Were you freaking out at this point?
Yeah, at that point, I was afraid I was going to spend the rest of my life there. I started thinking about my mother. I was thinking I was super stupid. I don’t think I was regretting it, but I hadn’t been thinking during the process, and suddenly it hit me that what I had done had consequences. I didn’t know it had consequences while I was doing it. I was just doing it because it needed to be done. And please don’t try to make it look like it was something huge, because people were burning themselves, and I bought loudspeakers.
How many days were you there for?
Four days. I was released on the fourth day.
So what did they tell you when you were released?
They didn’t tell me anything. They gave me my Russian passport back and were like, “Oh, you got lucky this time.” I left, and there was my mother in tears, and her face was all red. She learned to play video games over that period. She has never played video games in her life. After she learned I was in jail, she started nonstop.
As a coping mechanism?
And what ended up happening with Youssef?
I met Youssef again in January on the night news broke that Ben Ali had left. Everyone went out on the street to celebrate, and that’s when I saw him again. We spoke about the jail experience and blah blah blah, and he was saying that since Ben Ali left, we should make an organization that rehabilitates people after jail, and that we should meet to discuss that. So yeah [laughs]. That was his pick-up line, I guess.
That’s a pretty dope pick-up line. I’m wondering—how did it feel to be living in a country where all of this was happening, to be a part of it, and then watch it happen in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa?
When the revolution was happening, everyone felt like there was nothing else in the world but Tunisia, and Tunisians, and Ben Ali. When Ben Ali escaped, we started following these events, trying to reintegrate in the bigger context. But Ben Ali left us a little gift: he released everyone from jail, and some people were going into houses, robbing and raping people. We started worrying about ourselves. I was looking over my Facebook timeline yesterday, and my statuses were “Come hide in my house, my neighberhood is safer.” I’d be on the phone with a friend and hear her cry that people were trying to break in to the house. Victory was brief. Many people were still suspicious, thinking the chaos was a way for us to choose safety-plus-Ben Ali over freedom-plus-danger. It was a very life-changing moment—the month after the revolution—but afterwards, everything goes back to normal life. It’s saddening to see.
What do you mean?
This is just my personal opinion, but Islamists are trying to steal the revolution. During the revolution, there wasn’t a single religious slogan, not one. Now there are calls for bans on abortion and bans on women in politics. The bright side is, ever since Ben Ali was overthrown, the wall of silence has been broken. The people will get a taste of religious indoctrination, and they will revolt once again.
After four days in jail, are you more cautious now? Are you more afraid about run-ins with the law?
I think I will be smarter about it, because I will be of no use if I am in a cell. I’m not saying I am that important that I need to be outside of jail. But I am planning to run for city council in Tunisia at some point.
I think you are very important, and I want you to stay out of jail. What do you want to say to teenagers who are trying to understand what’s happening in Tunisia and the Middle East? I think people sometimes have trouble understanding what feminism looks like in countries where women wear veils, for instance.
I guess someone who has their basic civil rights would not really understand what is going on, because they do see commercials for shampoo. People take things like that for granted. So I would say: do not make assumptions. I do not necessarily believe in a national identity—you cannot summarize a human life based upon where he lives or what his background is. If you are to summarize at all, then summarize him as a human being, which you are as well, so you have that in common. And do not take things for granted. You’re able to wake up and call your friends and have a sleepover.
Well, you are an incredible person. Thanks so much for talking to me. What’s your first meal going to be when you end your hunger strike?
It’ll be brunch. I’m getting an omelet. ♦