On Feb. 6 in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, secular leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated, seriously complicating the political climate in the nation. Tunisian students across the world, including Mahmoud Ghedira ’16, have been employing various forms of social media to spread awareness about the significant changes taking place in their home country.
Ghedira described his inspiration for spreading hope in Tunisia. His idea to reach out to compatriots through social media began with a conversation with his cousin, a student at Bryn Mawr.
“We were talking over the phone and we were frustrated,” Ghedira said. “Here, 6,000 miles away, we can’t do anything about what’s happened. We have no power.... Back in the revolution and the protests, we were there in the streets protesting. We felt like we did something, so now we’re frustrated because we can’t do anything.”
Belaid was leader of the opposition group of the government, and according to The New York Times, his death was seen as a catastrophe to the already turbulent Tunisian government. Many supporters of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring continue to promote a peaceful transition to a democratic government even after Belaid’s assassination and still aim to provide a model for other countries that are struggling to attain peace in the wake of revolution, such as Libya and Egypt.
Ghedira and his cousin created a Facebook group, Tunisian Students in America, which invites fellow Tunisian students studying in the States to support each other and discuss the uprising.
“Tunisian Students in America aims to connect young Tunisians who are attending their undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate studies in the United States of America, give them a voice and a platform to express themselves freely and react proactively to the ongoing events in Tunisia,” the mission statement reads.
Ghedira and fellow Tunisian students studying abroad in the U.S. created a YouTube video on Feb. 7 in order to send support to fellow Tunisians back home, since they could not be a part of the protests that were occurring after the funeral in Tunisia.
“Even though we are far away, even though we are not here with you, even though we are not protesting with you, we’re supporting you and we’re going to get through this without violence,” Ghedira said. “The whole motto was ‘yes’ to freedom, ‘no’ to violence.”
The dialogue of the video is in Tunisian and Arabic but is in the process of being translated into English. Ghedira translated his portion for The Argus.
“Hello. I am a Tunisian student in the U.S. and I wanted to tell the Tunisian people that even though we are not with you right now, we are supporting you,” Ghedira wrote. “We need to overcome this difficult period with no violence. Long live Tunisia!”
Ghedira said that the video has had a huge impact in Tunisia; it had reached 11,000 views by the morning of Feb. 8, just one day after being posted.
“So it got viewed to people [who were] saying ‘Thank you, we know, that really means a lot to us,’” Ghedira said. “‘Even though we’re not together right now, in the same country, we’re all the same people.’”
After creating the YouTube video, Ghedira and his fellow Tunisian friends took pictures of fellow international students across the United States holding signs stating where they were from and that they supported the Tunisian revolution.
“Those pictures also got so many likes on Facebook,” Ghedira said. “Everyone is sharing them. That really, in my opinion, really helped the people there [to] know and to see that they are not alone and the whole world is a part of their fight—their fight for democracy.”
Ghedira commented on the lack of knowledge among students at the University about the uprising in Tunisia.
“The first day I got here during international orientation, people were like, ‘Where are you from,’ and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m from Tunisia,’ and people were like, ‘Tanzania? Indonesia?’” Ghedira said. “And somebody asked me if it was in Italy. It’s true that people don’t know a lot about [the uprising]; even though they know about the Arab Spring, they don’t know that it first happened in Tunisia.”
However, students like Ghedira studying in the United States, are working to spread awareness of the country and its evolving political situation. Ghedira and his Tunisian friends have been sharing information across their respective campuses, and Ghedira plans on being a part of a larger movement at the University.
“My friend, who is in WesAmnesty, [said] they wanted to make this more expanded on campus,” Ghedira said. “[They want] to do sort of a lecture or something that would talk about what’s happened and what’s happening right now. She’s been asking me to talk about it.”
Ghedira also mentioned that students might create a newspaper that focuses on the current events in the Middle East.