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Tunisian artist seeks to paint accurate picture of the Arab revolt

The eyes of the world are now on Egypt, but it’s worth remembering that the Arab revolt began in Tunisia.

“This is a real revolution and we should dare to call it that. It’s about human rights, people reclaiming their dignity.”

Rajaa Gharbi

So says Rajaa Gharbi, a Seattle artist who moved here many years ago from Tunisia. She has been active in many efforts aimed at trying to bring a more accurate, more balanced, perspective to our view of the Arab world and North Africa in general.

Gharbi will host a forum on what’s rocking much of the Arab world right now on Feb. 21 at Seattle Town Hall. The event is called Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond: Protest, Politics and Change.

NOTE: Here’s some of the latest news out of Tunisia: Risk of chaos.

Q What is the main message you hope to get across to people about the Arab revolt?

“This is not a religious uprising. This is a revolution by people who want to govern themselves, to live in dignity. Just look at the protests and what people are saying. It’s really important that we change the lens through which we look at the Arab world.

Q Why did this Arab revolt, now shaking Egypt and threatening to spread to other nations, begin in Tunisia?

“The swiftness and magnitude surprised most people, including me. Tunisians are highly educated. The authoritarian nature of the state was pervasive and affected everyone.  People were forced to accept so many indignities, making it a ticking time bomb. The self-immolation of Bouazizi (a young Tunisian man abused by authorities) set people off. It became too much.”

Q Why should we care?

“We are going to be affected economically, culturally and politically by what’s happening throughout North Africa. There is an effort everyday on the part of the old regime to maintain or regain power…. Tunisians are still protesting, nonviolently struggling to rid themselves of the authoritarian regime. We need to pay attention.”

Q Any thoughts on how the Obama Administration has reacted?

“Honestly, I think the reaction was very hypocritical. The Obama Administration waited until it was very clear that the government of (former Tunisian president) Ben Ali would not survive. It already looks to many Tunisians like there is a major effort behind the scenes to make sure the next leader will serve the interests of the U.S. government, as usual. It’s the same for Egypt.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.