Tunisians Watch Egypt, Tend Their Own Revolution

As Egypt explodes in violence against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak, the situation in Tunisia, which overthrew its dictator two weeks ago, has calmed. A new transition cabinet has been sworn in and free elections are set to take place within six months. Though their own revolution is far from finished, Tunisians are proud of what they have sparked in the Arab world.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

As Egypt explodes in revolt, the situation in Tunisia, which overthrew its dictator two weeks ago, has calmed. A new transition cabinet has been sworn in and free elections are set to take place within six months. Though their own revolution is far from finished, Tunisians say they're proud of what they have sparked in the Arab world.

Eleanor Beardsley is back in Tunis. She sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Life is slowly returning to normal in Tunis. Cafes are once again crowded with coffee drinkers soaking up the winter sun and stores have reopened.

(Soundbite of shutters opening)

BEARDSLEY: Enda Bassouni opened the shutters on her perfume boutique. She says sales are still way below normal, but life is better. She's says she's been watching what's going on in Egypt and is worried about all the deaths and violence. But she's pulling for the people.

Ms. ENDA BASSOUNI (Boutique Owner): (through translator) There are a lot of common points between Tunisia and Egypt and I want that government to leave. It's worse than a monarchy. He should be getting ready to flee to Saudi Arabia like our president.

BEARDSLEY: President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years, until the people rose up and overthrew him. Their anger at corruption, repression and poverty spread on the Internet, fomenting the revolt. And the Tunisian example inspired the Egyptians.

Mohamed Khelimi, who spent many years in jail under Tunisian autocrat Ben Ali, says it is marvelous to see what's going on in Egypt.

Mr. MOHAMED KHELIMI: I think that we have export a model of revolution, clean and pacifist revolution to all the dictator. This is very nice for all the Arab countries. I feel good, very, very, very nice. I cry victory.

(Soundbite of people talking)

BEARDSLEY: Inside a smoky restaurant, everyone is talking about events in Egypt and how it all started here.

Unidentified Man: (foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: One man tells me Egypt is just phase two of the Tunisian revolution and there will be more to come. Then a waiter breaks in, saying: Doesn't he think 30 years is enough? It's a catastrophe. And now he wants his son to take over after him.

(Soundbite of people talking)

Unidentified Man #2 (Waiter): (foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: He's speaking of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, of course. People here have had it with Arab strong men.

Thirty-five-year-old Rhoudani Whaleed, who describes himself simply as a father, sums up the sentiment.

Mr. RHOUDANI WHALEED: (through translator) Humanity is conquering technology and here we are struggling for basic human rights and respect. We were all but forgotten. But now a giant tsunami has just hit the Arab world.

BEARDSLEY: That fabulous tsunami, says Whaleed, came from right here. And today he says everyone is proud to be Tunisian.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Tunis.

(Soundbite of music)

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