Blogging Tunisia: Sweet November

Written for Global Voices

Ben Ali, Wikipedia and  democracy

Celebrating the 19th anniversary of the “Change of November 7”, 1987 which brought president Ben Ali to power in a bloodless coup against Habib Bourguiba, who had reigned for 30 years, the Minister Director of the Presidential Office, Mr Abdelaziz Ben Dhia, the Tunisian senators [Fr] and the Tunisian Industry, Trade and Handicrafts Union (UTICA) members called on president Ben Ali to run for a 5th term in elections scheduled in 2009. Reacting on what opposition describes as a pre-election campaign, blogger Mokhtar Yahyaoui has noticed that it is a syndrome of the return of the monarchic and beylical practices [Fr]:

Ce procédé, signe de survivance des pratiques monarchiques du régime beylical déchu depuis 50 ans vient heurter frontalement le principe même du régime républicain, ou ce qui en restait.

This survival sign of the monarchical practices of the beylical regime, although abolished for almost 50 years, is resurging back and frontally going against the principle of the republican system, or what remains from it.

Tarek [Fr] considers the issue as a part of a deep crisis of identity and the quest of new one, once Europe has proved to be disappointing by turning its back on the Tunisian people. Following almost the same reasoning and pointing out the responsibility of the West that is loosing the heart and mind of the young generation among Tunisians, especially after 9/11, Zizou [Fr] has also mentioned the harmful religious propaganda broadcasted from the Middle-East. He underlined the urgent need of a public debate that it should take place in Tunisia around such increasingly sensitive topic.

Thémis [Fr] finds that the government, in order to win empathy, should be consistent in fighting both extreme, not only veils, but also nudity. And that is why she believes that the logic behind the actual campaign against headscarves is pure politic. It is a matter of power. Islamists, due to their increasing number and social position, may represent the threat to political status quo in Tunisia.

Apart from this passionate and controversial subject, bloggers have also debated plenty of other hot-topics, like unemployment among university graduates. Like A Girl From Mars [Fr] who is upset to see how easy graduates, after completion of their studies, are willing to accept a low remuneration and a short term employment to the detriment of their studies. Even if she recognizes the hard circumstances surrounding the issue of unemployment, she advises the new graduates to stand up for their rights to earn an adequate and higher income according to their diplomas and skills. But for Lowe [Fr], having diplomas is no longer enough. Graduates need to improve their writing and linguistic capabilities especially for foreign language and English in order to find an adequate job. Deploring the lack of linguistic skill among a large cohort of graduates who simply cannot write a sentence, Low advises them to make use of Internet services particularly the online update sites.

Are the online update sites a proper solution? On this matter Xander [Fr] draws our attention to the fact that online update sites are being blocked in Tunisia by the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI):

Il parait que l’ATI censure les traducteurs en ligne pour empêcher les tunisiens de consulter des informations néfastes pour leurs santé mentale.

It appears that ATI has blocked language update sites preventing by this way Tunisian citizens from getting access to information that could be harmful to their mental health.

This information, which has surprised and shocked [Fr] many who thought it was a sick joke, has already been reported, in 2005, by the Open Net Initiative who identified the motives for this censorship:

The state also blocked one-quarter of language update sites tested (4 of 17, 24%). Like anonymizers, update sites can permit users to reach blocked content. A user who requests that such a site translate a filtered page can often read the prohibited content since it is the update site, not the user, that accesses the blocked content.

Talking about The “other censorship” [Fr] cases, the blogger and former judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui – who was among the final three candidates for The BOBs Special Award 2005 from Reporters Without Borders (RSF)– reminds us that at the moment censorship is being extended to target TV programs. He points out the popular “Bidoun Istithan” (without invitation) in which, the journalist Farah Ben Amara, enlightens the hidden side of Tunisian society by meeting the poorest people in the country and putting their misery in display. “Bidoun Istithan” broadcasted on « Hannibal TV » – country’s only private TV- has been interrupted after a campaign was launched against it by some journalists on government-controlled media accusing it of voyeurism. Though cautious in her wording, A Girl In The Moon wrote about “Tunisian double way of life” [Fr] and the individualism that is spreading through the country and asked with sarcasm where “Bidoun Istithan” has gone? As for karim2k, he notices that :

“Bidoun Istithan” (without invitation) have show how some of our citizen have really bad times, where poverty dwells in bitterness and hope, the hope that Hannibal TV offers to all the watchers of a better tomorrow.

Unfortunately, we are not done yet with the censorship’s long arm. Last week, as khanouff [Fr] wrote, the Tunisian public will not be able to watch the playwright Jalila Baccar’s [Fr] new work, “Corps-otages” [Fr] (Captive Bodies) or “Khamsoun” (fifthly, because of the play’s treatment of problems confronting Tunisia 50 years after the independence), directed by the living legend of Tunisian theater Fadhel Jaibi [Fr]. “The play which has only recently returned from a highly successful run at Paris’s Odéon theatre, in June 2006 [Fr]”, the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC) said in his last press release on October 13.

The Ministry of Culture’s Review Board has announced the censorship of the play and demanded that all dates, names of persons and cities, as well as Qoranic verses and references to Tunisian modern history be removed. “The board is demanding that Jaibi bring the play in line with a list of 100 themes subject to censorship before it grants the opening permit.” In his note, Ancien Combattant [Fr], who attended the meeting in Solidarity with “Corps-otages” held in El Teatro, gives us an unexhaustive list of themes subject to censorship and a link [Ar] to the letter of protest that Fadhel Jaibi has sent to the Minister of Culture.

Although as Fadhel Jaibi is “doing this play so [his] daughter won’t be forced to wear hijab“, the Tunisian government has censured Jaibi’s artistic work and chosen its own methods to deal with such issues: ban, censorship and more censorship.