Tunisians savour taste of freedom after Ben Ali ousted

A Tunisian man holding a baguette is carried by fellow protesters during a demonstration in Tunis on 18 January 2011 There is a tangible sense of pride that people feel about the popular uprising

A week ago writing an article for the BBC would have been a sacking offence for Tunisian journalists, writes Haykel Tlili - who works for Le Temps paper, owned by the ex-president's son-in-law. Here he assesses how Tunisians are taking to changing times.

Since the overthrow of President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali last week the people of Tunisia wake up each day in what still seems to be a dream.

Sometimes this turns to a nightmare with the sound of gunfire, something Tunisians are unaccustomed to hearing.

But there is a tangible sense of joy and pride that people feel about the popular uprising.

They are determined not to let what has been dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution" falter as the country accustoms itself to the change of guard.

Tunisian men read newspapers on 18 January 2011 at the Kasbah in Tunis For the past 23 years, Tunisians have been used to reading pro-government coverage in the press

Change and all that it heralds is being savoured across Tunisia like the smell of the sweet jasmine flower as it opens at night.

The latest news about shootings overnight or the arrest of the personal presidential guards is hotly debated in the morning.

The announcement of the new government - which contains some of that old guard - has not been met with a ringing endorsement.

"We do not want to see any of them in the new Tunisia," many Tunisians are saying.

From Egypt, the foreign minister, who has kept his post, urged Tunisians to remember that the new government is a unity administration.

"Its goal is clear, its duration is specified - legally and with the agreement of all parties," he said, urging calm.

However, three ministers from the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) have already resigned, wanting demonstrations "to uproot all that is related to the old ruling party".

'Editors must resign'

Yet changes are already visible.

Start Quote

We were not even able to ask critical questions to any of the officials two weeks ago, it's like a dream now”

End Quote Nadia Barrouta Journalist

Tunisia's media is emerging from the stranglehold of 23 years of authoritarian rule.

Journalists working for the Dar El Anwar media group, which publishes three newspapers, have called for the resignation of their editors in chief.

"They were appointed by the ancien regime, and they were suffocating our freedom," says Asma Sahboun, a journalist at Dar El Anwar's Echourouk paper.

Nadia Barrouta, who works for the Assabah newspaper - the largest of the Dar Assabah Group - explains what it was like working for a pro-government publication.

"We were not even able to ask critical questions to any of the officials two weeks ago, it's like a dream now," she says.

Staff where I work at Dar Assabah, owned by the ex-president's son-in-law Sakher El Materi, who is now in exile in Dubai, have supported the uprising.

We are resolute about not jeopardising the freedom of speech that has eluded us in the past.

Women walk in front of a burnt mall on 13 January 2011 in a district of Tunis where rioters burnt vehicles and attacked government offices The turmoil of the past few days is estimated to have cost the country an estimated $2bn

Regarded by Tunisians as a means of propaganda for the former dictatorship, the media groups are hoping to gain their respect.

"The media must become an honest mirror telling them what is really going on," someone recently said on a television discussion programme.

The excitement most people feel about seeing such changes is sometimes overcome by nerves.

There are fears of possible conspiracies that could see the return of Mr Ben Ali and the former ruling RCD party.

There is also anger in some quarters that human rights activists were let down by the West during the years of RCD rule.

After the chaos of the past few days, life is cautiously restarting.

And from my perspective as a business reporter, a return to calm is imperative.

The turmoil has cost the country an estimated 3bn Tunisian dinars ($2bn; £1.3bn) - and the tourist industry has been badly affected.

Many people have been called to resume work at offices, banks and shops.

But they will need to know that the way forward will be long and difficult - from the reconstruction of what was destroyed in the protests to the birth of North Africa's first democracy.

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