Tunisian Community Rejoices

President Ben Ali’s Resignation a Welcome Change

Photo David Collin Anderson

Montreal’s Tunisian community finally had a reason to celebrate on Saturday, as over 1,000 people marched to the Tunisian embassy to support the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

After 23 years in power, Ben Ali was forced to resign from office and flee Tunisia following a month of rioting that brought the country to a standstill.

Carrying signs reading “USA: yes we can, Tunisia: yes we do” and “Tunisia is free at last,” the peaceful crowd grew larger as it wound its way through downtown.

Montreal has Canada’s largest concentration of Tunisians, at around 8,000.

“We’re happy he’s out but we have to keep fighting,” said Sarra Braham, who came to celebrate.

This was a point reiterated by many in the crowd; celebrate, but remain cautious because there’s a long road ahead towards a democratic future.

“We’re proud of our country,” said Emma Braham, Sarra’s sister. “We want to be an example to the world.”

Nationwide demonstrations started on Dec. 18 after a 26-year-old unemployed produce vendor lit himself on fire in protest after having his fruit stand confiscated by police for not having a permit. The man, Mohammed Bouazizi, died three weeks later from third-degree burns.

Tunisians then took to the streets to protest the country’s high inflation rates, the rising cost of living and government corruption.

According to the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, about 66 people died in the ensuing riots, which saw police open fire on protesters, public acts of suicide and mass arrests.

During this turbulent period, journalists, bloggers, alleged hackers and artists were swept up by security forces and jailed. However, many of Ben Ali’s critics claimed that his dictatorial rule went largely unreported by North American media because of the former president’s pro-trade relationship with Western nations.

“Rights have been violated for many decades, including freedom of expression and the torture and murder of prisoners,” said Beatrice Vaugrante, executive director of Amnesty International Canada Francophone.

She called for all political prisoners to be released and for an immediate ceasefire.

It appears as though one of her demands will be met sooner rather than later, since Mohamed Ghannouchi, Tunisia’s interim prime minister, announced yesterday that political prisoners will be freed in an effort to help quell the violence still plaguing the state.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 19, published January 18, 2011.