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Tunisian star says artists finally free after uprising

From Ayesha Durgahee, CNN
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Thu September 22, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dhafer L'Abidine is one of Tunisia's most famous actors
  • He says there's no more censorship in the country after January's uprising
  • The actor is best-known to Western audiences for his role in 'Sex and the City 2'

(CNN) -- When scores of disgruntled Tunisians took to the streets in January to demand the ouster of their country's president, actor Dhafer L'Abidine was watching from afar.

Based in the UK, L'Abidine, who is one of Tunisia's most famous actors, went through a roller-coaster of emotions as he watched the unfolding of the uprising that subsequently spurred the Arab Spring.

"I was trying to keep in touch all the time and see what happens and follow the news and understand what's happening," remembers L'Abidine.

"You go through everything," he says. "Sadness, frustration and then happy moments at the end so it was a difficult time but I think it was an amazing time and I think what's happening now is quite amazing because you've got the first free elections coming in October -- it's a new page in the Tunisian history."

The months of civil unrest culminated in the collapse of the regime of Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine who ruled the country for more than 20 years.

Dhafer L'Abidine: Moving to London

Today, the north African country is still dealing with the aftermath of the revolution but people remain optimistic that the move to democracy can still be achieved.

Dhafer L'Abidine on Tunisia's future

L'Abidine, who has set up a production company in Tunisia, believes the recent events will open up opportunities for artists in the country, giving them the freedom to express themselves without any restrictions.

"Before, if you write something that doesn't suit the ideas of the dictatorship or the government then there's no way you're going to make it," says L'Abidine, a former football player and model.

"Now, at least we've got the freedom to write stories that we want to tell -- the censorship is not there. I think this is a great opportunity for artists, whether singers or writers or filmmakers, just to go for it and use the opportunity into progressing the movie industry back home."

The talented actor is perhaps best-known for his part in big-budget romantic comedy "Sex and the City 2," in which he played the role of a charming host whose job was to look after the film's four main characters on a trip to Abu Dhabi.

"It was great fun," says L'Abidine about his part in the Hollywood movie. "I had some filming to do in New York and then in Morocco and it was a great experience -- just to be involved in such an iconic TV program and then a film, so I'm very happy about having been part of that."

I'm proud of the people who actually lost their lives so then people like me and others can have a better future.
Dhafer L'Abidine, actor

While L'Abidine has been carving a successful path as an actor in the international stage -- his work also includes roles in "Centurion" and "The Stone Merchant" -- he's maintained links with the region he's from, getting the best of the two worlds.

The much-traveled actor has appeared in several TV series across the Middle East and North Africa and also presented one of the biggest talent shows in the region -- "Prince of Poets" -- with an audience of about 20 million viewers per show.

"I'm lucky in a way that actually I can go back to Tunisia or in the Middle East and do different roles in Arabic or sometimes in French or in English," says L'Abidine who is fluent in four languages. "Playing different parts and also being in England there's a great opportunity to do different roles."

But long before wowing moviegoers, L'Abidine pursued his teenage passion for football in Tunisia, going to school during the day and training in the evening.

After spending three years in France, where he studied computer science and played football, L'Abidine returned to Tunisia before relocating to the United Kingdom to follow his dream of acting.

But settling in his new environment wasn't without challenges -- L'Abidine, who at the time didn't speak the language, had to divide his time between studying hard and working part-time in restaurants and bars in London to support himself.

"There were hard times but now when you look back they were very useful and actually you can learn from them and they make you who you are -- at the end, you can't have a life experience just with good things, the difficult times are also very useful for now and for the future," says L'Abidine.

Passionate about his country, L'Abidine says January's revolution shows the world that Tunisia is not just a tourist destination but a place with long history and rich culture.

"I'm proud to be Tunisian and I'm proud to what's happening now in Tunisia and I'm proud of the people who actually lost their lives so then people like me and others can have a better future," he says.

"I'm very grateful to them, I think it's a difficult time for other counties now -- Arab countries -- because they're going through the same process but I think the reward at the end is so great.

"I'm positive about it and I think it's an amazing time for the Arab world."

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