Akher Kalam

At the Crossroads: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya

I went to Tunisia in early November 2010 to deliver my baby girl, Mona. I was planning on spending my maternity leave there with my family. Little did I know that my baby girl and I would witness a revolution firsthand.

When the revolution started in Tunisia, I had mixed feelings. I was happy and proud on the one hand, and very scared on the other. When riots began after Bouazizi burned himself, we were all sad, but we had no idea that it would flare up this way. For the past two decades in Tunisia, people complained behind closed doors and in hushed voices; they were scared to express themselves. My family actually fell victim to this regime. One of my close relatives was harassed because she expressed political views opposing the regime. As a result, she was bullied and threatened, her car stolen, daughter slandered and husband imprisoned. They instilled such fear in her that they silenced her, and this was their way with everyone who attempted to speak out. With the revolution, I felt great pride throughout. I felt that what my grandfather (God bless his soul) fought for was retrieved. My grandfather was part of the Bourguiba regime, and he fought for Tunisia's independence against colonialism from France. I felt that Bouazizi and others did not die in vain. With this revolution, hope was restored.

However, there were many frightening moments, particularly when we heard gunshots outside. It was also scary reading on Facebook the status of my friends from all around Tunisia who would reported on drive-by shootings, lootings and attacks on homes. I kept wondering if this would ever happen to us. When the army took over the streets and helicopters started circulating, this helped alleviate the fear, but it was a constant reminder of what was going on outside, and it made me feel we were in a state of war.

I was really impressed with Tunisian people in the aftermath of Ben Ali, when things got violent and citizens took it upon themselves to defend their houses and neighborhoods. In our residence, young men took shifts guarding homes. They patrolled the entire night. This was the case all over Tunisia. The coming together of communities was astonishing.

When the revolution happened in Egypt, it was like living the whole thing all over again. I was very scared for Egypt, the same fear I had for Tunisia, though for Egypt, I was worried it would turn into a huge bloodbath just by the sheer number of people. I am proud of both countries. I think their perseverance was what made both revolutions successful, and it is this perseverance that will provide a better future for the Arab world.

I am half-Libyan, and with the situation in Libya, I am heartbroken. Really heartbroken. No words can express how I feel to see the country going down in flames after it was finally starting to breathe again. My heart goes out to my family and friends in Libya. I cannot imagine the fear they are living in because I don't believe that the situation in Tunisia or Egypt was the same. With Libya, it is worse and much more violent.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I don't think this coming period for Tunisia, Egypt or Libya is going to be easy, but I also think we are paving the road for a better future. I envision a free Tunisia where the government is not corrupt, where people have the freedom to express themselves, where everyone has the opportunity to build their country and where people are encouraged to succeed. I dream of a Tunisia where the government is there to support the people, not to repress them and drive them to a state of mediocrity. I dream of a regime that is accountable and has the best interests of the country at heart. I have the same dream for the entire Arab world.

Ghalia Gargani '99, '03 is a research associate and project manager at the Dubai School of Government's Gender and Public Policy Program.

Akher Kalam is an open forum for members of the AUC community. We invite you to share your thoughts on any topic of your choice. Submissions should be sent to dtiger@aucegypt.edu and may be edited for length and clarity.