The University of Iowa

Fulbright TA discusses Tunisia revolution

January 26th, 2011

By Jade Donaghy, The Daily Iowan
Click here to see the original article and a video feature.

Facebook is doing more than letting people connect with old friends these days. It’s facilitating a revolution. And it’s allowing one Tunisian woman living in Iowa City to keep up with the tumultuous politics at home.

On Tuesday, Asma Ben Romdhane, who teaches Arabic at the University of Iowa through the yearlong Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant’s exchange program, spoke to more than 80 people about the events of the last month in the northern African nation.

The event was part of an ongoing series titled “Images of the Muslim World,” presented by the University’s Middle East and Muslim World Studies Program.

Protesters overturned former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s oppressive political regime in less than a month as they filled the streets and clashed with Ben Ali’s forces.

The drastic political changes in Tunisia, sparked by one man’s self-immolation and the aid of interconnected online groups, has had empowering implications for a campus full of social networkers, many said. And though Ben Romdhane was thousands of miles away from Tunisia, she said she knew what was happening.

“I was up-to-date from the very beginning of the revolution through Facebook, Skype, and phone as if I were in Tunisia,” she said.

Though Ben Romdhane’s presentation encompassed current political topics, she began with a slide show of photos from Tunisia and details about the country itself. She laughed as she explained most people are confused when they hear she is from Tunisia, but lately people have been asking her about her home country.

“I am really impressed because people in Iowa are really interested,” she said before the lecture. “They are really nice, so this is the least I can do. It’s a good opportunity to tell people more.”

As for the revolution, she said her friends and family in Tunisia are excited by the changes within the country and by how quickly they occurred.

“It’s a very small country, but it has a great population and they were able to change a whole regime … and they were able to do it by themselves and didn’t need any external help. I’m really proud — proud to be Tunisian,” Ben Romdhane said.

And she isn’t the only one excited by the changes in Tunisia. Denise Filios, an associate professor in Spanish & Portuguese, who lived and taught in Tunisia in the spring of 2000, spoke animatedly about the “exceptional” events that occurred.

Filios said the role social networks played in the Tunisian revolution also intrigued her.

“College students especially should be interested in hearing what their compatriots’ lives are like in other countries, in terms of the power they have and how they can connect with other social groups,” she said. “It shows us generational aspects. This revolution really did start as a young person’s movement.”

Some UI students are indeed interested in the political changes in Tunisia.

“Anytime someone [who] has been in power for 23 years is kicked out of a country in a matter of weeks … that’s an accomplishment,” said UI sophomore Blake Iverson at the lecture. “That’s a huge event, wherever it takes place.”