Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tunisians Relishing New Freedoms

Artist whose song became the anthem for the uprising describes how people’s fear of expressing themselves has vanished.
By Kesang Marstrand
  • Kesang Marstrand.(Photo:Samy Snoussi)
    Kesang Marstrand.(Photo:Samy Snoussi)

United States-born folk singer Kesang Marstrand moved to Tunisia in December 2009 and at the height of the uprising released an interpretation of the national anthem which became an overnight hit, adopted as the song of the revolution.

“I had time to see Tunisia under dictatorship and it was something that made an impression on me. When I first moved here, I would ask people, ‘What do you think about politics, what do you think about the president, do you think he’s ever going to go away?’

I would also ask about the elections and people would tell me there were other candidates – but Ben Ali would still win with 98 per cent.

All that was so fascinating for me. I would ask, why don’t people do something? Why aren’t there people on the streets protesting?

‘Because no one wants to ruin their lives,’ I was told. ‘If they do stand up, they think: number one, it’s not going to change anything and, number two, the only thing that is going to change is that their lives will be more miserable.”

I would think, wow this is crazy. What a beautiful, happy country and yet there is this dark side. It’s so strange - a place where tourists come to have fun and lie on the beach and among all that there is a dictatorship.

When I first got here I would go out with friends to tour different neighbourhoods. They would point out the ministry of the interior and the old town and so on. And they would also tell me stories, like people get tortured there, underground.

I realised what an awful situation it was; people couldn’t do anything because they were afraid. But what happened was that everybody did stand up.

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