Tunisian student worries about family’s safety

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    This semester Slah Mbarek said he turned his focus away from school and tennis to his concern for his family’s well-being during the eruption of violent protests in his hometown of Tunis, Tunisia. He said he heard the fear in their voices and violence in the background in daily Skype video chats with his family.

    “You just hear helicopters going everywhere and shooting going everywhere,” he said. “So all I hear is that they’re scared and I just try to stay on Skype with them as much as possible.”

    In recent weeks, Tunisia experienced major political turmoil after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian president for 23 years, fled the country after citizens protested for a democracy.

    Mbarek, a junior information system and supply and value management major, said shortly after he returned back to the U.S. after winter break, the violent protests began to rage and the government imposed curfews on citizens.

    “I was concerned about my family more after the president left,” he said. “Because after, he left behind like 3,000 commandos and snipers.”

    He said the violence started in the south of the country but drastically spread to his hometown while he was home in late December and early January.

    “I saw a lot of people on the streets,” he said. “I heard that people were getting killed.”

    Mbarek lived in Tunisia until he was 13 years old, and then moved to Paris before coming to play tennis at TCU in the spring of 2009.

    He said since he was young when the government controlled several big companies in the country, as well as restaurants, night clubs and hotels.

    Tunisia never had freedom of speech. Not only did the government block some of the citizens’ most important rights, it also blocked out the media to minimize the exposure of political unrest, he said.

    Through this time of media blockage, Mbarek utilized social media sites, such as Facebook, to stay informed on the revolution. He said Tunisians began publishing videos on Facebook so the rest of the world could have a view into the political turmoil through a citizen’s eyes.

    The violent background noise in the daily Skype video chats with his family was similar to what Mbarek said he saw in the videos.

    Javier Bravo, a junior economics major and friend of Mbarek, said he noticed Mbarek kept his emotions to himself throughout the revolution, but still kept his usual, positive attitude.

    “As a friend, I always tried to keep up with what was happening in his country so I could be there and support him as a friend,” Bravo said.

    Although the political upheaval hasn’t ended, Mbarek said he’s optimistic about going back home to a democracy one day.

    “I don’t think my family will ever leave,” he said. “We were just born there. We will never leave.”