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February 20 2014

Tunisia: Jailed Facebook User Pardoned, Release Unconfirmed

After spending nearly two years in prison, Jabeur Mejri jailed for posting content deemed offensive to Islam, obtained presidential pardon, local media reported on Wednesday.

In March 2012, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years imprisonment for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on his Facebook page. His friend, Ghazi Beji who published an ebook named “the illusion of Islam”, received the same sentence in absentia after fleeing the country. He now lives in France after obtaining asylum there.

They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.

Mejri was repeatedly denied pardon requests made by his defense team, despite multiple promises from interim President Moncef Marzouki to release him.

For instance, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last September, Marzouki said that he is “waiting for the good political moment” to release Mejri.

“Now when you have this situation with the Salafists, extremely violent, releasing this guy right now could be dangerous for himself”, he added drawing criticism from human rights activists who considered his statement as an excuse to keep Mejri in prison.

On Facebook, the President's office confirmed the pardon[ar]:

الناطق الرسمي باسم رئاسة الجمهورية السيد عدنان منصر على موجات شمس إف إم :رئيس الجمهورية أمضى منذ أيام عفوا خاصا عن جابر الماجري في القضية الأصلية

The official spokesperson of the Presidency of the Republic Mr Adnan Mansar speaking on Radio Shems FM: Days ago, the President of the Republic signed a special pardon for Jabeur Mejri in the first case

Twitter reactions followed:

Ghassen Yahia referred [fr] to the country's new constitution which guarantees freedoms of speech, thought and conscience. The same charter, adopted last January bans “attacks on sanctities”, though.

Jabeur freed? Is this the first implementation of the new constitution?

Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for Minorities, tweeted [fr]:

#freejabeur…it is too late, this is not a pardon but an attempt to repair a serious blow to human dignity

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey


Martin Pradel called for caution [fr]:

The pardon was announced a while ago, it should have been signed. But, caution as long as Jabeur has not been effectively released

Though pardoned, Mejri's release remains unconfirmed. The privately owned radio Shems FM reported that he remains in prison over an old lawsuit against him.

In a statement published yesterday [Feb 19, 2014], his support committee said [fr]:

Nous ne pouvons confirmer ou infirmer, pour le moment, ce nouveau rebondissement dans le dossier de Jabeur Mejri

Right now, we can neither confirm nor deny this new development in the case of Jabeur Mejri

Last January, the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) announced that Mejri would soon be released to travel to Sweden where he obtained political asylum.

Molka Chaari tweeted [fr]:

Pardoned, ok. But is he “obliged” to leave the country???

February 19 2014

10 New Documentaries at the Luxor African Film Festival

Tom Devriendt lists 10 documentaries to look out for at the Luxor African Film Festival:

The third edition of the Egyptian Luxor African Film Festival again has a wide-ranging programme scheduled for next month. Selected films will be showing in different competitions: Long Narrative, Short Narratives, Short Documentaries and Long Documentary. Below you’ll find a couple of the selected documentaries’ trailers (set in Togo, Senegal, Ghana, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Angola) that were recently uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, plus links to the films’ websites — where available.

January 31 2014

AB14: “We Must Stop Thinking That Technology Will Solve All of Our Problems”

This article originally appeared on El Diario, in Spanish. Translation by Ellery Roberts Biddle.

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Those who live in western societies do not understand the importance of being able to criticize the actions of their government. This is a right we do not have in our countries.”

It was with this that Walid Al-Saqaf, founder of Portal Yemen, began a panel on censorship and digital surveillance at the Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14 that took place from the 20-23 of January in Amman.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

The political context for this event has changed dramatically since the last meeting in September of 2011, when bloggers and activists from every Arab country came together in Tunis, meeting under a banner that read: “Welcome to a Free Tunis.” Since this time, censorship and repression have continued. The ardent, palpable feeling of hope at the last meeting, fueled by uprisings against dictatorships in the region, has given way to difficult transitions in some cases and armed conflict in others, all struggles that we see plainly in the online realm.

“We must stop thinking that technology will solve all of our problems,” Al-Saqaf pleaded. “Censorship is here to stay, regardless of the tools, so we must stop being obsessed with them and begin to think in the long term.”

The meeting focused on the strategic pursuit of protection against censorship and surveillance, and the preservation of common bonds in a milieu that feels more and more fragmented each day. An on-site photo project featured a message from each of the participants.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

This year, the absence of two participants from past meetings was especially palpable: Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and Syrian web developer Bassel Safadi. The meeting was dedicated to them, journalists and activists detained in the region. A statementcalling for freedom for Razan Zaitouneh, co-founder of Syria’s Center for Violations Documentation, a group that documents human rights abuses, who was kidnapped in December in Damascus.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity. We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

These were not the only people absent. A Syrian member of the Enab Baladi project, a local independent media project created at the start of the March 2011 uprising, was sent back to Turkey after several hours of interrogation at the Amman airport. Two Iraqi participants were denied entry visas altogether. Restrictions for citizen travel between countries in the region remains a constant (at the last meeting, Palestinian participants were not able to get into Tunisia) a reality that contradicts the illusion of regional unity.

“I have no words, only shame, to describe how Arab regimes treat citizens in other Arab countries, while a person with a Western passport can move freely without a visa through practically the entire region,” wrote Abir Kopty. She added: “We will keep fighting until we are separated neither by borders nor by authoritarian regimes.”

January 27 2014

Congrats Tunisia on the New Constitution!

Bloggers from across the region paid tribute to Tunisia for adopting a new constitution, three years after the ousting of dictator Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali.

The country, the first to join the so-called Arab Spring, is on the right path, they say.

Yemeni blogger Noon Arabia congratulates Tunisians:

Algerian Megari Larbi follows suit:

From Egypt, Mohamed El Dahshan laments the situation in his own country:

The comparisons with Egypt continue.

Borzou Daragahi tweets:

And Israeli Elizabeth Tsurkov chimes in:

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt adds:

Tunisia's Constituent Assembly Adopts New Constitution

Tunisia finally has a new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) overwhelmingly approved the charter three years after the ousting of the 23-year-rule of Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali. A total of 200 NCA members voted in favour of the final text, with 12 members voting against and only four abstentions.

The drafting and adoption of the 149 article document was a lengthy process, which started in October 2011, with the election of the NCA.

The assassination of opposition deputy Mohamed Brahmi in July, 2013, delayed the process when opposition deputies boycotted the NCA's activities for several months and protesters called for the dissolution of the elected assembly broke out.

Contentious points in the text, such as the place of religion in political life, division of executive powers between the Prime Minister and the President, the appointment process of judges, and the age requirements to run for presidency, also complicated the long process. Islamist and leftist NCA deputies were left with the one choice: finding compromises and the charter is often referred to as “the consensus constitution”.

Details of Vote on Constitution. Source: Marsad

Details of the vote on the constitution. Source: Marsad

The charter enshrines fundamental liberties and rights: freedoms of expression and press, the right to access information, freedoms of conscience and thought, gender equality before the law, and gender parity at elected assemblies.

The new constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, but does not make any reference to Islamic law as a source of legislation. It rather states that “Tunisia is a civil state based on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law”.

The charter also establishes a mixed political system, distributing executive powers among the PM and the President of the republic.

As soon as the text was approved, feelings of euphoria broke out at the NCA.

On Twitter, Tunisians welcomed the “historic moment”:

University teacher Lilia Youssef tweeted [fr]:

Come on admit it! Despite everything, it is a special moment

Cyril Karray said:

Regardless of how much you feel represented by this constitution, or if you respect those who wrote it or not: this is a historic day.

And Rabeb Othmani adds:

Euphoric moment at the Tunisian Constituent Assembly after the Approval of the Constitution. Photo Credit: Albawsala

Euphoric moment at the Tunisian Constituent Assembly after the Approval of the Constitution. Photo Credit: Albawsala


Lotfi Azouz, director the Tunis office of Amnesty International wrote [ar] on Facebook:

اليوم يزهر الربيع في تونس
يحق لنا في تونس الاعتزاز بتجربتنا الديمقراطية الرائدة في شمال افريقيا والشرق الاوسط حيث تم التوصل لانجاز دستور هو نتاج تفاعل ايجابي بين مختلف مكونات الطيف السياسي ومختلف مكونات المجتمع المدني حيث وللمرة الاولى يشارك المواطن بفاعلية في التاثير في عملية صنع القرار.

Today, spring flourishes in Tunisia. In Tunisia, we do have the right to be proud of our pioneering democratic experience in the North Africa and the Middle East region, where we were able to achieve a constitution, which was the result of a positive interaction between the different components of the political spectrum and civil society. For the first time, citizens effectively participated in influencing the decision-making process.

However, not everyone was satisfied with the end result, including Ahmed Kaaniche [ar]:

A constitution that justifies the death penalty and at the same time bans torture can only be a hypocritical constitution. #Does_Not_Represent_Me

Article 21 of the constitution states that “the right to life is sacred and shall not be prejudiced except in exceptional cases regulated by law.”

In a second tweet, Ahmed added [ar]:

A constitution that deprives me of my right to run for presidency because of my religious choices, does not represent me

Under article 73, only a Muslim can run for presidency.

Tunisia LGBT, was not happy either [fr]:

Congratulations to all those who feel represented by the new constitution, but not us [the LGBT community in Tunisia]. It does not even protect us from insults.

Article 6 of the constitution tasks the State of “protecting sanctity and banning attacks on it”.

But, the battle for democracy is ongoing and does not end with the approval of a constitution.

Mediapart reporter, Pierre Puchot tweeted [fr]:

Despite its contradictions, the text contains good advances. It is an important step in the democratic construction

And Malek tweeted [fr]:

Constitution adopted with 93% of the votes. Congratulations. Now we can turn the page. Life goes on as well as the fight for a better Tunisia

January 18 2014

Lebanese blogger spoofs Study on Middle Eastern Women Dressing

The question “How should Middle Eastern Women Dress in Public” posed by the University of Michigan is attracting hilarious spoofs online. The content is so rich that an additional post to our first one was necessary.

When Washington Post Max Fisher shared the original image on Twitter, he wasn't expecting this response by WSJ blogger Tom Gara:

But the spoof that got the most attention was undoubtedly Karl Sharro's of KarlreMarks:

Interviewed on PRI, he explained his motivation:

“It's almost like putting Muslim women on a scale from 1 to 6, from being fully covered to not being covered at all, which I think is pretty absurd.”

January 09 2014

How Should Middle Eastern Women Dress in Public?

How should Middle Eastern women dress? The way they want

How should Middle Eastern women dress? The way they want

This question, posed by a University of Michigan study, is drawing laughs – and criticism online. Most reactions came after this report on the Huffington Post.

The survey, conducted in seven “Muslim majority countries”, details what people think is an acceptable dress code for women in public in their countries. According to the poll, the majority of people in those countries, “do not think a woman should fully cover her face.” In Saudi Arabia, for example, 63 per cent of those polled said a woman should wear the veil which covers the face, but reveals the eyes – a common dress code for women in the conservative kingdom. Respondents from Lebanon and Turkey preferred women not to cover their faces – or hair.

On the Washington Post blog, Max Fisher notes:

Veiling is such a sensitive issue in much of the Middle East because, in many ways, it's about much more than just clothing. It's about religious vs. secular identity, about the degree to which women are or are not afforded equality and about embracing or rejecting social norms that are seen as distinctly Islamic.

On Twitter, the reactions are more fierce.

Palestinian Lena Jarrar asks:

M Ibrahim adds:

Hend, from Libya, takes several jabs at the poll. She tweets:

And Egyptian Mohamed El Dahshan joins the fray, saying:

And Siddhartha Chatterje wonders:

January 03 2014

PHOTOS: Tunisia in 2013: A Rough Year

The year 2013 was a rough year for Tunisia: two political assassinations, protests, military and security forces targeted by armed groups and a never ending political crisis.

On February 6, Chokri Belaid a leading member of the opposition and a staunch critic of Tunisia's Islamists was gunned down outside his home. His family accused the ruling Islamist party Ennahdha Movement, while the government laid the blame on Ansar al-Sharia.

Thousands Attended Funeral of Belaid on February 8 in Tunis. Photo Credit: Elyes Jaziri

Thousands Attended Funeral of Belaid on February 8 in Tunis. Photo Credit: Elyes Jaziri (used with permission)

Protester Holding Tunisian Flag at Belaid Funeral. Photo Credit: Elyes Jaziri (used with permission)

Protester Waving Tunisian Flag at Belaid Funeral. Photo Credit: Elyes Jaziri (used with permission)

As news of Belaid's assassination spread, protesters took to the streets of Tunisia, clashing with police and torching Ennahdha offices.

Police Fired Tear Gas to Disperse an Anti Government Protest on February 6. Photo Credit: Amine Ghrabi

Police Fired Tear Gas to Disperse an Anti Government Protest on February 6. Photo Credit: Amine Ghrabi

On Republic Day [July 25], anti-government protests had once again rocked the country following a second assassination in the span of less than six months. Mohamed Brahmi, an opposition member at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was gunned down outside his home in broad day light. Brahmi's family and the opposition also blamed Ennahdha. The latter denied any involvement.

Mohamed Brahmi Laid to Rest on July 27. Photo Credit: Lilia Blaise

Mohamed Brahmi Laid to Rest on July 27. Photo Credit: Lilia Blaise

Following Brahmi's assassination, rival protests were held and Tunisia plunged into a political crisis that lasted for months.

Pro Government Protesters Gathered Outside PM's Office on August 6. Photo Credit: Ennahdha's Facebook Page

Pro Government Protesters Gathered Outside PM's Office on August 6. Photo Credit: Ennahdha's Facebook Page

Protesters Calling for the Departure of the Government and the Dissolving of the Constituent Assembly (NCA)  Form a Human Chain Bewteen the PM's Office and NCA Headquarters on August 31. Photo Credit: Amine Ghrabi

Protesters Calling for the Departure of the Government and the Dissolving of the Constituent Assembly (NCA) Form a Human Chain Between the PM's Office and NCA Headquarters on August 31. Photo Credit: Amine Ghrabi

In 2013, Tunisia had also witnessed an increase in armed militancy targeting armed and security forces. Throughout the year, Tunisian authorities had been hunting for armed groups in the mountainous area of Chaambi, some 290 kilometers from the capital Tunis, where mine explosions left several injuries and deaths among the military and police.

On July 30, eights soldiers were killed in an ambush in Chaambi, leaving the nation in shock.

Candles Lit to Pay Homage to Soldiers Killed in Chaambi. Photo Credit: Seif Allah Bouneb

Candles Lit to Pay Homage to Soldiers Killed in Chaambi. Photo Credit: Seif Allah Bouneb

In late August, the Tunisian government listed Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia (AST) as a “terrorist organization”, blaming it for the assassination of Belaid and Brahmi and linking it to armed groups operating on Mount Chaambi. AST is a radical Islamist group demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Tunisia.

Police Implementing a Government Ban on AST Congress on May 19 in Kairouan. Photo Credit Nawaat

Police Implementing a Government Ban on AST Congress on May 19 in Kairouan. Photo Credit: Nawaat

In October, eight security officers had also been killed during clashes with gunmen in Sidi Ali Ben Aoun (province of Sidi Bouzid) and Gboullat (province of Beja). During the same month, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a beach in the resort city of Sousse. The suicide bomber only killed himself and left no deaths or injuries.

As 2013 was coming to an end, Mehdi Jomma, the Industry Minister in the current three-party coalition government, was nominated as the new PM, following talks between the opposition and the government.

Meanwhile, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) is set to adopt a constitution and put in place an election board tasked with organizing presidential and parliamentary elections in mid January. Will 2014 bring an end to Tunisia's political crisis and crown a three-year long democratic transition with free and fair elections? Only time will tell.

In this Cartoon by Le Bulle de Dlog, 2013 is Wishing 2014

In this Cartoon by La Bulle de Dlog, 2013 is Wishing 2014 “Good Luck.

November 26 2013

Will Tunisia's ATT Ring in a New Era of Mass Surveillance?

Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tunisian activists fear that mass surveillance and Internet censorship may return to their country following the creation of a new “investigative” telecommunications agency. On November 6, the Tunisian government announced the establishment the Technical Telecommunication Agency (known by its French acronym ATT or A2T) by decree. Article 2 decree n° 2013-4506 [fr] summarizes the mandate of the agency:

The Technical Telecommunications Agency provides technical support to judicial investigations into ICT-related crimes. It is thus tasked with the following missions:

- Receiving and treating orders stemming from the judicial authority to investigate and record ICT-related crimes in accordance with the applicable legislation.

- Coordinating with the different public telecommunication network operators, access networks and all concerned telecommunication service providers in all of its listed missions in accordance with the applicable legislation.

- Exploiting national monitoring systems of telecommunication traffic in accordance with international human rights treaties and personal data protection laws.

ATT members still have yet to be appointed and the agency has not begun its activities. But it has already raised eyebrows among activists and bloggers who say decree n° 2013-4506 lacks necessary mechanisms for protecting user rights.

Article 5 of the decree states that the annual report on the ATT's activities will be “secret, unpublished and only sent to the government.” Activist Skander Ben Hamda called the ATT decree ‘dishonest‘:

This agency is similar to dozens of other agencies around the world established under the pretense of fighting cyber-crime or counter-terrorism which transform the State into a massive-surveillance State. The decree establishing this agency is dishonest: total absence of civil society and lack of transparency.

On Twitter, Tunisian Pirate Party member Raed compared the ATT to the US National Security Agency:

In a statement [ar] issued on November 20, Tunisia's Ministry of Information and Telecommunications Technology said that the creation of the agency aims to “protect the [country’s] national cyberspace from crimes.” The statement continued: ”A set of guarantees on ATT’s activities have been made in order to consolidate respect for human rights, personal data protection, freedom of expression on the Internet and the right to access information.”

But this did not quell activists’ fears. In an interview with Global Voices, Internet freedom activist Dhouha Ben Youssef said, “The first problem is already in the form, the creation of this agency is made through a decree – not a law that must be voted by the National Constituent Assembly. Thus [there is] not even a debate.”

Unlike laws, decrees are issued by the government and do not require the parliament’s approval.

“Secondly, the introduction of the decree is based on a set of obsolete and repressive laws from the Ben Ali era,” Ben Youssef added.

“Hello darling, your beloved 404 [error] is back.” Tunisian netizens used the term “Ammar 404″ to refer to Internet censorship and surveillance under Ben Ali. Cartoon by Z.

The 2001 Telecommunication Code and the 2004 Privacy Law, were among the laws invoked by the government to establish the ATT. These two laws have deficiencies which make users vulnerable to judicial prosecution and state surveillance. Article 86 of the telecommunication code stipulates that anyone convicted of “harming others or disrupting their lives through public communication networks’’ may face up to two years in prison. This particular article was used many times under Ben Ali to prosecute and convict bloggers and users.

Also concerning is the fact that Tunisia's data protection authority (INDPD) remains weak under the2004 Privacy Law. Among other deficiencies, the law allows state authorities to collect and process personal data without obtaining the consent of the INDPD.

The autonomy and neutrality of the new agency has also been called into question.

Under Decree Article 4, the agency’s general director shall be appointed by the ICT ministry. A Tunisian Pirate Party statement [ar] charged that Article 4 “strips neutrality and objectivity” from the agency’s work and “makes spying on the opposition possible.”

The Ministry has said that a “follow-up” committee will be appointed within the ATT, with the intention of ensuring “good exploitation of national systems monitoring the telecommunication traffic in respect of personal data protection and public freedoms.” Yet just like the agency itself, this committee will be led by the ATT's general director.

The follow-up committee will be comprised by five government representatives appointed from the ministries of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, Interior, National Defense, ICT and Justice. A judge will act as the committee’s vice president and the two remaining members will be selected from the country’s data protection authority (INDPD) and the High Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, a government institution.

With the establishment of the ATT, the storied Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) will no longer be involved cybercrime investigations. ATI head Moez Chakchouk tweeted:

Indeed, amidst Tunisia's post-revolution legal and institutional vacuum the ATI often stepped in to assist judiciary investigations of cybercrime. ‘We don’t have any constraints but we try to help the court solve some cases, keeping a minimum surveillance,” Chakchouk said during the Freedom Online Conference in Tunis last June.

Tunisian activists have already launched the Stop #A2T campaign. “There is still time to get civil society and netizens involved,” said Ben Youseff. She suggested that the ATT board include a civil society representative. “By adding a representative at the A2T board, we'll be watching the watchers.”

November 21 2013

PHOTOS: The Thrill and Agony of World Cup Qualifying Matches

A few do-or-die matches to qualify for the 2014 World Cup were played worldwide last week in Africa and Europe. Despite the of-repeated claim that those games are just that, games, how people behave before and after some matches show that there is a little more at stake that what everyone would like it to be.

Here are reactions caught on film from four of those deciding matches, which ended in complete elation for Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and France, while Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ukraine and Tunisia saw their hopes of heading to Brazil vanish with the final whistle.

Algeria vs. Burkina Faso

Algeria qualified thanks to a late goal scored on Burkina Faso in additional time.

The crowd in Algiers felt the World Cup fever, as seen in this photo by Twitter user Bilel.:

Photo taken in Algeria, we are totally invested in this #AlgeriainBrazil, my face!

Algerian bloggers added humor to the joy of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil:

The tension during the first leg of the match-up on October 12 led some supporters to resort to racial insults towards the black referee, as captured in these screenshots by Paulin Diasivi:

During the match Burkina vs Algeria, some racists tweets by Algerian supporters

Côte d'Ivoire vs. Senegal

Côte d'Ivoire was also involved in late game drama when they managed to tie Senegal in Dakar 1-1 to qualify. The joy was visible in the team's dance as the game came to an end:

Côte d'Ivoire pull out a win after 90 minutes of play, the Elephants will go to Brazil

Brazil, here we come

Cameroon vs. Tunisia

Cameroon's World Cup play-off win over Tunisia was less dramatic with a 4-1 victory. Still, there was a bit controversy as Tunisia claims that two Cameroonian players were not eligible to play. Yaoundé, the economic capital of Cameroon, nevertheless was still beaming with pride after the win:

Cameroon is heading to the World Cup

Given the political dissidence in Tunisia, some supporters may not be as sad as expected with the elimination of their national team. The current government is quite unpopular within  the country's secular community because of stricter religious measures, and a win for the country's football team could have been seen as a win for the government : 

Cameroon 4-1 Tunisia, the hypocrites on “Twitter” [ed's note: pretend to be sad while cheering the elimination of Tunisia] vs. ”at home”, fess up now…LOL 

France vs. Ukraine

France had the deepest hole to climb out of to qualify after they lost the first leg 2-0 against Ukraine. In an miraculous come back, France won 3-0 in the second leg of the match-up, prompting raucous celebration from French fans and shows of despair from Ukrainian supporters:

Tonight, the stadium was shaking! The images from the crowd #Brazil

November 13 2013

Tunisian Rap Song Turns into an Anthem for Youth

On 14 September, Tunisian artists Hamzaoui Med Amine and Kafon released their newest song ‘Houmani'. With more than 3.4 million views on YouTube so far, the song has become an anthem for Tunisian Youth.

The video clip which only cost 250 dinars (around 150 USD) to produce, depicts residents of a disadvantaged neighborhood as they go through their daily lives.

In the Tunisian dialect, the adjective Houmani derives from the noun Houma, which could be translated to a ‘working-class district'.

Ahd Kadhem from Iraq explains the term Houmani [ar]:

حوماني: يعني يسكن بمنطقة شعبية والمنطقة الشعبية في تونس يسموها حومة . . . والرآب يتكلم على المناطق الشعبية إلي تجمع الطبقة الفقيرة من الشعب إلي نادر ما يذكرهم مسؤول أو شخصية مشهورة

Houmani refers to someone living in a working class area. A working class area in Tunisia is called Houma…And rap speaks about these districts inhabited by the poor class, which officials and famous personalities rarely talk about

An Alien listening to Houmani. Carticature by

An Alien listening to Houmani. Caricature by ZOOart

In the song, Hamzaoui and Kafon describe how life is like for youth living in working-class neighborhoods in Tunisia. The song lyrics say:

We are living like trash in a garbage can…[life] is suffocating here

Blogger Mehdi Lamloum explains howHoumani has been successful [fr]:

7oumani, une chanson simple, avec un titre étrange et un clip produit a peu de frais a créé des débats énormes ces dernières semaines…Et c’est ce qui est intéressant dans cette oeuvre. Elle est entrée rapidement dans la culture populaire en générant des conversations et débats sur plusieurs sujets…La question des quartiers populaires vs quartiers riches, même si elle n’est pas directement abordées dans la chanson, y est très présente. Une question a émergé a ce propos sur … qui a le droit d'écouter 7oumani?
Est-ce que les habitants des “quartiers riches”… ont le droit de s’identifier au quotidien que relate 7oumani?

Houmani, a simple song with a strange title and a video clip hat did not cost much, has generated big debates these recent weeks.The song has quickly blended into the popular culture generating several conversations and debates…The issue of working class neighborhoods vs rich neighborhoods, though not directly tackled in the song, is very present. A question has been raised regarding this: who has the right to listen to Houmani? Do residents of ‘rich neighborhoods’ have the right to identify themselves with the everyday life recounted by Houmani?

He adds:

Ceux qui critique la chanson sur un point de vue musical ont parfaitement raison…
Mais ils devraient voir ce qu’il y a au-delà du morceau lui-même : une oeuvre qui a réussi a transcrire une partie de ce que ressentent les tunisiens, qu’ils viennent des quartiers populaires ou pas, qu’ils vivent le quotidien décrit ou pas…

Those who criticize the song from a musical perspective are totally right. But, they need to see what is beyond the piece: the work has succeeded in transcribing part of what Tunisians feel, whether they come from poor districts or not and whether they are living the everyday life described in the song or not…

November 09 2013

Tunisian Police Blamed for Torturing Young Man to Death

Walid Denguir

Walid Denguir

On 1 November, 34-year-old Walid Denguir was chased and arrested by police before he was driven to the Sidi Bachir police station in the capital Tunis. About one hour later, his mother Faouzia received a phone call from a police officer telling her that her son died of a heart attack.

At Charles Nicole's hospital in Tunis, his mother and family members noticed head injuries and bruises on Denguir's lifeless body. Several photos [warning: graphic: here, here and here] taken of Denguir's body, before he was buried on 3 November, also show signs of torture and ill-treatment.

“His mouth and his nose were bleeding, I touched his forehead and it felt as though his skull was broken because there was a crevice between his forehead and the top of his skull,” Denguir's grieving mother told Human Rights Watch.

Reporter Tom Stevenson confirms:

Denguir's funeral drew angry crowds:

In a statement released on November 3, the Interior Ministry admitted an ‘excessive use of force’ and said that an investigation to ‘identify the reasons’ behind Densguir's death was opened. The ministry added that Denguir was wanted by the authorities for ‘involvement in drug related offenses’ and for ‘forming criminal gangs'.

An autopsy was performed on Walid's body but the results have not been released yet. For Ghazi Mrabet, one of the lawyers representing Denguir's family, this delay is ‘unjustifiable’ [fr]:

Rien au monde ne peut justifier tout ce retard pour que le médecin légiste remette la rapport d'autopsie de Walid Denguir . Quelques petites heures auraient suffit au service d'autopsie de l’hôpital Charles Nicole de mettre la lumière sur les raisons exactes de sa mort . Ce jeune citoyen tunisien est peut être un multirécidiviste ou un malfrat mais rien n'explique cette torture, ce crime organisé… Alors et avant qu'il ne soit trop tard , demandons l'arrestation des policiers qui ont interpellé ou interrogé Walid , n'attendons pas je ne sais quelle enquête administrative interne et arrêtons ces présumés coupables sachant qu'un rapport d'autopsie ne détermine pas les responsables d'une mort mais révèle tout simplement ses raisons . STOP TORTURE !!!!!!

Nothing in this world can justify this delay for the forensic pathologist to release the autopsy report of Walid Denguir. Few hours should be enough for the autopsy department at Charles Nicoles hospital to shed light on the exact reasons behind his death. This young Tunisian citizen might have been a persistent offender or a criminal, but nothing can justify this torture, and this organized crime…So, and before it is too late, let's call for the arrest of the police officers who arrested or interrogated Walid. Let's not wait for an internal administrative investigation to take place to arrest the suspects, bearing in mind that an autopsy does not determine those responsible of a murder but only reveals the reasons of a death. Stop torture!!!!

On November 6, the daily newspaper Al-chourouk reported that preliminary results of the autopsy had revealed that Denguir died of a heart attack after taking an overdose of cannabis. For the Tunisian twittersphere, these allegations are ridiculous and hard to believe.

An overdose of cannabis? No this is not a joke. This is the response of our government to hide the torture of Walid Denguir.

The death of Walid Denguir was the result of an overdose. Of what? Cannabis? This is a first in the world.

Writing for the collective blog Nawaat, Henda Hendoud reminded readers of Anis Omrani and Abderraouf Khammassi, who over the last two years passed away after they were tortured by police [fr]:

En effet, quand il s’agit de torture et surtout de meurtres, les médecins légistes, les magistrats et procureurs de république deviennent moins pertinents et beaucoup plus opaques dans leur traitement. Nous l’avons vu, lors de plusieurs affaires, comme le cas d’Anis Omrani, mort le 15 août 2011, au centre ville de Tunis, lors d’une confrontation entre des manifestants et la police.

Le Ministère de l’Intérieur avait déclaré que le jeune homme s’est suicidé en se jetant du balcon d’un appartement qu’il n’a jamais habité. Alors que des vidéos ont montré un policier en train de lui tirer dessus. Un autre cas similaire est celui d’Abderraouf Khamassi, mort le 8 septembre 2012, après avoir été torturé au siège de la brigade de la police judiciaire de Sidi Hassine à Sijoumi.

Les policiers accusés dans cette affaire étaient visiblement protégés tout au long de l’enquête administrative menée à l’intérieur du Ministère de l’Intérieur. L’autopsie laisse aussi entendre, dans ce dossier, que le décès n’est pas lié à la torture.

In fact, when it is a case of torture that leads to death, forensic pathologists, magistrates and State prosecutors become less discerning and more opaque. We have noticed this during other cases, such as that of Anis Omrani, who died on August 15, 2011, in downtown Tunis during clashes between protesters and police.

The Interior Ministry declared that the young man committed suicide by throwing himself from the balcony of an apartment he never lived in. However, videos showed a police officer shooting at him. Another similar case was that of Abderraouf Khamassi, who died on September 8, 2012, after he had been tortured at the office of the brigade of judicial police in Sidi Hassine in Sijoumi.

The police officers suspects in this case, were clearly protected during the entire administrative investigation conducted inside the Interior Ministry. The autopsy also alleged that the death of Khammassi was not the result of torture.

The death of Denguir in police detention comes as international human rights organizations were welcoming the adoption of a new law on an anti-torture body by the National Constituent Assembly established on October 9.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), described the adoption of this law as ‘a significant step forward towards eradicating torture in Tunisia'.

Turk-Arab Youth Congress: Middle East Needs Greater Regional Cooperation

Participants at the annual Turk-Arab Youth Congress (TAYC) in Istanbul, Turkey at the end of October called for a future in which Turks and Arabs work together at all levels for a better future of the region. 

The Congress emphasized the need for Turks and Arabs to recognize their common heritage as well as conform to their own standards instead of those set by the West. 

Since 2012, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Youth Assembly (IMMYA), a platform for Turkish youth, has held the Turk-Arab Youth Congress (TAYC). The congress is a platform in which Arab and Turkish youth and intellectuals can meet, talk about ideas and bring about a new vision for the region's future. The sessions and workshops are intended to create a comprehensive understanding for the participants and policy makers about the ground issues and challenges that region faces in order to explore new ideas and approaches for the present and future.

Logo of Turk Arab Youth CongressThe theme for this year's TAYC in Istanbul, Turkey, was “justice”, and the topics covered included: creating regional and global civil aid networks, and rethinking regional and global economic institutions. Young people belonging to 24 different Arab countries took part in the congress this year and zealously asked questions about their future, especially against the backdrop of uprisings and political unrest in the Middle East. The three-day (October 25, 2013 to October 27, 2013) program consisted of workshops, sessions and NGO presentations. 

The description of the Facebook page of Turk Arab Youth Congress stated the following goals:

1.To draw a vision for the future of the New Arabic World.
2.To create the platform for the youth to meet with the Arab & the Turkish intellectuals
3.To share and to document the “Street Experience” of the demonstrations from the people of revolution

Image courtesy Gulay Kaplan. From Turk-Arab Youth Congress Facebook Page.

Image courtesy Gulay Kaplan. From Turk-Arab Youth Congress Facebook Page.

On the first day, notable intellectuals and advisors to some political parties in Turkey delivered opening speeches. Panel discussion were conducted to explain the current scenario of the region and future implications.

The Twitter account (@Turk_Arab) of the Turk Arab Youth Congress (TAYC) shared a steady stream of opinions and statements from the speakers. Some noteworthy ones are:

Miss Summeyye Erdogan, Advisor to the Chairman of AK party, told young people to remain united despite the divides between them:

The Director and Coordinator of TAYC 2013, Oguzhan Mailmail (@oguzhan Mailmail) welcomed the participants on the first day and explained the goals of the congress to them.

Dr. Kerem Kinik (@drkerem), President of Doctors Worldwide, gave a presentation on “togetherness” and suggested that young people share their pain and suffering and speak out against oppression:

@Turk_Arab @GenclikMeclisi said #R4BIA @r4biaplatform

Turk Arab Youth Congress (@Turk_Arab) tweeted:

Omar Salha (@o_salha), founder of Ramadan Tent and a doctoral fellow working on global diplomacy, conducted sessions on the intervention of international organizations in local conflicts and politics. He considered the interaction with the participants an insightful one:

Izzy (@islam_altayeb), a Middle East analyst, tweeted:

The “Economic and Financial Commission” was moderated by Muzammil Thakur (@M_A_Thakur), an advocate for the cause of Indian occupied Kashmir:

The economic and financial committee at the workshop

Merve Serire (@karakurukiz), who studied economics at Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey, moderated the social, humanitarian and cultural commission:

The cultural and humanitarian and social committee at the workshop

As an example of the impact of the platform, Dorra Amara (@DorraAmara) from Tunisia and Merve Serire (@karakurukiz) from Turkey became close at the Congress. Amara tweeted this picture:

At the end of all the sessions and workshops, the participants were asked to devise solutions for the Syrian refugee problem. Representative from each workshop shared information with all the participants in an evaluation conducted on the evening of October 26 and October 27, 2013:

@Turk_Arab Assessment of second day sessions at Youth Congress. #tayc2013 #TAYC2013

A short video clip, highlighting the overview of the congress can also be viewed through the following link:

It is evident that events of such nature are giving the Muslim youth a chance to channel their energies in the correct direction. They are discussing their future as they alone can better understand the dynamics of their respective countries. Apart from political harmony and unity, people across the borders can interact with each other. This is significant for Arab region that is going through disharmony and uncertainty.

Thumbnail image by author. Translations by Amira Al Hussaini & Baran Mavzer.

October 01 2013

Breaking Taboos: Tunisians Speak Up Against Homophobia

Many Tunisians took to their keyboards to lash out against homophobia after the country hosted its first conference on homosexuality. The conference was held on Friday (September 27, 2013), at the Ministry of Human Rights in the capital Tunis. It was led by psychology experts and leading Tunisian sexologist, Haithem Sherif. On Twitter, the hashtag #TnGay was trending. It ranked fifth, two spots behind Justin Bieber. Close call.

A screenshot of Twitter trending topics on Sunday, 28th.

A screenshot of Twitter trending topics on Saturday (Sept 28).

Not to be confused, the role of the conference was to study “family perspectives with regards to early-age homosexuality.” The conference organizers asserted the event was not to diss homosexuality, but rather to open debate. The experts wanted to navigate with the attendees whether families play an active role in shaping the sexual orientation of their young children. Unfortunately, the Facebook page, set up for the event and which was quickly populated with comments and posts about the topic, was deleted a few hours after the end of the conference.

This did not stop Tunisians from expressing their opinion on the topic. Many turned to Twitter to vent off. Blogger Emna El Hammi tweets in disbelief [fr]:

A homophobic conference at the ministry of human rights. We have seen it all in this country.

The “normal” is to feel good about oneself and live in a balanced, tolerant society.

Another Tunisian twitter user has different views

You're going way too far here. This is a MUSLIM country.

The conference featured a video about early-age homosexuality, featuring Tunisia's Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou. Monia Ben Hamadi quotes Dilou as saying:

Dilou: In an Arab country whose religion is Islam, family is a man, a woman and their children.

Dilou reiterated his views about homosexuality. Early in 2012 and only a few months after he was sworn in as minister, he referred to homosexuality, on a Tunisian talk show, as “psychological perverseness that ought to be treated.” Those statements have stirred outrage from LGBT groups in Tunisia at the time.

Other Twitter users lashed out on Islamist leaders, and their stance on homosexuality. Morsi Chaari tweets [fr]:

The human rights of Islamists is the right to pity, clemency, understanding, non-violence….a medical treatment.

The conference also helped some LGBT rights advocacy Twitter users rise to prominence. @TNLGBT who was also present at the conference did not miss out the opportunity to react with those who were curious about the conference or had different opinions. These Twitter users still withhold their anonymity due to public pressure and state harassment of homosexual practices.

It is hard to recapture the overall reaction over social media regarding such a topic, which is still taboo in Tunisia. Global Voices Online spoke to Tunisia Live journalist Farah Samti, who attended the conference, and who writes frequently about the topic. We asked her if the conference was successful in stirring any kind of meaningful debate around the topic. She did not think so.

“I think the purpose behind holding such a conference was probably to try to show that the topic is being addressed and that it's no longer a taboo. But it wasn't particularly efficient or useful. It was one-sided and the speakers did not answer questions of those who opposed their views,” she replied on Facebook.

Is the topic being addressed enough, one might wonders. Can social media be effective platforms for such debate?

“Absolutely not. People are still scared, obviously. And that's why it's hard to speak for the LGBTQ community itself. And, that's why social media is the main way to speak their minds,” asserts Samti.

August 21 2013

Amina Leaves Femen Because of “Islamophobia”

Amina, the Tunisian activist released from jail early August, left the Femen movement. She accused Femen of “Islamophobia”.  Femen confirmed online that:

FEMEN confirms its break with the Tunisian activist Amina Tyler because of differences of opinion on tactics in the Islamic countries (…) FEMEN calls for new heroines who are able to fight for their courage to shake the rotten foundation of Islamist world. Freedom for women of the East!”

Amina Sboui posted this picture online on the Femen website. Credit Creative Common License Manolofreira

Amina Sboui posted this picture online on the Femen website. Credit Creative Common License Manolofreira

Amina published another topless picture on the Femen's website on August 15th, before expressing her decision to leave the movement. All this turmoil does not really help a clearer reading of Femen's objectives.

August 10 2013

Tunisia: Jailed Netizen Denied Eid Pardon

Tunisian Twitter users expressed their disappointment when they learned that jailed netizen Jabeur Mejri, was not going to benefit from a recent presidential pardon issued on the occasion of Eid. Last year, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years in prison over the publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook. His friend Ghazi Beji, who published a satirical book called the ‘Illusion of Islam’ on the document-sharing website Scribd also received the same severe sentence in absentia. Beji had fled Tunisia to escape prosecution and obtained political asylum in France. They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.

Last April, Mejri's verdict was confirmed by the Cassation Court (the highest court of appeal in Tunisia). His defense team decided to seek a presidential pardon. However, Mejri was not included in the list of the pardoned prisoners issued on August 8.

Photo via Facebook Page 'Pour la grâce présidentielle de Jabeur et Ghazi'

Photo via Facebook Page ‘Pour la grâce présidentielle de Jabeur et Ghazi’

The committee in support of Mejri and Beji released a statement [fr]:

La présidence a annoncé une grâce présidentielle pour une liste de 343 prisonniers ainsi qu'une grâce spéciale de 20 autres prisonniers mais le nom de Jabeur Mejri ne figure pas sur aucune de ces listes.

Nous avons espéré que le président se rappellerait que lui même, un jour a été à la place de Jabeur Mejri et refuserait de voir des prisonniers d'opinion, durant son mandat mais … malgré les promesses qui ont été faites à demi mots à sa famille, le résultat est là : Jabeur reste en prison !

Jabeur Mejri ne passera pas l'Aid avec les siens ! Même si Jabeur n'est ni un terroriste, ni un violeur, ni un criminel ! Jabeur est un jeune qui a cru en une Tunisie nouvelle et a cru avoir le droit de s'exprimer librement !

Jabeur Mejri n'aurait jamais du être en prison! (…) Après un jugement inéquitable, il est accusé pour trouble à l'ordre public pour un message sur Facebook sur une page où il avait 16 fans !

The president's office issued a presidential pardon of 343 prisoners and a special pardon of 20 other prisoners. But, the name of Jabeur Mejri is not listed.

We had hoped that the President would remember that he some time ago was a prisoner of conscience like Jabeur Mejri. We had hoped that he [interim President Moncef Marzouki], would refuse to see prisoners of opinion during his mandate. But despite the promises made to his family, Mejri remains in prison.

Jabeur Mejri will not celebrate Eid with his family even though he is not a terrorist, a rapist or a criminal. Jabeur is a young man who had believed in a new Tunisia and thought he had the right to express himself freely.

Jabeur Mejri should never have been in prison! (…) Following an unfair trial, he was convicted of causing harm to public order over a message he published on his Facebook page and where he only had 16 fans!

'Express yourself, Freedom' via Amnesty Tunisia Facebook page

‘Express yourself,
Freedom’ via Amnesty Tunisia Facebook page

On Twitter, netizens expressed their dismay.

More than 300 prisoners were freed today but Jabeur remains behind bars for his ideas. Let's not forget this.

.@Moncef_Marzouki Free Jabeur, he is not a danger to the public.

As you celebrate Eid, a young man rots in prison for daring to call into question your beliefs.

343 criminals freed but Jabeur remains in prison over a caricature!

.@presidenceTN What's his crime? Expressing an idea! The reward is seven and half years in prison. Jabeur is not a terrorist!

August 06 2013

Do FEMEN's Topless Protests Advance Women's Rights or Jeopardize Them?

Whether the feminist movements in Europe and France rally behind them or not, the controversy surrounding feminist protest group FEMEN continues. Triggering a barrage of criticism and attacks on social media, in the press and within some political circles, the members of FEMEN–using their bare breasts as simple yet radical weapons–seem to serve as a symbol of protest for women facing difficulties all over the world.

When a man sets himself on fire in protest, no one thinks to accuse him of harming any social justice movements. So is FEMEN jeopardizing women's rights with the radical nature of their actions?

Following FEMEN's shows of support for Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Tyler, who had been threatened by Tunisian leaders for posting topless political photos on her Facebook page and was arrested for painting the group's name on a cemetery wall in Kairouan in protest at a planned meeting of radical Sunni Muslim Salafists, Karima Brini [fr], founder of Tunisian association Femme et citoyenneté (Women and citizenship), wrote that such radicalization can be damaging [fr]. Three FEMEN activists were later arrested and imprisoned for protesting topless in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis in support of Tyler:

Les raisons de leur combat contre l’exploitation des femmes sont respectables. Mais ce qu’elles ont fait ici en Tunisie va nous porter préjudice parce qu’on aura tendance à associer les organisations qui travaillent pour les droits des femmes à leur action.”

The reasons for their fight against the exploitation of women are honourable. But what they have done here in Tunisia will adversely affect us because people will be inclined to associate their actions with organizations working for women's rights.

FEMEN's trade secret

There are likely many circumstantial reasons that the FEMEN movement has been experiencing so much media success. With unceasingly white-hot Twitter [fr] accounts (nearly 7,000 followers for FEMEN France) and passionate Facebook [fr] pages for every country (nearly 40,000 likes on the FEMEN France page), as well as a content-filled website, it is clear that FEMEN activists know how to use all the means at their disposal to make some noise–and they do.

It seems their key to success lies simply in their radically innovative means of protest: a simple, powerful, effective, iconic, popular, universal, and age-old gesture, a huge kick in the hornet's nest. A gesture that Olivier Ciappa [fr] wanted to reflect in the new French stamp he designed, bearing an image of the country's national emblem Marianne inspired by prominent FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko:

Elle incarne le mieux les valeurs de la République, liberté, égalité, fraternité. Le féminisme fait partie intégrante de ces valeurs. Et la Marianne, au temps de la Révolution était seins nus, alors pourquoi ne pas rendre hommage à cette fabuleuse Femen ? “

She best exemplifies the values of the French Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity. Feminism is an integral part of these values. And Marianne was topless during the Revolution, so why not pay tribute to this fabulous FEMENist?

It is also a gesture for which Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Tyler has been both celebrated and condemned. Charged with “immoral conduct” (gestes immoraux [fr]) by the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, it is this very gesture that Sami Adleeb defended on his blog [fr]:

En aucun cas son geste est impudique ni symptomatique d’un quelconque trouble psychologique. C’est un cri d’indignation et de colère contre la bondieuserie [...]. Elle voulait attirer l’attention de l’opinion publique mondiale sur les atteintes au droit des femmes, sur la banalisation du viol et l’impunité dont bénéficient les violeurs en Tunisie post 14 janvier 2011. [...] En recourant à ce mode d’expression politique inédit en Tunisie, Amina n’a pas enfreint les tabous ou un quelconque ordre moral [...], elle n’a justement rien à dissimuler, c’est pourquoi elle revendique en toute dignité et liberté.”

In no way is her act indecent or symptomatic of any psychological disorder. It is a outcry of indignation and anger directed towards sanctimoniousness [...]. She wanted to draw global attention to the violations of women's rights, the trivialization of rape and the impunity being enjoyed by rapists in post-Revolution Tunisia. [...] By using this unprecedented method of political expression in Tunisia, Amina has not violated any taboos or moral order [...], she rightly has nothing to hide, that is why she makes her demands in complete dignity and freedom.

Soutien à Amina à Montréal posté sur la page facebook Femen France, reproduite avec autorisation de Femen France

“Free Amina” (Libérez Amina): Show of support for Amina in Montreal posted on FEMEN France's Facebook page, courtesy of FEMEN France

Nudity, particularly that of women, as a form of protest against societal violence in public space had been mentioned before by Rue 89 [fr] in 2011 in relation to the Tibet-China conflict:

En septembre, à Shanghaï, une autre femme âgée de 77 ans, médecin, avait eu recours à un autre mode de protestation : elle avait manifesté, nue et à genoux devant le siège du tribunal local.”

In September, in Shanghai, another woman–77 years old and a doctor–used another form of protest: she demonstrated, nude and on her knees, in front of the local court.

An unclear but “sextreme” message

If FEMEN's actions are clear, the message attached to them seems to be harder to understand. After posting a problematic tweet about Islam and Ramadan, Inna Shevchenko [fr] defended herself from the charges of islamophobia in the French daily newspaper Libération [fr] :

S’agissant des accusations d’islamophobie, Inna Shevchenko les balaie d’un revers de la main, préférant le terme « religiophobe » et insistant sur le fait que les Femen n’ont « pas peur de souligner les aspects liberticides de cette religion ou d’autres religions ».”

Inna Shevchenko brushes off accusations of Islamophobia, preferring the term “religiophobe” and insisting that FEMEN is “not afraid to point out draconian aspects of that religion or of other religions.”

FEMEN's website has recently evolved, it seems, to take a more radical turn, combining highly connotative symbols like the swastika with battle poses and anti-male sentiment:

FEMEN – is the new Amazons, capable to undermine the foundations of the patriarchal world by their intellect, sex, agility, make disorder, bring neurosis and panic to the men's world.

In India, other women have moved from an imagined battle of the sexes to a real one with the Pink Sari gang [fr - see also on English Wikipedia]:

Elles ont choisi le rose comme emblème de leur combat et peuvent compter dans leurs rangs, plusieurs centaines de militantes et de militants. Elles sont armées de lathi – les bâtons traditionnels – qui servent à battre les hommes qui ont abusé de leurs épouses ou les ont abandonnées, et aussi à “tabasser” les policiers qui ont refusé d’enregistrer des plaintes pour viol.”

They chose pink as the symbol of their struggle and count hundreds of activists among their ranks. They are armed with lathi–traditional sticks–used to beat men who have abused or abandoned their wives, and also to “beat” police officers who have refused to register rape complaints.

FEMEN seems much more moderate on their site's info page:

  • We unite young women based on the principles of social awareness and activism, intellectual and cultural development.
  • We recognise the European values of freedom, equality and comprehensive development of a person irrespective of the gender.
  • We build up a national image of femininity, maternity and beauty based on the Euro-Atlantic women’s movements experience.

The word “national” in the last sentence could raise some eyebrows, however.

Neither for or against

The FEMEN movement's identity is very much under construction, constantly evolving along with the news that it generates. It arouses hatred that seems to come from another era, but also a lot of misunderstandings, in particular from feminists. The site Egalité et réconcilitation [fr], for example, states:

« Ce n’est qu’une simulation de féminisme » [...]. Femen « nuit à l’image de l’Ukraine autant qu’au vrai mouvement féministe », renchérit Marianna Evsioukova, une responsable à Kiev de l’ONG internationale La Strada, qui défend les droits des femmes. D’autres assimilent les Femen à un projet commercial [...].”

“It is only a simulation of feminism” [...]. FEMEN “is as damaging to Ukraine's image as it is to the real feminist movement,” adds Marianna Evsioukova, an official in Kiev at international NGO La Strada, which defends women's rights. Others liken FEMEN to a commercial project [...].

But FEMEN does have its gesture, this gesture that connects it to the world, especially to women. A group of Greek women posted the following video on FEMEN France's Facebook page as a show of support to Amina and following the temporary censorship of their Facebook page.

If there is so much discussion about FEMEN, it is probably because, whatever is said, the issue of women's rights is far from being resolved both in France and abroad. Thus, it seems that the question is not about being for or against FEMEN, but rather about seeing the light shed on this archaic injustice as an opportunity for feminist movements in general to change and evolve. According to Femmes pour la paix's website [fr]:

Tout militantisme demande du courage car d’une certaine manière nous nous mettons à nu devant une masse uniforme. Il est plus facile de rester chez soi à regarder le monde évoluer sans nous que d’y participer.”

All activism requires courage because in some sense we are laying ourselves bare before an undifferentiated mass. It is easier to stay at home and watch the world go by without us than to get involved.

August 02 2013

Tunisian FEMEN Activist Amina Released from Prison

On August 1, a Tunisia court ordered the release of FEMEN activist Amina Sboui, arrested in mid May after she wrote the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall in Kairouan, central of Tunisia. On May 30, she was ordered to pay a fine over the ‘non-authorized’ possession of pepper spray. However, she remained in custody on additional charges, including “belonging to a criminal organization” [FEMEN] and “undermining public morals”. These two charges have been dropped. Although a defamation case against the 19-year-old activist was dismissed on July 29, Amina is still charged with “cemetery desecration”.

Finally, out of prison. But, we will be satisfied with her acquittal.

Photo of Amina as she walks free. She was released on Thursday afternoon. Photo via Tunisian Girl Facebook page

Photo of Amina as she walks free. She was released on Thursday afternoon. Photo via Tunisian Girl's Facebook page

As the news of Amina's release spread, a number of number of Tunisian Twitter users thought of Jabeur Mejri, sentenced to seven and half years in prison last year over the publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

Amina is free. It's the turn to “freejabeur. Let's not forget him.

Amina is free. We are not going to refuse her release but the battle for freedom of expression and conscience continue. #freejabeur

July 28 2013

State Funeral for Tunisian Opposition MP as Protests Continue

Protests continue in Tunisia, following the state funeral for opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, a socialist and an Arab nationalist, shot dead outside his home on Republic day [July 25].

Two gunmen shot Brahmi, a leader in the Popular Front, a coalition of leftist opposition parties, and then fled on a motorbike. This is the second assassination, in the span of five months, after the fatal shooting of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6.

Ennhdha blamed:

The assassination sparked street protests calling for the fall of three-party coalition government [referred to as Troika] led by the Islamist Ennahdha Movement and the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly, elected in October 2011 to draft a new constitution. Protesters pointed fingers at Ennahdha, which denied any involvement in the assassination.

Brahmi's widow leading her husband's funeral procession

Brahmi's widow leading her husband's funeral procession

Under the Troika rule, Tunisia witnessed an increase in violence targeting opposition politicians, activists and outspoken critics of Islamists. “So far, little has been done by the authorities to ensure that reported attacks against members of the opposition are adequately investigated and those responsible are brought to justice, fuelling a climate of impunity and increasing political polarization. While there is an ongoing judicial investigation into the killing of Chokri Belaid, and some suspects have been arrested, nobody has been tried yet for this crime”, said Amnesty International on July 25, urging Tunisian authorities to “deliver justice”.

Brahmi's family has accused Ennahdha.

Brahmi's widow: ”I congratulate you, Ennahdha and Troika. You have once again silenced a free and just voice

Security forces criticized:

During a press conference, the Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jedou said that the same radical Islamist group involved in the murder of Chokri Belaid on February 6, is also involved in this week's killing of Brahmi. The minister also claimed that the same gun was used to kill both opposition figures and that the authorities had identified 14 suspects, some of whom belong to Ansar Al-Sharia Tunisia. The group has released a statement [ar] denying any involvement in the assassination.

Security forces are facing fierce criticism over their “incompetence” to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Belaid and their failure to prevent a second assassination.

Sarah Ben Hamadi writes for the Maghreb edition of the Huffington Post [fr]:

Le ministre de l’intérieur n’a pas divulgué ces détails sur les antécédents du meurtrier présumé de Mohamed Brahmi, mais a déclaré que Boubaker Al Hakim était “activement recherché dans des affaires d’introduction et trafic d’armes sur le territoire tunisien”, et “est lié à Kamel Gadhgadhi” l’assassin présumé de Chokri Belaid, toujours en fuite.

The Interior Ministry did not reveal details regarding the history of Brahmi's alleged killer, but only declared that Boubaker Alhakim was “actively sought-after in cases related to arms smuggling on Tunisian land” and he “is linked to Kamel Gadhgadhi” the alleged killer of Chokri Belaid, who is still on the run.

A few days before the assassination, security forces stormed a house in the same neighborhood, where Brahmi lived, and confiscated arms but made no arrests. Ben Hamadi writes [fr]:

Comment Boubaker Al Hakim, activement recherché, a-t-il alors pu revenir dans ce quartier, qui devait être théoriquement, surveillé jour et nuit, tirer 14 balles et s’enfuir?

How could Boubaker Alhakim, actively sought [by the police], come back to this neighborhood, which theoretically should have been under surveillance all day long, shoot 14 bullets and run away?

Ben Hamadi has also raised questions over the involvement of Jihadists in the assassination of Brahmi:

Mais pourquoi les salafistes djihadistes élimineraient Mohamed Brahmi? Un musulman pratiquant, loin de correspondre au profil des “ennemis de l’Islam” que combattent d’habitude les djihadistes. Un militant originaire de Sidi Bouzid, pas très médiatisé et n’ayant pas un grand poids électoral. Le connaissaient-ils vraiment? C’est possible. En véritable militant baâthiste et nassérien, Mohamed Brahmi soutenait le gouvernement du président syrien Bachar Al Assad, dont le régime est combattu depuis maintenant deux ans… par des djihadistes, y compris Tunisiens.

But, why would Salafi Jihadists eliminate Mohamed Brahmi? A practicing Muslim whose profile does not fit with “enemies of Islam” whom the Jihadists usually fight. An activist from Sidi Bouzid, not very much publicized and does not have a large electoral weight. Do they really know him? It is possible [that they do]. A Baathist and Nassirist activist, Mohamed Brahmi supported the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad, whose regime has been in battle with Jihadists, including Tunisians, for two years

First death in Gafsa:

During an overnight protest on Friday, one protester died [warning: graphic video] in the southern city of Gafsa. He was reportedly hit by a tear gas canister in the head, when police fired tear gas at protesters gathering in front of the local governor's office.

Photo: Mohamed Belmufti, father of two, telecommunications engineer and an activist from the Popular front. He fell a martyr tonight in #Gafsa.

July 01 2013

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