Blogging Tunisia: Good News and Bad News

Written for Global Voices

The good news is that Tunisia won’t bomb Aljazeera TV channel. It just has put an end to its diplomatic representation in Qatar and shut down its embassy in Doha. That’s what Arab regimes can do, has Houssein noticed [Fr], when they loose a battle in the information war against the pan-Arab and Qatar-based satellite channel Aljazeera. The cause of this decision was the broadcasting on October 14 of an interview with Moncef Marzouki, an opponent of the Tunisian regime, president of the Congress for the Republic (CPR, unrecognized political party) in which he called for a “civil resistance movement” against the Tunisian government. (Watch the video [Ar] )

The statement issued Wednesday 25 Oct. by the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, following the withdrawal of the Tunisian diplomats, accused Aljazeera of waging a “hostile campaign aimed at hurting Tunisia“:

« By taking deliberately malicious positions vis-a-vis Tunisia, Al-Jazeera has broken all limits and transgressed the moral rules on which journalism is based. »

In his interview with Aljazeera, the human rights activist and former president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), Moncef Marzouki called for “civil disobedience, using peaceful means to impose rights and freedoms in Tunisia“. He also announced on his personal site [Fr + Ar] that he would return to Tunisia on 21 October:

«After much thought and consulting with friends, I have decided to return to Tunisia on 21 October as planned, to take all risks, to continue my call to Tunisians to refuse to submit to a regime that has deprived them of their liberties and their fundamental rights. » [See the whole statement of Moncef Marzouki translated by The Arabist]

His return was met by the opening of a criminal investigation against him for inciting the population to break the law,” and with a summon to appear before a judge , Human Rights First advocacy group said in its last statement to support Moncef Marzouki. And according to his lawyer Abderraouf Ayadi, Mr Marzouki risks between two months and three years in jail for “incitement to violence and civil disobedience.”

Tarek, though he does not like Aljazeera and considers it as a TV channel with political agenda, does not back the decision of Tunisia to shut its embassy in Doha. But in the meantime, he uses almost the same rhetoric as the Tunisian regime, seeing in foreign media coverage a sort of orchestrated and hatred campaign against the country:

ألم تتحامل علينا القنوات الفرنسية العامة منهاوالخاصة من قبل؟ ألم تتحامل علينا الصحف السويسرية؟ الاعلام الاجنبي من الشرق الى الغرب لا يتذكرنا الا في مواضع القدح والذم ويغلو في إعطاء الدروس

In the past, didn’t the French public and private channels wage a hatred campaign against us, and didn’t the Swiss newspapers too? Foreign media, from East to West, only remember us in negative contexts, to slander and libel us and are excessively prompt to giving lessons.

Reacting on the same ongoing controversy, Legend Of The Fall wrote:

I do not agree with such step. WHY not to close our Embassy in France for example? or in Washington DC? I believe that such decision was taken with no reasonable care!

More questions has been asked by Lowe in his Adieu Doha ??? (Farewell to Doha?). He wondered about the fate of the Tunisian expatriates living in Qatar and those Qatari living in Tunisia, about the Qatari investments and if the recent crisis will harm the air traffic between the two countries.

Armed with a historical and sarcastic view, Hatchoum went back to 2001 when Tunisia has temporarily withdrawn its ambassadors from Doha, to protest the airing of interviews with Bensedrine, editor of the on-line censored magazine Kalima, and other dissident Tunisian intellectuals and human rights activist. However, he said, on 28 October 2002 the emir of Qatar, and the royal owner of Aljazeera, Hamed Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani has inaugurated with President Ben Ali the new Faculty of Medicine of Tunis. Hatchoom interrogates the reasons behind the recent decision to shut the Tunisian embassy in Doha:

L’État tunisien cherche-t-il à financer la reconstruction des amphi du campus de Tunis qui commencent à tomber comme des châteaux de sable?

«Is the Tunisian state seeking to rebuild the amphitheatres of the campus in Tunis which are collapsing like sand castles? »

The bad news is that the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index in which Tunisia is now ranked 148 out of 168 countries, right above Gambia, Yemen, and below Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe, Sudan and Somalia!

3617MyLif€ [Fr], the only Tunisian blogger that has written about the RSF report, put it cynically by finding it a very good rank after the success of Tunisia in the Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007 which made of its economy “the most competitive in Africa and in the Arab world” with its 30th rank. “A Good joke” said 3617MyLif€ who added:

je suis fier des compétences de mes compatriotes fonctionnaires de la République.

« I am very proud of the competence of my fellow citizens, civil servant of the Republic. »

On Maghreb Blog Larbi [Fr] has also commented the RSF report and wrote:

Comme à l’accoutumé les pays du Maghreb figurent parmi les mauvais élèves. Selon l’Organisation, la Mauritanie (77ème) est le pays maghrébin le mieux classé. Bien qu’il gagne 23 places dans le classement, le Maroc se contente du 97ème rang tandis que la Libye (152ème) reste le pays maghrébin le plus liberticide. L’Algérie (126ème) et la Tunisie (148ème) ne font pas mieux.

As usual the Maghreb countries are among the “bad pupils”. According to the Organization, Mauritania (77th) is the best classified Maghreb country. Morocco moved with 23 places up to 97th position, while Libya (152th) remains the most libertine North African country. Algeria (126th) and Tunisia (148th) do not do much better.

There is an interesting rumor circulating in Tunisia and on the Internet that the defense minister Kamel Morjane, a distant relative of President Ben Ali, is being prepared to be his vice president and possible successor. In 2003 the French newspaper Libération has suggested that Ben Ali would be sick with cancer and that a family and clan power struggle regarding his succession has emerged. According to this hearsay, even the United States and numerous European countries seem to express a strong preference for Mr Kamel Morjane to run the post Ben Ali Tunisia. A constitutional amendment to create the vice president function will need to be adopted.

Reacting on this rumor in a heated debate that has been raging for a couple of days, Astrubal [Fr] wrote the following:

Si effectivement ce scénario se concrétisait par la révision de la Constitution en ce sens et si un technocrate à l’instar de Kamel Morjane devenait président de la République parce qu’il a les faveurs des USA, alors le “chalabiste” ne pourra être ce monsieur. Les “chalabistes” ce seront nous pour avoir choisi de laisser les puissances étrangères décider de notre destin.

If indeed the scenario of the constitutional revision will take place in this way, and if a technocrat like Kamel Morjane will become the President of the Republic of Tunisia just because he won the favor of the USA, then he will not be “the chalabist”. “chalabists” will be all of us who have chosen to let the foreign powers determine our own destiny.

Alyssa [Fr] on the other hand criticized the passive and fatalistic attitude of the Tunisian:

Ce qui me préoccupe davantage c’est que l’ensemble de l’auditoire et des spectateurs de la scène tunisienne semblent avoir accepté comme véridique la compétence, l’intégrité et le dévouement à la cause tunisienne de Mr. Morjane sans même en demander des preuves. Ceux qui ont eu le loisir de s’intéresser aux mécanismes de la propagande et de la démagogie me comprendront : il suffit de lancer une rumeur, de la faire répéter, que tout le monde l’achète comme bon produit et le tour est joué.

What causes my concern is that the audience and spectators of the Tunisian scene seem to have accepted as an unquestionable truth the competence, integrity and loyalty of Mr. Morjane to the Tunisian cause, without requesting any evidences. Those who have had the leisure to be interested in the mechanisms of propaganda and demagogy understand what I mean: you start with a rumor, get it repeated and spread around, get everybody buy it as a good product and it’s all done.

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