Main photo: Mansour Ayari, whose son was killed during the 2011 uprising, demonstrates outside parliament on Wednesday November 13, 2019, holding up a sign for new legislators reading “We wish all members [of parliament] success and to truly be representatives of the people and not of [special] interests” Photo by George Gale.
Demonstrations Outside Parliament as New Legislators Take Oaths
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Tunis – Maisie Odone & Hanen Zrig
As Tunisia’s new parliament took their oaths Wednesday morning following legislative elections last month, two groups of demonstrators stood outside the parliament building in the Bardo neighborhood in Tunis.
One of those groups was a small group of family members of those killed or injured during the 2011 uprising.
“We demand the government have a commission…for those who were killed,” Mansour Ayari, one of those protesting, told Meshkal.
In January 2011, during the days of the nationwide uprising that eventually forced former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of power and into exile, Mansour Ayari’s son, Thabet Bennaceur Ayari, was out protesting near their home in Tunis. Ayari said his son, who was a third year university student, was fatally shot by snipers “hiding on a rooftop nearby.”
Almost 9 years later, Ayari said he has received no information about who killed his son, or any apology, or recognition.
“We look for the military, the police, we don’t know who killed them. We’ve never known,” Ayari told Meshkal.
Ayari held up a placard with a message for the incoming members of parliament, who were taking their oaths. The placard read: “We wish all members [of parliament] success and to truly be representatives of the people and not of [special] interests.”
Ayari’s fellow demonstrator, who put tape on his mouth as part of his protest, communicated with Meshkal by writing on the back of a placard he was holding up.
“300 protesters were killed during the revolution. It is for these people we are demonstrating,” the demonstrator wrote on the placard that he showed to Meshkal.
While an independent state commission led by Taoufik Bouderbala had investigated those killed during the revolution, the group protesting the parliament called for a special parliamentary inquiry focused only on those killed and injured during the 2011 uprising.
“The martyrs and the wounded of the revolution portfolio is a national priority,” read one placard while another called on the new assembly to “open the session with a minute of silence for the souls of the martyrs of the revolution.” The parliament did not appear to observe a minute silence during the opening ceremony on Wednesday.
Another group drawing attention to another set of victims also demonstrated in front of the assembly on Wednesday during parliament’s opening session. A few meters away from the demonstration for those killed and injured during the revolution, a protest group organized by the women’s organization Aswat Nissa [“Voices of Women”], blew whistles and chanted. The group of around 50 gathered around the hashtag movement #EnaZeda, or #MeToo in Tunisian dialect.
The #EnaZeda movement has seen victims of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment recount their personal stories, often anonymously and online in a Facebook group of the same name that has about 21 thousand members as of November 13, 2019. The movement was launched in early October 2019 after Zouheir Makhlouf, a recently elected member of parliament for the Qalb Tounes party, was apparently photographed with his pants down and cream on his hands by a woman who alleged he had been following her in his car.
The #EnaZeda protesters in front of parliament on Wednesday specifically called out Zouheir Makhlouf in their chants. Once Makhlouf is sworn into parliament, he may will benefit from parliamentary impunity. Some fear this would mean he will not face criminal charges for the accusations that he faces during his time in office.
Makhlouf entering parliament as an MP “doesn’t give any positive message to victims who want to claim their rights back,” Nawrez Ellafi, who is helping organize the #EnaZeda campaign with Aswat Nissa, told Meshkal.
Protesters adapted the lyrics of a popular Tunisian song, singing about “an MP who is a sexual harasser.”
“He’s not been convicted yet, and once he takes the oath as a legislator in the parliament, he becomes immune to certain legal procedures, so he can get away with it. So we are here against sexual harassment and impunity,” Yosra, one demonstrator told Meshkal.
The “numbers were not as big as we wanted it to be,” Ellafi, said of Wednesday’s protest. “But we were heard.”