Freedom – it is – I mean, I can give this shared definition by everyone telling that freedom is to do whatever you want, while respecting the freedom of the others. Your freedom stops right when the freedom of others begins. But after the revolution, we knew that freedom is really more than that. I mean, being – the freedom we felt – what freedom is about – at the specific moment when we heard that our – I don’t like to call him our president, but our ex-president, ran away. And this is where we really tasted freedom.
Being able to say, “No,” to speak about issues we refuse. To enjoy our rights. To enjoy the rights that our country is offering us. To be able to speak, to have any career you are dreaming of, to be able to fulfill your dreams without being pushed to obey. This is what freedom is about. Maybe I have to explain the former situation, because in Tunisia before, if you want to get something, if you want to get a good job, if you want to – to reach high positions or political positions, you have to join the [government’s] political party. You are not even allowed to speak about politics, even in – he [Ben Ali] made the population talk about football, about cinema, and those are not stupid topics to speak about but it should not be the only thing allowed for people to speak about.
[Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1936- ) served as President of Tunisia from 1987 until 2011, when he was ousted in the Jasmine Revolution.]
So freedom, as I said, is really more than that. You cannot imagine how happy we were to go in streets and being able to talk. And it was as frustrating as that. We were as oppressed as that. We could – even when we were in our houses – even under our own roof, we were afraid from even mentioning his name. Because you don’t know when – when you are under [surveillance] and when you have people listening to you. We didn’t enjoy any privacy, even in our own houses. So what about going to the streets and talking about that? People were not able to enjoy their freedom of belief, the freedom of religion – people were oppressed in every particular field. So freedom is being able to live in your country, and enjoy the right that belongs to every human being without having any fear. This is what freedom is about, for me.
Because life without freedom is not really living. It is not really living, really. I mean, if you are not free in your life, in your country, then – and people died. People died in order for us, for example, to be free – to go to vote. And this is what I kept telling people during this [election]. It’s not a matter of choosing, I mean, a political party from the left or a political party from the right, but go to vote, because hundreds of people died in order for you to go to vote. And this is what I kept telling people.
Some people knew that they were dying because we had policemen all over the country. And they were dropping gas on people, and they were fighting people – they were really and literally – I mean they were being violent toward people. And they were oppressing people, and they were fighting – they were beating people. Some of the people –even people I know – I personally know –were taken to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and they were kept there, and they were beaten for like, two days. And let me tell you even this: some of them were raped. And they knew when they went to street, they knew what they were facing.
When I go to demonstrations, for example, I have my father telling me, “Sarah, don’t go. I’m frightened – I’m afraid.” I was like, “Don’t be selfish. Don’t be selfish, because some parents – and I know that you are afraid that I am risking my life, but some parents – they lost their daughters and they lost their sons in order for us to participate and to be free. So, don’t be selfish, and let me take part in it. Let me participate, too.” And why are people taking the risk? Because they experienced how life is without freedom. When you experience that, you become aware – you realize the importance of the freedom, and you are able to sacrifice your life because it is freedom or nothing. Either to live free, or give your life away.