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Lost generation of Tunisia

They grew up being told to bottle up their frustrations, not to discuss politics and to accept a life without basic freedoms. They grew up fearing the secret police.

world Updated: Jan 22, 2011 00:32 IST

They grew up being told to bottle up their frustrations, not to discuss politics and to accept a life without basic freedoms. They grew up fearing the secret police. To find a good job meant having to know a relative of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the autocrat who ruled this North African nation with an iron fist for 23 years.

"We were not living. We were like his puppets," said Asma Nairi, 22, a law student. "If we spoke the truth, we would be punished."

Tunisia's revolution was fueled by tens of thousands of young people, most in their teens and early 20s, who ultimately overthrew their leader. Few analysts or diplomats predicted such an upheaval would take place here, a prosperous Arab nation that lacks an organised opposition.

But in an information age, shaped by Facebook and Twitter, Tunisia’s youth were also exposed to the openness of the West. Their resentment poured out on the Internet, building up until it exploded in cities across Tunisia.

"We grew up hating the government," said Karim Ali, 25, a computer engineer who joined the mass demonstrations last week. "Our government made us into a lost generation."

For many young Tunisians, the turning point was the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, an unemployed university graduate who set himself on fire December 17 in the city of Sidi Bouzid to protest his bleak job prospects.

"All of us know how he felt," said Mehnez, also 26, seated in a cafe in Intilaka, a poor neighbourhood in Tunis. "For us, we call this the Revolution of Mohamed Bouazizi, not the Jasmine Revolution."

As word spread of Bouazizi's self-immolation, so did the riots. On the street next to the cafe are charred buildings and boarded-up shop fronts.

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