Book Reading Demonstration at Tunisia's Symbolic Habib Bourguiba Avenue

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: The revolutions that are now collectively known as the Arab Spring began in Tunisia. It was the first country where unprecedented street protests lead to the fall of a long time ruler, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in January last year, but the protests continued as Tunisia searched for a new way forward. As things turned out, the current authorities banned protests on one of Tunisia's most symbolic streets in the capital. Merchants along Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis had complained that they were losing too much business because of all the demonstrations, but more protests followed anyway. Some of them turned violent. The ban was eventually lifted and today, a demonstration of sorts was held on Habib Bourguiba Avenue. People literally sat in the street and read books. Local journalist Ahmed Medien was there earlier today.

Ahmed Medien: I can see at least 400 people because Avenue Habib Bourguiba is really long and from what I'm standing now there are at least 100 people in front of me. People are reading books in French and Arabic, and so people are reading poetry in Arabic, also people are reading fiction in French; [inaudible 1:10] people are reading their school textbooks.

Mullins: You say they're reading school textbooks or they're doing homework?

Medien: Yeah.

Mullins: What is the point of these demonstrators reading books, be they poetry or textbooks, sitting in the street there?

Medien: From my conversation with organizers of the event, they wanted to show a picture of Tunisia where Tunisians do not always protest or join in demonstrations against the government, but they also join in culturally then, such as reading books on the street. And they wanted to portray a picture which is different from the pictures that have been seen about Tunisians, which is mainly protestations and demonstrations.

Mullins: So they say they want Tunisians not to be known just as protestors, political protestors, but also to show a cultural side through demonstrations such as these.

Medien: Yeah.

Mullins: And on this avenue where police have been so many times for protests, any sign of police today for this demonstration?

Medien: There is a little presence of the police in the streets there, which is a bit surprising given that in the past months we had a heavy police presence.

Mullins: That was Tunisian journalist Ahmed Medien speaking with us earlier today from Tunis. You can see photos of the people reading books today along Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis. We've got them at