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As the weaponless people who made the Tunisian revolution organise to fill the dangerous gap between the fall of the dictatorship and the election on July 24th, Amanda Sebestyen joins a delegation of the World Social Forum to witness the changes.

We stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. High on a hill was a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: ‘Welcome to Regueb, the land of free people'. Our busload of activists from the World Social Forum had reached the heartlands of Tunisia's democratic revolution. Around the next corner we came to Regueb itself, a town of only 8,000 people and the most fully mobilised, creative political space I have ever experienced.

Its tiny hall was filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. You could imagine chartists and jacobins speaking like this, as the speakers launched poetic internationalist visions under the linked-hands red-crescent logo of the UGTT, the General Union of Tunisian Workers which had brought us here. Two young women and three young men were killed by police bullets in these streets.

‘The tragic force of this uprising belongs to all humanity. That's why we gave our kids. Your visit shows that the revolution continues, it isn't just for Regueb and it doesn't stop there. In this little hall you see pictures of martyrs of 1952, people from here who died in the anti-colonial struggle; then you see our hand-painted Palestinian banner. This small hall is part of our daily life, home for our activists whether from Palestine or Regueb.’

The syndicalistes spoke beneath portraits of past labour heroes, while over the ceiling and walls were dotted far more recent images, CGI-inspired by the Palestinian intifada and increasingly the Tunisians' own. When young people left the meeting it was only to go outside and sing 'songs of the revolution'. We came out to find them under a magnificent photocollage of their lost friends, joined by Senegalese guest Cheikh Tidiane Dieye to perform a scurrilous number about the kleptocrats of the old regime.

As we walked out through Regueb an elderly woman in traditional dress came up to me, embraced me personally and asked me to stay. She was speaking Arabic but we understood each other. So she saw that now – with a jolt – we all had to get on the bus again. It is my final memory of the unique political space in Regueb, 'the land of free people' where every single person seems to be finding a new voice.

It came as no surprise to hear that one week later, Regueb's citizens came together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous gap between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and contested new elections in July. Nor to see pictures on YouTube of Regueb women from all ages and backgrounds filling their streets at the start of the Arab Spring, under banners spelling 'Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte'.

But what could we do as solidarity visitors? All sorts of ideas and actions have already started and can be seen and joined. It took another guest from Dakar, Demba Moussa Dembele, to add 'We witnessed'. This is what the people we met are expecting from us: 'a proof that you care about the Tunisian revolution and the weaponless people who faced a criminal dictatorship, and sacrificed their lives and were injured, so that we can raise our voices today and say what we think should be said.' These are the words of Mohamed Salah Abidi, whose son Shadi was at the heart of the 'internet revolution' in Regueb and was disabled by bullets from a police sniper.

Those of us who visited from Europe have another obligation, to keep the gates of the fortress open. Leading trade unionist Alessandra Mecozzi from the radical Italian union, FIOM told our hosts in Regueb: 'We thank you and have great, great trust in you. We'll push our governments to freeze bank accounts and repatriate the money stolen from you. We don't want a closed Europe – we're ashamed of our government saying it wants to deport young Tunisians. Europe must welcome all these people.'

Here are some of the voices of the Tunisian revolution. We must keep our ears open as well as our borders.


* This article first appeared in Red Pepper.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.