Paris-based Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi* interviewed on the Tunisian intifada:
What news have you had from Tunisia over the last few days? Between 20 and 40 deaths following the most recent actions by the police. Demonstrations have broken out across the country, especially in the universities and schools, so lessons have been suspended until further notice, and Facebook is being partially censored. They have also fired the head of the army.
How did this clash between the government and the people begin? The suicide of Mohamed Bou'azizi in Sidi Bouzid sparked everything. On 17 December, he set himself on fire out of pure despair. He was a young, unemployed graduate who sold vegetables on the street just to make ends meet, but the authorities confiscated them because he didn't have a permit. He didn't know where to turn. His was not the only case of self-immolation, several others did the same thing. One person electrocuted himself, another threw himself off a bridge. Since then, the people of the centre-west and south have risen up because those are the most economically neglected regions.
What do the people want? They're demanding the right to work, freedom of expression, and free elections. We want to move on to something new, to breath the fresh air of hope, to freely express ourselves. This is not just demagoguery. People are now saying, 'The morphine we've been injected with for the last 23** years is no longer enough to dull our pain'.
You were in Tunisia over the New Year, did you feel something was about to happen? Things were happening when I was there doing concerts, but we didn't really understand what was going on. We didn't think it was going to get this bad. I don't think anyone could have known. We were all taken by surprise.
From the outside, it seems to be a movement of young people. Is that the case? Yes, it's only logical because 48% of the population is under 35. But it's not only young people. Older people, men and women are also on the streets, expressing their anger.
The demonstrators have the support of the public? The movement is widespread, all over Tunisia, from the coast to the inland regions. Everyone is together in this. The solidarity took a long time coming, but I'm happy about this.
Is any opposition power structure emerging? There are a few opposition parties who've never really been able to do much because of the situation. Now, I think they've been overtaken by events. We hope that they'll take a position soon and present it to the people. We're counting on them.
Can an Islamist movement take advantage of the situation? I think that's always been the lie and the excuse that the government has used, with the support of the West. Tunisia is capable of changing from within without an Islamist movement taking advantage of the situation. We've had the proof since December 17. Long live a free and secular Tunisia!
How far do you think all of this could go? It can go a long way, and I hope it does! 'Akahaw/yezzi' (That's enough) as we say. It's time for Tunisia to change, and change radically. We need to move forward into a new era. We need transparent leaders who care about the people and can allow Tunisia to to regain its spirit and its freedom. (Tunisia. Emel Mathlouthi: 'The morphine we've been injected with for 23 years is no longer enough to dull our pain', mondomix.com, 12/1/11)
[* Emel/ Amel who? Check her out on YouTube (I recommend Amel Mathlouthi live a Bastille) and be blown away as I was; ** 1987, when the current dictator Ben Ali took over in a bloodless coup]