This book contains first person accounts by activists and authors from eight different countries in the year of the Arab Spring. From Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the voices of four women and four men tell us things we never heard from the international media.
Tripoli-born London resident Mohamed Mesrati describes his childhood in Gaddafi’s Libya. ‘On my first day my teacher slapped me because I couldn’t memorize a small verse of the Quran. I remember her telling me, “You are a donkey!” and to this day, whenever anyone uses that word I am reminded of my introduction to the world of learning.’ Egyptian Yasmine El Rashidi says, ‘I watched people fall to the ground, gasping their last breaths. I fell to the ground myself, choking on tear gas. We dodged bullets and ran from armed men.’ Algerian human rights activist Ghania Muffouk speaks of people who resort to self-immolation or ocean-crossing to escape their misery. ‘When Mohammed Bouazizi set fire to his body it was the drop that made the cup run over,’ says Tunisian student leader Malek Sghiri, recounting the event that triggered the Arab Spring. He avers that self-immolation was a common occurrence in Tunisia as well. Sghiri was imprisoned and tortured by the Ben Ali regime at the height of the Jasmine Revolution, just days before the dictator fled the country. When an interrogator told him he had interrogated his father in the same building in 1991, the young man replied, ‘I hope God grants you a long life that you might get to interrogate my son as well.’
‘Words were my weapons’, writes Jamal Jubran from Yemen where the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh stifled all sections of society. Son of an Eritrean mother and a Yemeni father, Jubran describes painful childhood experiences of racism and discrimination, and recollects how an Indian film inspired him when the hero demolished a multitude of villains with one masterstroke. Growing up to become a teacher and writer, he passionately clamoured for change. He was hit by a truck attempting to bump him off, but survived with cuts and bruises. He does not mince words when he refers to Saleh’s poor language skills. ‘As I listened to him speak, I would ask myself in amazement how an idiot like this could end up ruling a country as large as Yemen.’
Kwala Duniya says Syria reached the breaking point when a group of schoolchildren in Deraa were arrested and tortured for scribbling on the walls of the school the popular slogan of the Arab Spring: “The people demand the fall of the regime.” Safa al Alhmadi, a Saudi woman, writes, ‘The entire Arab world was engaged in a collective uprising for its freedom and dignity, and my countrymen and women were begging for scraps.’ She continues, ‘What do we want? Women to drive. What do we get? Prison sentences and lashes, followed by patriarchal pardons.’ Summing up the citizen’s dilemma she says, ‘Even though no one wanted the status quo, few wanted to pay the price for revolt.’
Bahrain born Ali Aldairy, now living in exile, recounts how he had tweeted from the scene of disaster, ‘Here at Salmaniya Hospital, the medical teams are confused, the protestors are confused, and the wounded are left waiting. Only the martyrs are confused no longer. They are perfectly at peace.’ Remembering a phone call from the father of a young martyr, he writes, ‘He was thanking me for setting down his son’s obituary in ink; I wanted to thank him for giving us a son who wrote the future of this country with his blood, but I could not summon even these words…’
Piecing together the first person accounts in this book, the reader experiences horror and hope, mingled with disgust and admiration, joy and pathos. The Arab Spring is obviously a work in progress. Long live the revolution!
Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution: Voices from Tunis to Damascus
Editors: Layla Al-Zubaidi, Matthew Cassel
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: December 2013
Reviewer: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.