By Oakland Ross – Toronto Star – March 6, 2011
TUNIS — The fate of Libyan strongman Mouammar Kaddafi hangs in a perilous balance between two conflicting armies, and no one can say with confidence what the future will bring.
Except Hichem Kayatia. The 34-year-old perfume vendor knows a bit about revolution in the Arab world.
After all, he and the rest of Tunisia’s 10 million people pretty much invented the idea — at least in its modern version — when they overthrew their long-time ruler Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011 in what many now call the Jasmine Revolution. Ben Ali’s ouster after 23 years in power sparked a succession of similar outbreaks of popular unrest across North Africa and the Middle East. The movement has already toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who departed Cairo in disgrace on Feb. 11 after 30 years as president.
But it all started in Tunisia, where Kayatia witnessed the firsthand from his brightly lit stall near the Casbah, the broad plaza where tens of thousands of Tunisians gathered daily in January, demanding that Ben Ali step down.
The revolution in neighbouring Libya is following a different and far more violent course, but Kayatia has no doubt where it will end. “Kaddafi will leave,” declared the confident businessman, surrounded by a cornucopia of scented soaps and countless bottles of exotic oils and extracts. “He will take his time, but he will leave.”
His conviction that Kaddafi will fall was the near-unanimous verdict of people interviewed recently in or near the Tunisian capital’s airy central plaza which became famous as the Jasmine Revolution’s launch-pad.
“We are the first to have lived this great revolution,” agreed Buthiela Yazdi, 25, relaxing with her boyfriend beneath the ornamental trees facing the prime minister’s office.
In addition to their belief that Libyan tyrant Kaddafi’s days are numbered, Tunisians also share a deep-seated pride in having set a precedent for their counterparts in other Arab states.
“In the first place, I’m proud of Tunisians,” said Ramzi Benari, 36, an unemployed anthropologist, while smoking a shisha, or water pipe in a downtown café. “I’m in agreement with changing all the Arab dictators.”
High unemployment and poor job prospects were key issues fuelling the popular outrage that welled up here in January, following the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze after police seized his wares. Bouazizi’s shocking fate seemed to focus the anger felt by vast numbers of Tunisians. Now similar feelings have swept across an entire region, with people suddenly standing up to their heavy-handed rulers, mainly because Tunisians proved it could be done.
Setting of such a bold precedent was a huge accomplishment for a small country with just one-eighth the population of Egypt. “We represent just a city in Egypt,” said Mastouri’s mother, Monica Benjeddou.
And at least some Tunisians are taking practical steps to hasten the overthrow of their undesirable Libyan neighbor. Their numbers include Hafdeh Messalui, who was among dozens of volunteers filling two shipping containers with supplies intended for opposition forces in Libya.
From a pair of tents set up in front of a Tunisian bank, right beside the Libyan embassy, workers loaded bottled water, disinfectant, powdered milk, pasta, sugar, salt, cooking oil, and children’s food into the waiting containers. They’ll be taken aboard a vessel bound for Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the unofficial capital of the anti-Kaddafi rebels.
“God willing, I’m 100 per cent sure Kaddafi will fall,” said Messalui, “just like every dictator in the entire world.”
(Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/949665–tunisians-take-pride-in-lighting-the-fuse This article was abridged and edited for the CIC Friday Magazine.)
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