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Page last updated at 21:25 GMT, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

School Report 2011: Children of the revolution

Students in Tunisia
Students in Tunis are rethinking their futures

Children across the Arab World have been telling School Report how revolution in their home countries brought fear and hope, and may well change the course of their lives forever.

Until this year, Tunisia had been a popular tourist destination and relative haven of stability and prosperity, albeit one ruled with an iron first.

But early this year, the country erupted with anti-government demonstrations that forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to step down.

In a one-hour video conference, girls from Clyst Vale Community College, near Exeter, talked to pupils from the British Council School in Tunis.

They heard how the appealing prospect of a day off school at the start of the revolution soon turned to fear after gunshots had been ringing out for a few days.

"It was very scary. The policemen fired guns and the pupils are very afraid. They just want democracy, the policemen fight them and it was very horrible," said Schamseddine.

Mohamed agreed: "It was a horrible experience but a new Tunisia was born - very happy."

Others spoke of being too scared to sleep and desperate to know every detail.

"We all lived it second-by-second. It was all thanks to Facebook."

We love the Queen so we wouldn't really want a revolution
Jen, UK

Jen, Elsie and Blythe, all 14, acknowledged they used the social networking site, Facebook, for the mundane - what they were having for tea and where they were going out - and appreciated how important it had been to the Tunisians.

They also found themselves questioning the role of democracy in their own lives and discovered how the Tunis pupils' experiences of revolution had changed how they saw their future.

Abir said: "I was always dreaming to be president and I know it was impossible for me, but now I can be a candidate."

Others have set their sights on becoming a doctor and a judge.

The Exeter girls, who spoke of becoming art and drama teachers, were surprised at the scale of ambition among the Tunis pupils.

Asked whether they wanted revolution in the UK, Jen said: "We love the Queen so we wouldn't really want a revolution."

"We already have that freedom and take it for granted. We just don't realise it's such a huge thing in other countries." Blythe added.

The Clyst Vale girls found comfort though in their shared interests with the Tunis pupils - Facebook, listening to music and hanging out with friends.

A young anti-government protester in Tahrir square in Cairo, 4 February 2011
Children living on Cairo's streets have been shot at and beaten, they say

"Even though there are so many differences between both countries, the hobbies we've got are so similar, it's unbelievable," Elsie pointed out.

As part of School Report, the BBC also spoke to street children in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the main stage of Egypt's revolution.

Since dropping out of school, 14-year-old Kamal has tried to eke out a living from selling handkerchiefs. His father is dead and his mother has six children with another on the way.

Speaking through a translator, Kamal said he had been beaten up by a policeman during the protest and held at a police station until his mother bailed him out.

In the wake of the uprising, he reflected on his expectations, saying that since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February, prices should have gone down, not up.

"I'm happy he left. I'm happy with all the values of the revolution but I need to see prices getting lower so I can get food for me and my family.

"Because we are really poor, the revolution may have some positive changes and effects but we can see only the negative."

Bicycle dreams

Ahmed and Mohammed, 10, roam the streets in a gang, sleeping anywhere and living day to day.

In the days of the revolution, they joined the crowds in the square and marched alongside them until they saw people falling down.

Mohammed said "Before the army takes control you would always see people running, scared."

During the three days he stayed in Tahrir Square, Mohammed was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet.

He is mixed up about events, unsure whether to blame Mubarak for the violence and thuggery on the streets or whether it could have been avoided had he stayed.

Ahmed was more certain. "After Mubarak left, things are getting worse," he said.

"Thugs are everywhere, everyone is being robbed, prices are even getting higher. I want Hosni back because Hosni used to control it, at least. We want life to get better, prices to go down and make sure martyrs did not die in vain."

Ahmed dreams of going to school to study engineering or medicine.

There were a lot of tears of joy that something good was happening in Libya
Libyan student, UK

"I know how to say my ABCs but I never went to school," he said. "My biggest dream is to go to school but all I wish is I had a bicycle."

In Libya, despite mass protests and uprising, there has been no regime change. Instead, forces loyal to long-serving leader Col Muammar Gaddafi fought back.

And since the death toll escalated, the West has intervened, launching air strikes on the country.

Two Libyan students living in the UK said the horror and fear was very real for them despite being a safe distance from dropping bombs.

The schoolgirls, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told students from Manchester's Whalley Range School how they wanted the fighting to end and their freedom back.

Anti-government demonstrator paints the colours of the Kingdom of Libya flag on the face of a child in Benghazi, pictured 28 Feb
TV coverage of protests and war in Libya has gripped Libyans in the UK

Asked their reaction on the UK and its allies' air strikes, one said: "There were a lot of tears of joy that something good was happening in Libya." Yet, she doubted how easy it would be to topple Col Gaddafi.

Since protests broke out the girls have been gripped by the TV coverage, often unable to eat or sleep through worry. One spoke of her wish to be back in Libya helping in some way.

The father of one of the girls was a wanted man because of his religious beliefs. Both had left behind beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.

Staying in touch with loved ones has been difficult - the internet and mobile networks have been affected - and distressing.

One student told how her grandmother had been in tears on the phone, as they talked over the sound of gunshots and bombs.

"We hope this is going to end. We would like freedom after 42 years and so much pain."

The other added: "It's time now for people to talk and tell the world about what's going on in Libya. Libya's a rich country because of the oil but when you go there you can't actually see that.

"We deserve freedom after 42 years of silence, it's time now."


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