REVOLUTION 1

A popular history of the Arab Spring and its aftershocks, as told through the voices of people who lived it

 
A memorial to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young fruit seller who lit himself on fire and started the revolution, in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia

A memorial to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young fruit seller who lit himself on fire and started the revolution, in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia

 

Join us on a wild journey through the revolution that has reshaped our world….

Revolution 1 is a podcast dedicated to telling the gripping history and stories of the Arab Spring and its aftershocks through the voices of people who lived it. This isn’t a politics podcast; and it’s not quite a history podcast either. It is a research-based, oral history-driven narrative podcast that is designed to give an American audience the foothold they need to understand the complex, fascinating, and very human history of the contemporary Middle East and how it impacts global geopolitics.

Season One: The Tunisian Revolution


Our first season takes us back to where it all began, in an obscure town in Tunisia’s interior, where a young fruit seller named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire and sparked a revolution that ousted the country’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 28 days later. The revolution that ensued paved the way for protests across North Africa and the Middle East that topped dictators and spurred civil wars that have reshaped global migration, geopolitics and economic policy.

Through dozens of interviews with participants from every side — revolutionaries, regime supporters, exiled Islamists and others — we will bring the story of the Tunisian revolution to life. Our first season will take listeners on a wild journey from mines on the edge of the Sahara, to luxurious parties with tigers in cages, to sniper fire on protestors, to a yacht heist on the Mediterranean. We’ll dive into medical coups, assassinations, WikiLeaks cables, and how Twitter and Facebook helped topple Ben Ali. Most importantly, we’ll hear the complex, moving stories of the many Tunisians who have shared their stories with us and see how thousands of small acts of resistance added up to one larger revolution.

Each of the eight 25-minute episodes is narrated by the two producers, Erin Brown & Cyrus Roedel, and driven by the stories of one or more characters whose experiences bring listeners along as we move through the intense, fascinating story of the revolution.

We begin with our fruit seller in the small town of Sidi Bouzid, and follow his story — from his utter lack of economic opportunity to the humiliating run-in with police that lead to his life-ending protest — as told by his cousin, Zied, and other family members, to draw our listeners in. “In Sidi Bouzid,” Zied told us, “it is easier to get to heaven than to get a job.”

We then zoom out to answer the question: How did we get here? And tell the story of Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi, the power couple that would become Tunisia’s ruling family through a medical coup and a lot of corruption. There’s a yacht heist, caged tigers at a dinner party, and a giant stash of gold bullion involved. There are also political prisoners, exiles, and economic depression. We’ll hear from a young man who grew up without his politically active father, who sat in prison for 13 years for his opposition to Ben Ali.

Next we examine the opposition to Ben Ali, and dive into the Unions in Tunisia and a miners strike that laid the foundations for the revolution. We hear from two young activists who take up the role of spies, ferrying photos, videos, and information out of the interior and into the hands of journalists who can tell the world what is going on. That brings us to a critical moment: a massacre of peaceful protesters in Tunisia’s interior that is caught on cellphone video and passed to Al Jazeera. It sparks protests throughout the country and outrage around the world. We’ll examine how Al Jazeera, Twitter and Facebook all played crucial roles in bringing the revolution to pass.

We then turn to the final days of the Ben Ali regime, his dramatic escape on a confiscated jet, with millions of dollars of government money in tow, and then dive into what happened in the aftermath.

We end the series looking at how to bootstrap a democracy, and whether the revolution actually worked. We hear from a young Islamist politician who spent her youth in exile in Italy, and contrast her experience in electoral politics to a hopeful young leftist whose bid at the national assembly failed dismally.

Tunisia’s was the only uprising of the Arab Spring that ended with a democratic transition, but it hangs in the balance: recent suicide bombings, the grave and mysterious illness of the current president, and uncertainty around elections in November threaten to unravel everything the revolutionaries fought to achieve . We asked everyone we interview whether they think the revolution was worth it, and if it would stick… we’ll hear their answers.

This deep dive into the revolution that started it all will lay the groundwork for future seasons of Revolution 1 that follow the consequences of the Arab Spring outward: The global migration crisis and the rise of Islamophobia and the New Right; the ongoing revolutions in Sudan and Algeria; the civil wars in Yemen and Syria; or the Arab Spring’s influence on non-western politics in places like Senegal, Ukraine, and Malaysia.

 

Curious what we’ll sound like? Take a listen…

In the mid-2000s, unemployment was rampant in Tunisia, but it was even worse in the small interior towns. And the jobs that you could find...well, they weren’t the kind you dreamed about as a little kid. In a town called Gafsa, the major employer was a government-run phosphate mine, where regulations were low, accidents were common, and corruption was through the roof.

In 2008, the government announced there would be new jobs opening up at the mines, but instead of giving the jobs to well-qualified locals, many of whom had lost their family’s primary breadwinner in the mines, they went to less-qualified folks who were cozy with the regime. The miners were furious, and organized a labor strike and accompanying protests that were joined by hundreds of people in Gafsa, and met with violent resistance from the police. These protests laid the groundwork for what would come two years later, but trying to get the story out of Gafsa and into the hands of journalists or activists who could circulate the news proved difficult.

In this clip, we hear about this struggle from Esghaier Chamak, an activist trying to spread the word about the violence in Gafsa.

 

The pair behind Revolution 1

Erin Brown is an independent multimedia journalist whose work focuses on community-assisted reporting and bringing critical stories to new platforms. Erin helped launch the Wall Street Journal on Snapchat Discover and produced hundreds of stories for the platform, including an intimate snapchat documentary on the opioid crisis. As Senior Editor for Digital Storytelling at The New York Times, Erin worked with foreign correspondents to bring vibrant, personal stories to life for mobile audiences. In 2014 she covered the Ukrainian conflict, and in 2016 covered even hotter battles in the U.S. elections.

Cyrus Roedel is a researcher whose work focuses on contemporary history and politics of the Middle East & North Africa. He holds a Master’s degree from NYU in Near Eastern Studies, and has dedicated his career to supporting Arab and Muslim immigrants in the U.S. Until recently, he was the preventative casework program director of the Arab American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, New York. He has lived and worked throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and speaks Modern Standard Arabic as well as the Jordanian & Tunisian dialects.

Who will be listening in:

The intended audience in the US is twofold: first, people who have an interest in world news, and think of themselves as ‘beyond the headlines’ kind of readers or listeners. They’re not the person at the party with a PhD in international political theory, but they are the one who is asking interesting questions of that person and listening with curiosity. They probably could point to Tunisia on a map, but likely couldn’t tell you who Ben Ali was. They’re not policy wonks, but they are interested in what the US is up to abroad. They might have listened to Slow Burn with great interest, or The Caliphate with some suspicion (does a Pakistani-Canadian kid who’s never been to Syria really represent the thoughts and intents of ISIS?). They’re hungry to understand the world.

The second major audience is the history podcast crew. There is a burgeoning, dedicated audience of listeners consuming history podcasts with fervor right now (we are among them), but very few podcasts covering history recent enough that you actually get to hear from the players involved, rather than a scholarly accounting of the events. We think our podcast will strike a chord with these listeners, giving them a format they are familiar with — detailed, in-depth, popular history of an event — with the added twist of real human stories to bring depth.

Want to know more? Get in touch!

You can always reach us at erinclare.brown or cyrus.roedel [at] gmail.com