A twenty-two year old, well-educated Tunisian who hadn’t found a job since graduating from school, having lost all patience with the indifference, the humiliation, the injustice and the poverty that surrounded him, decided to set himself alight in front of the local government offices in the provincial Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. He died as a result of his injuries, in December 2010, and thousands of people attended his funeral.
The whole of Tunisia was shaken by his act of martyrdom and within twenty-four hours, the name of Mohamed Tarak Bouazizi became a rallying cry for millions of young Tunisians, who were ready to die, carried on a wave of uncontrollable emotion and unshakeable desire to topple an obscure and mafia-style regime.
Without prior thought or preparation, they gathered in all the streets and squares of all the towns in Tunisia – tens of thousands of young women and young men chanting in a movement of collective hysteria the now famous word “Dégage!” (OUT!), addressed to President Ben Ali and denouncing all the brutality and arrogance and total state control that his regime symbolised.
Thousands of defenceless young people, completely unused to physical conflict and with no other weapons than their courage and their anger, streamed into Tunis and its suburbs. The regime, unnerved by these young people’s boldness instructed the special police to fire on the crowd to terrorise them. Each wounded person, each dead demonstrator, was further evidence of the brutality, the mediocrity, the indifference and, as it turned out, the weakness of Ben Ali’s government. They had to be got rid of and, from then on, there was no stopping the brave crowds who were prepared to pay the ultimate price.
The photographers were quick to realise the essential role that they could play in this revolution; their cameras became a redoubtable weapon; their unbearably graphic photos of the brutality of Ben Ali’s special brigades began to travel the world on all the social networks and were quickly picked up by foreign TV channels. The army, mobilised by the President, refused to fire on the crowds.
In less than three weeks, Ben Ali fled the country, chased from his throne by the exceptional courage of Tunisian youth and by Facebook.
This selection of photos shows the most intense moments of the Tunisian revolution – the first in an Arab country and the one that, having triggered similar movements in neighbouring countries, set in train a mighty upheaval in the political and societal landscape of the Middle-Eastern nations.
Leila Souissi, Curator of the Exhibition