As a student, Sélim Ben Hassen regularly invited Tunisian activists and human rights advocates to Sciences Po to speak and to allow them to meet Tunisians living in France. The political police were often present at these events.
In October 2009, on the eve of the presidential elections in which President Ben Ali was standing for a fifth consecutive term and with all debate outlawed in Tunisia, he brought Tunisian opposition leaders together in Paris to give them an opportunity to speak. The conference, which was filmed and broadcast over the Internet, was viewed as a historical milestone.
Six months later, in March 2010, Sélim Ben Hassen founded Byrsa, a young people’s movement which aimed to bring down the dictatorship and turn Tunisia into a genuine democracy. While the regime held the country in its iron grip, keeping any opposing forces on a tight leash, the movement sought to make fear switch sides, innovating and gaining support by making widespread use of social networks, organising citizens’ debates and by speaking to young people in plain sight.
Over the course of this struggle, Sélim Ben Hassen was subject to several attempts at intimidation, including shots being fired at his home while he was holding a meeting with the members of his team. But little by little, the regime began to crumble… And on 14 January 2011, following a month of peaceful demonstrations, Tunisia’s revolution won the day, and the country gained its freedom.