First Published: 2011-01-21


Tunisia's revolutionaries keep guard in the night


Tunisian vigilantes patrol streets at night to defend their neighbourhoods and new-found freedoms.


Middle East Online

By Thibauld Malterre - TUNIS

'We're here to protect the country'

Fears of a return to the past are still high in Tunisia a week after the end of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's rule and vigilantes patrol the streets at night to defend their new-found freedoms.

"We're not just here to defend our neighbourhood. We're protecting Tunisia," said Mongi, a community leader in the Bardo neighbourhood in the west of the capital Tunis who has been nicknamed "The General" by residents.

Mongi patrolled an improvised barricade during night-time curfew hours in the neighbourhood along with around a dozen other local men -- one of many such vigilante checkpoints that have sprung up around the North African state.

"We have to defend the liberties that we have conquered," Mongi said.

There have been multiple reports in recent days of shoot-outs between security forces and Ben Ali loyalists including fierce gun battles on Sunday in Tunis and near the presidential palace near Carthage.

Many vigilantes also take part in the daily protests in the centre of Tunis calling for all figures of the old regime to be banished from the government and for the abolition of the ex-ruling party, the RCD.

"We've been here since the first day of the curfew last week," said 20-year-old Mohammed Amine as he stood next to a small fire lit by the vigilantes to warm themselves during the cold January night.

"There's no leader here. We just divide ourselves up in groups for each street. We use a whistle if there are problems and everyone comes," Amine said.

The night passed off without incident but there have been reports of tense scenes at some of these improvised checkpoints.

While normal business life has gradually resumed in Tunisia, a state of emergency remains in place and schools and universities are still shut.

The week-long curfew has also continued, even though it now operates only between 8:00 pm and 5:00 am and streets are mostly deserted at night.

"We don't let anyone through except for the people who live here. We don't even let police officers through," said one vigilante, standing behind the improvised barricade made up of logs and corrugated iron.

"The police always had a heavy hand under the Ben Ali regime. We don't trust them. The regime is finished but with our mobilisation we want to ensure that there is no return to the past," said Moncef, a 50-year-old civil servant.

"Now it's the people who decide," he said.

A police car drove past at regular intervals in the neighbourhood, not far from the country's parliament.

"This is a new thing. In each police car now there are two police officers and a soldier. We're happy to see soldiers with them. We have 1,000 percent confidence in the military!" said Amine.

Mongi added: "We're not here to do politics. We're here to protect the country. I swore an oath to defend Tunisia when I did my military service. That's why I'm here tonight."


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