citizens are organizing to defend their property.

Be vigilant all together, keep children away, protect access to your homes, all without panic!

Blogger Khannouf calls on people to band together and organize [Fr]:

[H]ier au soir dans la ville de Bizerte, des citoyens ont arrêté une camionnette banalisée dans la quelle des policiers armés [responsables] de pillage et terrorisaient les gens. La milice du RCD, les responsables du ministère de l’intérieur sont les seuls qui ont les moyens aujourd’hui de faire ce qui est entrain d’être fait. Il ne faudrait pas que la révolution soit trahi, soyons responsable ! Alors dressons nos listes, placardons des photos dans les rues, organisons en comité de quartier pour protéger non seulement nos vies, nos biens, mais aussi nos dispensaires, nos hôpitaux, nos lycées et tous les autres locaux de notre administration qui renferment encore des archives utiles pour savoir qui a fait quoi. Notre mémoire, toute notre mémoire même les traces des malversations sont dans ces archives et il est logique qu’il y ait qui voudrait les faire disparaitre.

Yesterday evening in the city of Bizerte, citizens stopped a van in which they arrested armed policemen responsible for looting and terrorizing people. RCD [the former President's party] militias, and officials of the Ministry of Interior are the only ones who can afford to do that. We shouldn't allow anyone to betray the revolution. Let's be responsible! So let's prepare our lists, display our posters in the streets, organize in neighborhood committees to protect not only our lives, our possessions, but also our clinics, our hospitals, our schools and all the buildings of our administration which still contain useful archives, that would help us know who did what. This is our memory. Traces of wrongdoing are in the archives and it is logical that some people would want them to disappear.

Blogger and Global Voices contributor, Lina Ben Mhenni, went this morning to Kabbaria in the suburbs of Tunis to investigate the news about an attack perpetrated against the neighborhood. She describes the situation there:

I had to stop in many roadblocks . Indeed, the kabbaria's inhabitants were watching their families, houses and properties as several criminal groups have been attacking different cities in Tunisia after the collapse of Ben Ali's regime. I knew that early in the morning a young man from the Kabbaria was killed by 3 men in an ambulance belonging to Aziza Othmana hospital [...] The inhabitants said that they arrested one of the gangsters who were in the ambulance . They discovered that they belong to the presidential guard. In fact, they found the identity card of one of them.

Blogger Unlucky Luke explains that despite fears, the mood is still high [Fr]:

Aujourd'hui, malgré l'anarchie et le chaos, on respire, on est mieux, je vois des gens sourire dans la rue, malgré le fait que personne n'est content de la tournure, plus de sécurité, pénurie des aliments essentiels, mais ça valait la peine et le Dictateur est parti. Plus de Ben Ali, plus de Trabelsi, plus de corruption ( malgré qu'il reste quelques brebis gâleuses dans les administrations), plus de pression…. Libre, comme l'air qu'on respire, comme l'eau du fleuve qui accoure vers la mer…Libre

Today, despite the anarchy and chaos, we breathe, we are better off, I see People smile in the street. Despite the fact not everybody is happy with the turn of events, with the lack of security, the shortage of essential commodities, a lot think it is worth it. The Dictator is gone. No more Ben Ali, no more Trabelsi [the dominant family of former President's wife], no more corruption (despite the fact there are still some bad apples in government), no more pressure… We are as free as the air we breathe, the water that flows into the river… Free.

Ismail El Hamrouni calls for unity and caution [Ar]:

- كونوا يدا واحدة و لاتخافوا كنا رجال في وقت الشدائد وكذلك سنكمل ماتخافوش ولموا رواحكم لجان شعبيّة تتكون من ابناء وشباب قراكم و مدنكم لنتصدى لكل الخونة و الرعاع .
- لا تصدقوا الإشاعات ولاتساهموا بنشرها وخاصة على الشبكات الاجتماعية لانها وان صدق بعضها فإنها تروع الناس .
- Please be hand in hand and don't be afraid. We were brave in adversity before and we will continue to be so. Form popular committees made up of the youth of your cities and villages to confront all the traitors and mobs.
- Do not believe rumors and do not disseminate them, especially on social networks because, even if they are true, they only terrorize the population.

But things are improving as blogger Kiffe Grave notes:

[N]otre quartier a recommencé à vivre. Des voisins qui ne se connaissaient pas il y a de ça quelques jours, se sont unis pour se protéger mutuellement.

[N]os nuit depuis 3 jours sont les mêmes: ça tirait de quelques endroits bien précis, on entendait des cris au loin, les hélicoptère survolaient les alentours,… mais El Hamdou l’Ellahy tout va bien.

A la peur des premières nuits à rapidement pris le dessus une farouche envie de se battre et de se protéger. Les barrières sont tombé et tout le monde la main dans la main sans aucunes arrières pensées avons pris les choses en main.

Nous avons érigé des barricades aux différents points d’accès de la cité. Des groupes de 20 personnes s’y trouvant armés de pierres, de massues, de haches,… et de gsm car nous sommes tous reliés entre-nous et nous faisons passer l’information. Nous avons posté des sentinelles sur les toits avec des jumelles,… Bref notre cité est hermétique.

Notre but est simple nous défendre et apporter assistances aux forces de l’odre.

Ce soir, retour aux barricades! Fier de notre pays, fier de nous tous.

Life has returned to our neighborhood again. Neighbors, who did not know each other before, have united to protect each other.

Our nights for the last 3 days are the same: gun shots heard in the distance, you could hear screams in the distance as well, the sound of the helicopter flying around, but … El Hamdou Ellahy [praise be to God] all is well.

The fear of the first nights is quickly being taken over by a fierce desire to fight and protect ourselves. The psychological barriers between people are now gone and everyone works hand in hand with his neighbor to take matters into their own hands.

We have erected barricades at various entry points of the city. Groups of 20 persons are posted, armed with stones, clubs, axes, and … GSM. Yes, because we are all connected to each other and we pass the information along to each other. We posted sentries on the rooftops with binoculars … Our city is sealed.

Our goal is simply to defend ourselves and bring assistance to the troops.

Tonight we return to the barricades! Proud of our country, proud of us all.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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