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using Mumble [which is open-source, uses digital certificate authen-
tication, and is regarded by Takriz as more secure than Skype]. We
had minutes so people who couldn’t make the meetings knew what
was going on. We gathered information, bypassed censorship, chan-
neled it on Facebook, scanned articles in the foreign media. We were
in touch with the labor unions. We worked with everybody, we filled
protests with people.” Takriz also helped on the ground “with Molo-
tovs and stuff,” says Foetus. When the group put an instructional
video for making a Molotov cocktail online, many thought it had
crossed a line; but Foetus, though he does see a role for peaceful
marches (not least to counter claims that protests were simply the
work of “violent elements”), remains unconvinced that nonviolent
methods alone would have expelled Ben Ali.
At a protest in Sidi Bouzid on December 22, Houcine Falhi
shouted “No to misery, no to unemployment!” before fatally electro-
cuting himself. Two days later, a protester was shot and killed in a
small town between Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid. As the troubles spread,
the regime attempted to steal all the Facebook passwords in the
country. On December 27, thousands rallied in Tunis. The next day
Ben Ali sacked the governors of Sidi Bouzid and two other prov-
inces, as well as the ministers of trade and handicrafts, communi-
cation, and religious affairs. He also visited Mohamed Bouazizi in
a burn unit, in an attempt to display compassion. Addressing the
nation, Ben Ali threatened to punish the protesters.
On December 30, a protester shot by police six days earlier died.
Lawyers gathered around the country to protest the government
and were attacked and beaten. On January 2, the hacking group
Anonymous began targeting government websites with distrib-
uted denial-of-service attacks in what it called Operation Tunisia.
As the academic year started, student protests flared. A flash mob
gathered on the tracks of a Tunis metro and stood, covering their
mouths, eloquently silent. On January 4, Bouazizi died of his burns.
The next day, 5,000 people attended his funeral.
January 6 brought the regime’s response to the Anonymous
attacks: several activists were arrested. Seven cars of police in bala-
clavas arrested the prominent student activist and former body-
building champion Sleh Dine Kchouk, a member of the Tunisian
Pirate Party, which is part of an international movement that seeks
to reform copyright and patent law. Another target was rapper
Hamada Ben Amor, known as El Général, whose song “Head of
State” (sample lyric: “Mr. President, your people are dying”) had
been released online a week earlier.
Cyber-activist Slim Amamou was also arrested, and he used
the location-based social network Foursquare to reveal that he
was being held in the Ministry of the Interior. Both Kchouk and
Amamou were interrogated about Takriz. The next day, 95 percent
of Tunisia’s lawyers went on strike. The day after, the teachers
joined in. The following day, the massacres began.
TUrninG proTesTs inTo revolUTions
Over five grisly days starting on January 8, dozens of people were
killed in protests, mostly in towns like Kasserine and Thala in
the poor interior. There were credible reports of snipers at work.
These deaths would turn the protests into outright revolution.
One graphic and deeply distressing video was highly influential:
it shows Kasserine’s hospital in chaos, desperate attempts to treat
the injured, and a horrifying image of a dead young man with his
brains spilling out.
“It was really critical,” says Foetus. “That video made the second
half of the revolution.” Posted and reposted hundreds of times
on YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere, it set off a wave of revul-
sion across North Africa and the Middle East. Like thousands of
Tunisians, Rim Nour, a business consultant, was “online almost
24 hours a day,” spending a lot of time identifying government
stooges on Facebook groups. She remembers the video vividly: “A
friend put it up and wrote something like ‘You don’t want to see
this, it’s horrible, but you must. You have a moral obligation to
look at what is happening in your country.’”
“A medical-school student took it,” says Foetus. “ The doctors said
‘Don’t film,’ and he said ‘Fuck off ’ and filmed it. The regime had cut
Internet service to Sidi Bouzid, so according to a Tak who asked to
remain anonymous, Takriz smuggled a CD of the video over the
Algerian border and streamed it via MegaUpload. Foetus saw the
video and found it enraging. Takriz then forwarded it to Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera reaches a global audience, and populations Facebook
cannot: the poor, the less educated, the older. The network’s Tuni-
sian correspondent Lotfi Hajji recalls broadcasting live from his
house “while the police were in front blocking me from going out
to cover events.” To him, Al Jazeera gained a competitive advan-
tage by being “flexible,” especially when using “fertile sources of
content” like Facebook and other social media.
What the streets lacked in strategy and organization, they made
up for in bravery. When someone was killed in a neighborhood,
others “would turn and go ‘what shall we do?’” Foetus says. “It’s
“We gathered information, bypassed censorship, channeled it
on Facebook,” Foetus says. As the troubles spread, the regime
attempted to steal all the Facebook passwords in the country.
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