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Latest update : 2011-01-28

Tunisia after Ben Ali

After 23 years under Ben Ali’s rule, Tunisians begin to grapple with freedoms never dreamed of. Our reporters bring you the first few days of the new Tunisia.

So what does a country look like the day after it has changed the course of its history? As I step out of our hotel in the centre of Tunis, I’m eager to find out. Today is January 15th, 2011. Yesterday, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country in disgrace after ruling it with an iron fist for 23 years.

I’m expecting to see and hear thousands of people in the streets chanting their joy: car horns, families with young children, the main avenue swamped by an ecstatic crowd. But…nothing. There’s no collective sigh of relief.

Things seem eerily normal. Some shops have re-opened, some zealous employees are on their way to work.

Our priority this morning is to get reactions from ordinary Tunisians. Every newsroom in the world is waiting to broadcast the sights and sounds of the new Tunisia.

So we turn on the camera and the microphone and start asking questions at random. That’s when we realise there has, after all, been a huge change overnight: people are willing to answer our questions. A few days ago, it was almost impossible to get a reaction on camera to political developments in the country. Tunisians were afraid to talk. Afraid that a plainclothes police officer would arrest you for criticising the regime in front of foreigners. This morning, the plain clothes officers are still around, we can see them on the street corner…but people don’t seem to care. They tell us they’ve won a battle but not the war. Ben Ali is gone, but the political system he put in place is still here, they say.

In the following days, we do our best to cover all the declarations, protests, changes taking place in the country. An entire population is waking up to new-found freedoms.

Every day brings more and more anti-government protesters to the streets. They are demanding the end of the RCD, Ben Ali’s party, the backbone of Tunisia’s political system. In offices, banks, and government buildings, Tunisians of all ages and backgrounds begin to rise up against leaders appointed by the former president.

Everywhere, people must come to terms with the new Tunisia. Those who fought for change are ecstatic. Those who did nothing to bring down the regime have mixed feelings. We meet journalists ashamed of having printed government propaganda for so long. We talk to parents who feel guilty they let the young generation take on the regime all on its own.

"Tunisia after Ben Ali" sums up what we saw, heard and felt during the week that followed the fall of the president. A week that will remain etched in Tunisia’s history.

By Cyril VANIER , Jérôme BONNARD , Noreddine BEZZIOU , Tatiana MASSAAD , Virginie HERZ

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