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June 14 2013

Everyone's Rights are at Stake: Global Reach of US Surveillance Programs

Last week's revelations about phone and Internet surveillance programs of the US government's National Security Agency (NSA) sent shock waves throughout the United States and the western media, but also around the globe. While in the US, many privacy-minded lawmakers and even digital rights advocates used the news as an opportunity to demand better protections for Americans’ online privacy, Internet users worldwide were left wondering how to protect their own data, short of closing their Google accounts, packing up their Facebook profiles and heading for the woods.

Documents leaked by Booze Allen employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden have now confirmed that customer call data from telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T was being passed to the NSA through a system where accountability was scarce and secrecy ruled. Reports indicate that the agency applies a vague standard of “foreignness” when determining whether or not a person's communications would be subject to surveillance under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — users who spoke with individuals in other countries, for any reason from hatching terrorist plots to catching up with relatives — could come under watch.

Image by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (CC BY-2.0)

Image by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (CC BY-2.0)

The documents also revealed details about an Internet surveillance program known as PRISM, which allows the NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to obtain copious amounts of user and communication data from major Internet companies including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. While many details of the program remain murky, the news has left international digital rights advocates reeling. Advocacy groups in the UK wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, condemning US government surveillance of British citizens and demanding strong protections for digital privacy in the UK. An international coalition of advocates meanwhile is pushing the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special session to discuss the matter and develop recommendations for member states.

While some see the revelations as an opportunity to push for stronger laws at home, others fear that the US, ever-committed to “leading by example,” has set a new, very low standard for online privacy protections worldwide.

“The leaks reveal an abuse of any citizen's basic rights, no matter which country the citizen is in,” Wafa Ben Hassine, a Tunisian human rights advocate and ACLU member told Global Voices Advocacy. Ben Hassine pointed out that Tunisians are familiar with pervasive surveillance. “The Tunisian government in Ben Ali's era indulged in spying on the average citizen's digital communications for decades,” she said, arguing that this moment should be seen as an opportunity for policymakers to develop laws that would “enshrine the values of digital rights.”

Alberto Cerda, a human rights lawyer and international program director of Chilean digital rights group Derechos Digitales described how in Chile, the government has “done its homework” in this area. He explained that human rights, including the right to privacy, are well protected under Chilean law. But this, Cerda pointed out, doesn't even begin to solve the problem:

This proves that a local solution won't do, as the violation of fundamental rights has a global character. What good is it for me to be protected in Chile if it's actually the US government that's violating my rights?

His question has likely loomed large for many users since the news hit. Kasia Szymielewicz, director of Polish digital rights group Panoptykon, argued that the NSA's actions would violate the EU's data protection policies, which aim to provide stronger protections against private or corporate data collection than are afforded in the US. She told GVA:

Nobody expected that NSA and FBI have direct access to companies’ servers, which in practice means that data of Polish and European citizens can be used and abused without any legal safeguards. In the light of European data protection standards, even in the scope of law enforcement, this practice simply cannot be accepted.

Some advocates see the particulars of the PRISM program as a reason to promote Internet business at the national level. Anja Kovacs, director of the Internet Democracy project in Delhi, India, said that India's ISP association sees this as an opportunity to push for requiring multinational companies to establish servers in-country, a move that would give the Indian government greater jurisdiction and control over local users’ data and US government efforts to obtain it.

Kovacs said that the Association has correctly pointed to the “duplicity of US-based companies in denying access to information to the Indian government while making it freely available to the US government,” but cautioned that “the latter point is sometimes framed in highly nationalist terms [as] urging for solutions that would perhaps benefit the Indian state but not necessarily Indian users.” Many advocates in India argue that efforts establish servers in-country are mainly driven by government desires to achieve greater control over online speech.

Ben Hassine also commented on the need for establishing more companies outside the US.

The NSA leak should provide every country a lesson – including Tunisia – that the key to ensuring online privacy and digital rights is through the development of local platforms and content and making such tools available globally. Our reliance on US-based ‘big tech’ is an elemental part of the problem.

Advocates also speculated on how the NSA revelations might influence national-level policymaking on the issue of privacy itself. Carlos Afonso, an Internet governance expert and director of Brazilian Internet rights group Instituto Nupef, pointed to Brazil's Data Protection Law, which will be brought before Congress in the near future. Afonso urged that future debates on privacy be transparent and open to all parties affected:

[The data protection debate] needs to bring guarantees that data protection will be a policy/regulatory field where all the sectors of society are fully engaged, with spaces for the full participation of civil society.

Szymielewicz hoped that the news would trigger greater efforts to ensure data privacy within the European Union, and noted that the “PRISM affair” had already triggered a “serious debate” within EU institutions. But she also cautioned that the news could have precisely the opposite effect in many countries, including her native Poland:

There is a risk that Polish authorities and security agencies may want to follow the NSA and FBI and demand even broader access to our data for public security purposes, therefore lowering our standard of legal protection.

As new information continues to emerge around this story, lawmakers and digital rights advocates should consider the global implications of these programs and other pervasive digital surveillance efforts by governments around the world. In a digital era, where it is impossible to draw a line separating the communications of “citizens” or “residents” of a particular country and “foreigners”, governments must strive to develop policies that will not only fit this new paradigm, but truly protect the privacy and freedoms of users worldwide.

June 04 2013

Tunisian FEMEN Activist Faces New Charges

The trial of Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Tyler, who was arrested on May 19 after she graffitied the word FEMEN on the wall of cemetery in Kairouan, 184km from the capital Tunis, will resume on June 5.

On May 30, a court fined Amina 300 Tunisian Dinars (150 euros) over the “non-authorized possession of an incendiary object” — pepper spray. Amina's lawyers argued that she had the pepper spray for self-defense reasons, following the death threats she received last March, after she posted topless photographs of herself on Facebook. Though she avoided a six-month jail-term for this charge, Amina remains in custody and now faces new charges: “undermining public morals”, “desecrating a cemetery” and “belonging to a criminal organization” [FEMEN]. These charges could land the 19-year-old in jail for several years.

On 31 May, Amnesty International called upon the Tunisian authorities to release Amina. The organization described the charges as “politically motivated and targeting her [Amina] for her activism on women's rights”.

Silence of the so called “Democrats”?
The secular Tunisian opposition's lack of support to Amina, was met with criticism. Fearing to lose the future votes of the conservative electorate, it seems that leftist politicians have preferred to remain silent. This is not the first time political parties from the left faced accusations of letting down their own “progressive” values. For instance, they were also accused of adopting a weak stance on the case of Ghazi Beji and Jabeur Mejir, who were convicted to seven and half years in prison last year, over the publication of online content deemed offensive to Islam.

In the Avaaz petition demanding the release of Amina, the support committee for the young FEMEN activist said [fr]:

Retour à la case prison pour Amina !
Nous avons toutes et tous été leurré(e)s par l’annonce de la relaxe d’Amina pour détention d’explosif. Amina, la prisonnière de l’hypocrisie politique tunisienne, du mutisme de celles et ceux qui veulent s’affirmer démocrates, mais qui n’osent prendre part à la lutte qui se joue actuellement.

Amina is back in prison!
We were all deluded by the announcement that Amina was released over the possession of an incendiary object. Amina is the prisoner of the Tunisian political hypocrisy and the silence of those claiming to be democrats but do not dare to take sides in this ongoing battle.

Tunisian writer Gilbert Naccache also criticized [fr] the proclaimed democrats’ stance:

La démocratie a vraiment du mal à se frayer un chemin jusqu’à nos cerveaux ! Les mêmes qui se disent prêts à se battre jusqu’au bout pour les libertés (…) hurlent à l’intolérable provocation quand Amina s’exprime(…)

Les justifications de la condamnation d’Amina, même par ceux qui l’accusent de donner un prétexte à détourner l’attention des vrais problèmes, de contribuer à diviser davantage les Tunisiens, ne sont en fin de compte qu’une façon de ne pas assumer son devoir qui est de défendre Amina contre la calomnie et les mensonges (…) et de défendre le droit de tous à s’exprimer à sa façon…

It is really hard for democracy to make its way to our brains! Those claiming to be ready to fight until the end for freedom, (…) are denouncing an intolerable provocation when Amina expressed herself(…)

The pretexts used to condemn Amina, even by those who accused her of distracting [public's] attention away from the real problems or further dividing Tunisians, are in fact only finding a way not to assume their duty which is supporting Amina against slander and lies,(…) and supporting every individual's right to express him/herself in his/her own way.

Three other FEMEN activists, two French and one German are also set to stand trial on June 5. They each face a six-month imprisonment after they staged a topless protest outside a Tunis-based court on May 29 in support of Amina.

May 25 2013

Tunisia: FEMEN Activist Faces Possession of Pepper Spray Charge

Tunisian FEMEN activist, known by the pseudonym Amina Tyler, 19, is set to appear before a court on May 30, to face a charge of possessing pepper spray. Amina made local and international news headlines last March, when she posted topless pictures of herself on Facebook.

On May 19, Amina headed to Kairouan, 184km from the capital Tunis, to protest Ansar al-Sharia's [a radical Islamist group demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Tunisia] vows to hold their annual congress there. The congress did not take place as security forces enforced a government ban on the gathering which it described as “threatening to security and public order”. However, Amina staged her protest and graffitied the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall near the historical Mosque of Uqba. Security forces then interfered and escorted Amina to a police van, when outraged local residents shouted “Dégage” [leave] at her.

Unlike what was reported in a number of media outlets, Amina is not facing any “indecency” charges. She could, however, spend up to to six months in prison for the non-authorized possession of pepper spray. Award-winning blog Nawaat also reported that the young woman has so far not been charged with “tomb desecration”, a charge which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison in accordance to the Tunisian Penal Code.

Tunis-based French journalist Perrine Massy reports [fr]:

Amina sera jugée le 30 mai pour détention sans autorisation d’une bombe de gaz paralysant. L’objet, selon l’un de ses avocats, Me Souheib Bahri, a été retrouvé dans le sac à dos de la jeune fille, sans que l’on puisse savoir si elle comptait l’utiliser comme une arme ou pour se défendre…

Quant à une éventuelle « profanation de tombeaux », elle est simplement mentionnée dans le procès verbal, mais n’a pas été prise en considération par le procureur général et ne fait (pour l’instant) pas l’objet de poursuites judiciaires.

Enfin, contrairement à ce qu’on a pu lire parfois, nulle part il n’est fait mention ni d’une atteinte à la pudeur ni d’une détention d’arme blanche par Amina.

Amina will face trial on May 30 over the non-authorized possession of paralyzing spray. According to one of her lawyers Mr. Souheib Bahri, the spray was found in the young woman's backpack. We have not been able to verify if she was planning to use it for self defense purposes or not.

The possible “tomb desecration” charge was only mentioned in the statement of the facts, but has not been taken into consideration by the general prosecutor and is not the subject of prosecution (for the time being).

Finally, contrary to some [news] reports, Amina does not face any “indecency” or possession of a cold weapon charges.

Nawaat also obtained footage (with English subtitles) featuring an interview with Amina and her protest action in Kairouan on May 19.

April 10 2013

Tunisian Graffiti Artists Fined, Most Serious Charges Dismissed

A Tunisian court in Gabes, in the South East of Tunisia, fined graffiti artists Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche, 100 Tunisian Dinars [approximately 63 USD], for “writing, without permission, on public property” today [April 10, 2013]. However, the court dismissed the most serious charges of “breaching the state of emergency” and “publishing fake news that could disturb public order”.

Photo Via Zwewla Facebook Page

Photo Via Zwewla Facebook Page


Last November, Bouagila and Berriche were caught by police as they were drawing a graffiti that says “the people want the poor's rights.” The two young men are members of the street art group Zwewla [ar] ["the poor" in Tunisian dialect], known for drawing graffiti in support of the underprivileged and the poor.
Caricature by Nidhal Ghariani

Caricature by Nidhal Ghariani


In a statement, the support committee for Zwewla, described [fr] the verdict as a “symbolic victory for free expression”:

Le Comité de soutien #FreeZwewla est fier de cette victoire symbolique et annonce des initiatives et actions qui auront lieu prochainement afin de réunir l’argent demandé et de régler cette amende.

The support committee #FreeZwewla is proud of this symbolic victory, and announces that a number of initiatives and actions will take place soon to collect the needed sum of money and pay the fine

April 05 2013

Opening the Black Box of Governance: Alleviating Poverty With Data

Global Voices bloggers have been commissioned to liveblog the OECD Global Forum on Development in Paris on April 4-5, 2013. Leading up to the meeting, our team is submitting posts about development issues that help serve as weekly online discussion topics on their website (#OECDgfd)

The constant rise of Internet and mobile phone use is an opportunity to enable more citizens to engage with governance. Technology can help improve citizen participation in decision-making and can re-energise participation in public life. Transparency and accountability is becoming a diverse and dynamic field for exploration worldwide.

Opening the data produced by public administrations is part of an effective approach to poverty alleviation. Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, by a wide range of stakeholders: governments, media, mobile operators, citizens themselves. Despite the huge potential for using data about a society or government for the public good, it is rarely released and shared for public use. Additionally, reliable statistics can be hard to come by or are still the exclusive property of government or corporate officials.

The benefits of citizen engagement are numerous, wide-ranging and significant for all stakeholders, as Striking Poverty, a World Bank initiative, illustrates:

For the marginalized poor, participation mechanisms can provide channels for shaping solutions and holding governments accountable for policies and services delivered. For organizations, governments, and funders, engagement with communities is beneficial in that citizens will support, adopt, champion, and eventually share in the ownership and success of programs.

Does Open Data work in developing countries?

Open Data endeavours in both rich and poor countries often come up against a shortage of technical and political skills that prevent citizens from actively engaging with them. There can easily be a gap between the goals of data advocates and citizens’ understanding of the data. Still, a huge number of creative approaches to collect and make sense of data related to public life show promise that this is the most straightforward way into civic engagement.

The Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), the first national Open Data project in Sub-Saharan Africa, was launched in 2011. The released data sets (over 400) provide data for socially-relevant domains from education to sanitation. Kenya is in fact the first developing country to have an Open Data portal. In greater Africa, Morocco was first to launch an Open Data platform. Tunisia followed in 2011 with Open Data Tunisia.

Open Government Data

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Seizing the potential of Open Data for developing countries and the growing number of national ventures, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has launched the Open Data for Africa portal, as a part of the Africa Information Highway initiative. It encompasses Open Data platforms for the following 20 African countries:

Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although the challenges are numerous, multiple success stories show that the key to using technology for transparency and accountability efforts is to employ a collaborative approach and ensure that tools are user-friendly and quick to offer results.

A report by the Global Voices ‘Technology for Transparency’ initiative looking at citizen initiatives for transparency and accountability across the globe found that:

Data visualization and navigation tools are a key feature in more than half of the projects we documented, as are diverse forms of data collection from citizens. Approximately one third of the projects use mobile phones in some way, most commonly by allowing citizens to submit or receive information via text messages.

These observations illustrate that citizen initiatives are not only directed towards gathering data but also towards making sense of it for the wider community. The projects show great opportunity for well-managed data and related statistics released through open government data programs. The next milestone for governments in developing countries is to solve the problems of data quality and availability, as well as the technical and statistical capacity of staff and institutions.

Opening the governance

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched back in September 2011 when the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States took stance in favour of more transparent governance by signing the Open Government Declaration:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

Shortly after, the World Bank recognized the importance of the foundational principles of the Partnership and declared its support to the initiative “by facilitating knowledge exchanges and helping to build the capacity of OGP member countries to elaborate and implement their plans to become more open and responsive.”

The OGP already has 50 members. Although several African countries have presented their action plans and three of them — South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya — have already delivered their commitments, Africa is still trailing in involvement.

The most recent OGP Africa meeting indicates that slow progress is being made, with Ghana and Liberia developing their respective ‘Action Plans’ in order to apply for membership at the Open Government Partnership.

New approaches, new challenges ahead

Is technology the panacea for developing countries? Definitely not. But it definitely paves the way for addressing open, socially and politically relevant questions. Even though the KODI has not had much impact on Kenyans, and very few African states rush to join the OGP, these dynamics are irreversible. The very existence of the endeavours described above is a solid step in the right direction.

March 13 2013

Arab World: Pope Alert, White Smoke

Arab netizens joined the rest of the world today in awaiting news of a new pope, who will replace Benedict XVI.

As soon as the white smoke bellowed from the Sistine Chapel, Lebanese Nada Akl quipped:

@Nada_Akl: Pope alert, white smoke

Libyan Ismael wondered:

@ChangeInLibya: That's alot of white smoke. Are you sure it's just the ballots they're burning in there? #Suspicious

Syrian Karl Sharro said:

@KarleMarks: Once again, the cardinals have defeated us. They managed to elect a new pope before we managed to come up with a single funny pope joke.

And Egyptian Alyaa Gad joked:

@AlyaaGad: White smoke from the Sistine Chapel indicates that the cardinals finished having their (burned) dinner and now it's time for a joint. #Pope

Arab netizens also played guessing games on the name of the new pope, which has not been announced at the time of writing this post.

Lebanese-American Asad Abukhalil announced [ar]:

تسرّب إسم البابا الجديد: جورج دبليو بوش. مبروك.


@asadabukhalil
: The name of the new pope has been leaked: it's George W. Bush. Congratulations.

And Free Tunisian noted:

فاليري سئلت عن هوية البابا الجديد فأجابت نازحة ” أكيد قطري … أنهم يشترون كل شيئ

@tounsiahourra: Valerie [a reader] asked me about the identity of the new pope so I answered joking: “It is certainly a Qatari. They buy everything.”

Self-immolations Continue in Tunisia

On March 12, Adel Khadri a 27-year-old cigarette street vendor set himself on fire on Tunis’ main street: Habib Bourguiba Avenue. According to eye witnesses, Khadri shouted: “This is a young man who sells cigarettes because of unemployment,” before setting himself on fire. Khadri passed away early this morning at Ben Arous’ Burns Hospital.

Collective blog Nawaat reports [fr]:

Le jeune vendeur à la sauvette qui, désespéré par ses conditions de vie, s’était immolé, est décédé mercredi à l’aube, dernière illustration en date des tensions sociales en Tunisie auxquelles le nouveau gouvernement devra faire face une fois investi. “Il est mort aujourd’hui à 5 h 30 du matin des suites de ses graves brûlures“, a dit Imed Touibi, le directeur du Centre des grands brûlés de Ben Arous (banlieue de Tunis) où le jeune homme de 27 ans, Adel Khadri, était hospitalisé.

Anguished by his living conditions, the young street vendor, who set himself on fire passed away at dawn on Wednesday. This is the last illustration of the social tensions in Tunisia, which the new government, once in place, should deal with. “He died today at 5.30am from severe burns”, said Imed Touibi director of the Centre of Severe Burns in Ben Arous (a Tunis suburb), where the young 27-year-old man was hospitalized.

Quoting the privately-owned radio Mosaique FM, author of the blog Massir Destin reports [fr] on the number of self-immolations in Tunisia:

Oh mon Dieu!!!
Le nombre d'immolations par le feu en Tunisie:
2 en 2010
91 en 2011
63 en 2012
11 en 2013
Source Mosaïque fm. Mais on n'a pas précisé le nombre de décès.

Oh my God!!! The number of self-immolations in Tunisia:
2 in 2010
91 in 2011
63 in 2012
11 in 2013
Source: Mosaique FM. But they have not reported on the number of deaths.

Emergency services arrive  at Habib Bourguiba Avenue to transfer Khadri to hospital. Image via Alqarra TV facebook page

Emergency services arrive at Habib Bourguiba Avenue to transfer Khadri to hospital. Image via Alqarra TV Facebook page


On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit street vendor from Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire when police confiscated his wares. His desperate act ignited social justice and pro-democracy protests in Sidi Bouzid and eventually the entire country, forcing autocratic ruler Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia 18 days later. However, 24 months after the ouster of Ben Ali, Tunisia is still going through intense socioeconomic difficulties, further intensified by a political crisis deepened by the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6. High prices, a 16.7% unemployment rate and disparities between regions are all making the lives of Tunisians, especially underprivileged groups, harder. Khadri, was not only suffering financial destitution, but according to his brother [fr] had stomach health problems but did not have enough money to get treatment.

Benoît Delmas, a Tunis-based journalist writes [fr]:

Adel Khadri est-il mort pour rien ? La question semble indécente mais elle est suscitée par le silence politique qui a entouré l’annonce de cette immolation. Laquelle renvoie inévitablement au point de départ de la révolution tunisienne lorsque Mohamed Bouazizi, un vendeur à la sauvette de fruits et légumes, s’aspergea d’essence et s’immola à Sidi Bouzid, le 17 décembre 2010. Avant et après Bouazizi, d’autres cas similaires furent notés. La mort, au petit matin, d’Adel Khadri devrait interpeller toute la société tunisienne. Un pays qui n’offre aucun espoir à sa jeunesse est un pays qui s’étiole, s’effondre. Il ne s’agit pas d’exiger des remèdes miracles mais de demander à la classe politique, majorité ET opposition, de bien vouloir travailler pour le bien commun, l’intérêt national, le peuple. Les chicaneries politiciennes qui polluent toutes les vieilles démocraties ne sont pas d’une urgence absolue pour un pays qui vit librement depuis seulement deux ans et deux mois.

Did Adel Khadri die for nothing? The question seems indecent, but it is provoked by the silence of the political class, surrounding the announcement of this self-immolation. This is inevitably a return to square zero for the Tunisian revolution, when Mohamed Bouaziz, a fruit and vegetable street vendor sprinkled himself with gas and set himself alight, on December 17, 2010. Prior to and after Bouazizi's [self-immolation], similar cases were registered. The death of Adel Khadri at dawn, should be a call for the entire Tunisian society. A country which offers no hope for its youth, is a fading and collapsing country. It is not a question of asking for miraculous remedies, but rather calling upon the political class, both the majority AND opposition, to work for the common good, the national interest and the people. The political chicaneries which are tainting old democracies are not an urgency for a country which has been living in freedom for only two years and two months.

February 07 2013

Secular Politician Shot Dead, Protests Erupt Across Tunisia

Chokri Belaid, photo by Amine Ghrabi shared on Flickr

Chokri Belaid. Photo taken by Amine Ghrabi on October 15, 2012, shared on Flickr. (CC-NC)

Protests have erupted across Tunisia, following the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leading member of the secular opposition, and a staunch opponent of the Islamist-led coalition government. His supporters and his mourners are either directly or indirectly accusing the Islamists for his murder.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali condemned the murder and described it as an “act of terrorism”, while President Moncef Marzouki cancelled his trip to Cairo where he was supposed to participate at the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

France24 Observers published a video shot by Bel Fekih Amine, Belaid's neighbor on its YouTube page. The video shows the crime scene a few minutes after Belaid was shot dead outside his home in the early hours of February 6, 2013.

Family Accuses Islamists:
The police is still investigating, but Belaid's family is pointing fingers at the Islamist party Ennahdha. ‏@simonsayzzzzz, a journalist working for Agence France Presse tweeted [fr]:

Frère de #ChokriBelaïd: “(…)j'accuse Rached Ghannouchi d'avoir fait assassiner mon frère” #AFP #Tunisie

Chokri Belaid's brother: I accuse Rached Ghannouchi [President of Ennahdha] of assassinating my brother” #AFP #Tunisie

Zannoubia tweeted:

La sœur de #chokribelaid sur l'avenue accuse ennahdha le MI et leurs milices de l'assassinat de son frère. #Tunisie

the sister of Chokri Belaid at the avenue [of Habib Bourguiba] has accused Ennahdha, the ministry of interior and their militias for killing her brother

Ennahdha denied such accusations. Sasa Petricic the Middle East Correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tweeted:

#Tunisia ruling Islamist Ennahda party denies responsibility in killing of prominent secular opp leader #ChokriBelaid, despite differences

“Assassinated for his ideas”:
Belaid was known for being a vocal critic of the government and Tunisian Islamists. Though, it is still not known who was behind his murder, Tunisian netizens seem to be confident that his anti-Islamist ideas cost him his life.

Haythem tweeted:

On a pu tuer #ChokriBelaid mais ses idées éterniseront

They were able to kill Chokri Belaid, but his ideas will live forever

Leith Ben Ayed said:

RIP #ChokriBelaïd. Un grand homme tué pour ses idées, qu'il ne soit pas mort en vain.

RIP Chokri Belaid. A great man murdered for his ideas. May he not die in vain

Protests Erupt:

Tear gas near Interior Ministry in Tunis. Photo by  Amine Ghrabi shared on Flickr

Tear gas near Interior Ministry in Tunis. Photo by Amine Ghrabi shared on Flickr. (CC-NC)

As the news of Belaid's murder spread like fire, protests have erupted in several regions of the country. AFP has also reported that the offices of Ennahdha and the government in several provinces of the country were attacked and vandalized.

 Police near the Interior Ministry in Tunis. Photo by Amine Ghrabi shared on Flickr. (CC-NC)

Police near the Interior Ministry in Tunis, February 6, 2013. Photo by Amine Ghrabi shared on Flickr. (CC-NC)

The collective blog Nawaat reports:

@nawaat:Des milliers de manifestants a #Gafsa. Le local d'Ennahdha saccagé et ses meubles et documents brulés. #chokribelaid

@nawaat: thousands of protesers in Gafsa [south west of Tunisia]. Ennahdha office was ransacked, furniture and documents were burned

@nawaat:A #Redayef le syndicat enseignant décréte la grève générale. Le local d'Ennahdha saccagé et ses meubles brûlés dans la rue #chokribelaid

@nawaat: in Rdeyef [a town in Gafsa, south west of Tunisia], the teachers’ syndicate declared a general strike. Ennahdha's office was ransacked and its furniture burned in the street.

@nawaat: a Sidi Bouzid, des centaines de manifestants tentent de forcer la porte du bâtiment du district de police. #sidibouzid #chokribelaid

@nawaat: In Sidi Bouzid, hundreds of protesers try to break into the police district office

Sasa Petricic tweeted:

Offices of #Tunisia governing party Ennahda attacked after opp’n leader #ChokriBelaid assassinated. Thousands protest in Tunis, SidiBouzid

At Habib Bourguiba Avenue [Tunis], police used tear gas to disperse protesters, who gathered outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, chanting anti-government slogans and calling upon the Interior Minister to leave office. France 24 correspondent David Thomson tweeted [fr]:

Tirs de gaz lacrymogène sur l'Avenue Bourguiba, dispersion des manifestants #Tunisie

tear gas at Habib Bourguiba avenue, protesters dispersed

He added in another tweet [fr]:

La situation dégénère en heurts manifestants/police sur #Bourguiba

the situation degenerates into clashes between protesters and police

Privately-owned radio station Shems FM shared the following video showing the chaotic situation at Habib Bourguiba avenue.

The clashes led to the death of a police officer, announced the Interior Ministry on its official facebook page.

January 05 2013

Tunisian Army Critic Gets a One-Year Suspended Jail Sentence

Yesterday [January, 4], a Tunis based military court increased the suspended jail of Ayoub Massoudi, a former advisor to Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, from four months to a year. Last September, a primary military court convicted Massoudi to a four-month suspended prison sentence on charges of “defaming” the army and “undermining senior officials in the military”, over his televised declarations [en] regarding the extradition of former Muammar Gaddafi's Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi to Libya. However, on appeal Massoudi's fourth-month jail sentence tripled it.

Ayoub Massoudi, photo via Nawaat

Last July, Massoudi described the extradition of Baghdadi Mahmoudi as “a treason against the State” and accused Rachid Ammar [Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces] and Abdelkrim Zbidi [Minister of Defence] of not notifying President Marzouki about the extradition process which took place on June 14. Fearing that he would not get a fair trial in Libya, Marzouki had opposed the extradition of Mahmoudi.

Rached Cherif reports [fr]:

Dans cette affaire, où l’armée est donc juge et partie, le verdict est tombé comme un couperet dans la journée du 4 janvier. Incapable de se désavouer, la justice militaire a alourdi la peine pour la porter à 1 an de prison avec sursis, assortie comme en première instance d’une interdiction de port d’arme et d’une privation de toute distinction honorifique et d’embauche dans la fonction publique.

In this case, where the army is both a judge and a party, the verdict came out of the blue on January 4. Unable to pull back, the military justice increased the sentence to a one-year suspended jail term. As in the first instance, the term was accompanied by a ban to bear arms and a deprivation from any honorary distinction and recruitment for the public service

Massoudi's lawyer told [ar] the award-winning blog Nawaat that the travel ban imposed on Massoudi in August, 2012, has not been lifted yet:

أشار الأستاذ القلّيل أنّ إجراء تحجير السفر إدانة مُسبقة لأيوب المسعودي من طرف القضاء العسكري، و أكّد أنّ تواصل المنع من السفر رغم صدور حكم إبتدائي جُناحي يقضي برفع تحجير السفر

Mr Kelli (lawyer of Ayoub Massoudi) said that the travel ban is a prior conviction to Ayoub Massoudi by the military justice. He added that the ban is still in effect despite a primary verdict ordering its lift

As a result, Massoudi is still unable to join his wife and children, who live in France. On January 1, he published on his personal blog a letter, which he dedicated to his two children:

أدري وأنا أكتب هذه الأسطر متى سنلتقي من جديد لأضمكم إلى صدري وأنفض عن قلوبكم غبار أيام الغياب والوحشة؟ لا أدري متى، ولكن… مصير الأحباء أن يلتقوا، طال الزمن أو قصرلا!

As I write these words, I have no idea when we will meet again, to hug you and brush away [the pain caused] by the days of separation and absence from your hearts. I do not know when… but no matter how much time it takes, loved ones are always destined to meet again

On Twitter, Malek Khadhraoui criticized [fr] the military justice:

Le jugement dans l'affaire de Ayoub Massoudi est scandaleux et confirme que la justice militaire est une mascarade #freeayoub

The verdict in Ayoub Massoudi's case is disgraceful and confirms that the military justice is a masquerade #freeAyoub

@HamdySdiri raises the following question [ar]:

الكلام في الجيش ما يجيش؟ #FreeAyoub

Is army criticism unacceptable?

January 03 2013

Arab World: Al-Andalus: Fall or Reconquista?

Every year, on the 2nd of January, “El día de la Toma de Granada” is celebrated in Granada in Spain. On that day in 1492, Muhammad XII of Granada (King Boabdil) surrendered the Emirate of Granada. The Umayyad Caliphate conquered the Iberian Peninsula eight centuries earlier, and the fall of Granada on that day put an end to the Islamic control of that part of the world, or what is known in as Al-Andalus in the Arab world.

This year, on the other side of The Mediterranean Sea, some Arabs decided to tweet in remembrance of the fall of Al-Andalus.

‏@taherofficial: We remember the 521st Anniversary of the fall of Al #Andalus.

Photo shared by @Al_Andalus_ showing King Boabdil handing the keys of the city over to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile

Many netizens seized the opportunity to tweet about the Islamic and Arabic civilization:

@adnan_hws: Remembering #Andalus is more than crying for the loss of a kingdom, it's to learn from our mistakes to rebuild such a glorious civilisation

@morabeteen: الأندلس ليست بمكان ولا زمان, بل هي تجربة حضارية إنسانية لا مثيل لها استمرت تنير ظلمات العالم زهاء الثمانية قرون من الزمان..

@morabeteen: Al Andalus is not just a place or chapter in history, it is an unmatched civilization in the history of mankind that kept on illuminating the world for about eight centuries.

Others claimed more examples for the effect of such civilization:

‏@Nouh1919: In Portuguese there are more than 3000 Arabic words as there are over a 1000 Arabic word in medicine and chemistry in English! #andalus

@mdamra: While London is sinking in mud, Córdoba recorded the 1st dustbin in history, there were collection vehicles and street cleaning!

However, a bigger debate started on Twitter later on. Some users believed that this day marks the loss of a part of the Islamic world.

@HmdSaud: Do you think dear Spanish we forget it

@AliElKhateeb: on January 2, 1492, Emir Muhammad surrendered the Emirate of Granada (#Andalus ♥), we won't forget any land taken from Muslims by force.

@NadaMadridista: On this day above all days we recall those who were murdered and tortured by the Spanish Inquisition 5 centuries ago. #Moorish #Andalus

While others replied by saying that it was basically an occupation.

@samaralii: اسمها عودة الاندلس لأهلها الإسبان بعد احتلال عربي، زي كده سينا رجعت كاملة لينا، بلاش تكيلوا بميكيالين

@samaralii: It is called the return of Al-Andalus to the Spanish people after it has been occupied by the Arabs. It is the same as we [Egyptians] reacquired Sinai after it has been occupied. Stop having double standards.

@MoudBarthez: زعلان ان الأندلس راحت منك ؟ كان نفسك تفضل محتلها طول العمر ؟ علي كدا شباب بريطانيا لازم يتظاهر عشان يرجعوا يحتلوا مصر تأني

@MoudBarthez: Are you sad because you lost Al-Andalus? You wish you had occupied it forever? If so, then the British people should demonstrate to re-occupy Egypt again.

Yet, others insisted that it was not an occupation:

@alaa: حكم المسلمون الأندلس سبعة قرون لا يمكن ان يوصف بالاحتلال و لا معنى لتقييم حكمهم بمعايير اليوم اصلا.

@alaa: The Arab ruling of Al-Andalus for seven centuries can never be described as occupation. And no way to evaluate it with today's standards.

@SherifKhairy: الناس اللي بتتكلم عن إن حضارة المسلمين في #الأندلس كانت احتلال زي احتلال الإنجليز مثلا، بالتأكيد مقرأوش كلمة عن ما حدث وقت دخولها وبعده

@SherifKhairy: Those who call the Muslim civilization in Al-Andalus occupation, and compare it to the English occupation of Egypt, for sure never read a word about that phase of history.

One netizen created a mobile application to mark the occasion, while two others decided to make fun of the whole debate. The first was worried [Ar] that FC Barcelona might become as bad as the the Egyptian football teams if Arabs decided to occupy Al-Andalus again. While the other, after looking at the status of the Arab world today, decided that “we did them the biggest favour ever” by leaving them alone.

Finally, this debate didn't stop some Egyptians from arranging a demonstration carrying banners that read in Spanish, “No hemos olvidado” [We have not forgotten] and “Volvera por supuesto” [We will be back for sure”].

December 31 2012

State of Freedom of Speech in Tunisia in 2012

In 2012, the battle for freedom of expression continued in Tunisia. Though the internet remained uncensored, free speech advocates voiced concerns over the use of religion as a pretext to curb free speech. Meanwhile, a legal void has characterized the Tunisian media landscape as the government continues to ignore a new press law that protects journalists and limits government interference in media.

An uncensored web access :

In February, the highest court of appeal threw out a verdict ordering the filtering of X-rated content. In early September, Tunisia joined the Freedom Online Coalition [en], a group of governments “committed to collaborating to advance internet freedom”. The northernmost African country will also host the coalition's third conference next year.

Despite these positive steps from a country which once was an “internet enemy”, activists remain particularly concerned about the absence of an investigation into internet surveillance and censorship during the former regime. In an interview given to Global Voices, anonymous political cartoonist _Z_ said:

Dictatorship fell 19 months ago, and so far not a single serious investigation into the policing of the web [during the Ben Ali regime] was conducted. This machine, we called Ammar 404, and which was used to spread horror on the Tunisian net (censorship, arrests, threats…), could still be in place today waiting for a reactivation signal.

In August, a group of bloggers and activists vowed to lodge a complaint [en] against the Tunisian Interior Ministry, in order to reveal the identity of those responsible for giving filtering instructions.

Tunisian Internet users also remain at risk of judicial prosecution. In March, 2012, Ghazi Beji and Jabeur Mejri were convicted [en] to seven and half-years in prison over the publication of content offensive to Islam. Mejri, who is still in prison after losing appeal [en], published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. Beji who fled the country, published a book called “The Illusion of Islam” on the document-sharing website Scribd.

Poster of a campaign for freedom of speech organized by Nawaat and IFEX-TMG in May, 2012


Blasphemy :

On August 1, Ennhadha Movement - the party which won last year’s parliamentary election - filed an anti-blasphemy bill [en], to be introduced to the country's Penal Code. The bill has not been debated yet by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), elected back in October, 2011, to draft the country's new constitution. A week later, the first draft of Tunisia's new constitution was released. The draft contained a clause criminalizing blasphemy. However, following negotiations between the three parties in the ruling coalition, the clause was dropped.

On December 14, the NCA published an amended version of the draft constitution on its website. The new draft does not include a blasphemy clause, guarantees free speech and prohibits prior censorship.

Ennahdha's vows to criminalize blasphemy followed the controversial Spring of Arts [en], a modern contemporary art fair held between June 1 and 10. On June 10, ultra conservative protesters attacked Palais Abdelia, where the fair's closing ceremony was held, and vandalized artworks exhibited there. The protesters accused the fair of exhibiting blasphemous artworks, something the fair's organizers denied. The violent protests were ignited by rumors circulating on the social networking site Facebook, claiming that the fair exhibited a painting depicting Prophet Muhammad.

On May 3, a Tunis-based primary court fined Nabil Karoui, director of the privately owned Nessma TV, 1,200 TND over the broadcast of the animated film Persepolis.

Media executives behind bars:

On February 15, Nasreddine Ben Saida, the general director of the Arabic-language daily newspaper Attounissia was arrested, along with two of the newspaper's journalists, over the publication of a front page photo featuring football player Sami Khedira with his nude girlfriend. The three were later on released.

[from right to left] President Moncef Marzouki, PM Hamadi Jebali and leader of the Islamist party Ennahdha Rached Ghannouchi performing a song on the puppet show Logique Siyasi.

In late August, a Tunis based court ordered the arrest of Sami Fehri, a TV producer and director of Attounissia TV channel, on corruption charges. Fehri co-owned a production company with a Ben Ali in-law.

Before turning himself to the police, Fehri declared that a media advisor to PM Hamdai Jebali, called him to complain about the broadcast of the satirical puppet show, Logique Siyasi [political logic]. The show was suspended in August, but the TV network has recently resumed its broadcast. Fehri was not released despite a verdict issued by the highest court of appeal on November 28, quashing his indictment and detention order [en]. In protest against his ongoing detention, he went on hunger strike. On December 27, he was transferred to hospital after his reported health deterioration.

Press Freedom:

Journalists protest against perceived government interference on October 17. Photo by Rabii Kalboussi

On October 17, Tunisian journalists went on strike to protest against what they described as the government's attempts to curb press freedom and control state-owned media outlets. Journalists also called the government to implement two decree laws adopted in November, 2011, by the former interim government. The two laws [en] (decrees 115 and 116) guarantee freedom of press and independence of state-owned media.

Military and Censorship:

On May 21, an army general confiscated two cameras for Ramzi Bettibi a journalist for the collective blog Nawaat. Bettibi was filming a court hearing in the case of the death of protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of Ben Ali. For a few days, Bettibi went on hunger strike to call for the lift of restrictions on the coverage of court hearings in what is known as “Martyrs' case”.

Ayoub Massoudi, a former advisor to current President Moncef Marzouki faces military trial over his televised declarations on the extradition of former Gaddafi PM from Tunisia to Libya. Massoudi described the extradition of Baghdadi Mahmoudi as “a treason against the State” and accused Rachid Ammar [Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces] and Abdelkrim Zbidi [Minister of Defence] of not notifying President Marzouki about the extradition process which took place on June 14. On September 21, Messoudi was given a four-month suspended prison sentence. The next court hearing will take place on January 3.

Trial of Graffiti:

“Free Zwewla” Graffiti by Crazy Boys

Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche, graffiti artists and members of the street art community, Zwewla [the poor in Tunisian dialect] are facing legal action for drawing graffiti in support of the poor. They were charged with “writing, without permission, on public property”, “breaching the state of emergency” and “publishing fake news that could disturb public order”. On December 5, a primary court delayed their trial to January 23, 2013.

December 29 2012

MENA: Acclaimed Authors’ Favorites of 2012

M. Lynx Qualey, blogger, who is interested in Arab and Arabic literature, wrote a series of posts introducing acclaimed Arab poets, novelists, and short-story writers’ favorite Arab reads of 2012. She started with a list of nonfiction books, then followed by a list for poetry [En] and fiction [En].

November 29 2012

Tunisian Police Use Shotgun Shells Against Protesters

Around 265 people were injured on Wednesday during a second day of clashes between security forces and protesters in Siliana, North-West of Tunisia. Clashes started on November 27, when residents of Siliana, an impoverished interior region, staged a general strike and took to the street to call for the departure of the local governor, demand regional development and ask for the release of protesters arrested during another unrest which took place last April.

What highlighted these clashes was the use of shotgun shells by police against protesters. Ali Laarayedh, the Tunisian Minister of Interior, confirmed the police use of shotgun shells to “face destruction and vandalism acts”, he declared yesterday during a televised interview broadcast on state owned Al-Wataniay TV 1.

On November 28, Sami Ben Gharbia reported [ar] on Nawaat.org :

حسب التقارير المصورة و المكتوبة للإحتجاجات التي شهدتها مدينة سليانة البارحة تأكد خبر سقوط العديد من الجرحى جراء استعمال سلاح جديد من قبل قوى «الأمن» ل «احتواء المظاهرات» و الإحتجاجات الإجتماعية و الإقتصادية. و على ما يبدو فإن أمن السيد وزير الداخلية علي العريض بصدد استعمال سلاح جديد في تونس كان قد تم التنديد باستخدامه دوليا خاصة في البحرين

According to the visual and written reports on yesterday's protests in Siliana, several injuries were registered as a result of the use of a new weapon by the security forces, in an attempt to “contain” the socio-economic protests. It seems that the police of Minister of Interior Ali Laarayedh, are deploying a new weapon in Tunisia, whose use brought international condemnation especially in Bahrain.

Ben Gharbia adds:

وقد جاءت شهادات المواطنين و الأطباء لتؤكد خبر أستخدام قوات الأمن التونسي بسليانة لبنادق الصيد لتفريق المتظاهرين و إصابة البعض بشظايا رصاصها. إسم السلاح المستعمل في البحرين و الذي يبدو أنه استعمل هو أو شبيهه في تونس هو “الشوزن“. و هو عبارةعن بنادق للصيد ذات الرصاص المتشظي أو الانشطار ش

The testimonies of citizens and doctors came to confirm that Tunisian security forces used hunting rifles in Siliana to disperse protesters and wounded some of them with bullet pellets. The name of the weapon used in Bahrain, which is probably the same the similar of what is used in Tunisia is called “shotgun“. Shotgun is a hunting rifle.

Two wounded young men by Italian made shotguns: photo via Nawaat

Nawaat also reported that this type of firearm, deployed by police forces in Siliana, was made by an Italian company called Nobel Sport. Ben Gharbia posted the contact details of this company and made a call to Tunisian citizens to exercise pressure on this company to stop exporting such weapons to Tunisia.

The award-winning blog also published a Youtube video of injured persons arriving from Siliana to a Tunis-based ophthalmology clinic to get treatment after they were wounded in their eyes [Warning: Graphic content]:

The use of shotgun shells shocked and outraged Tunisian netizens. Tounsiahourra tweeted [ar]:

هل يعلم الحقوقي المرزوقي الذي تسلم قبل يومين جائزة تشاتام هاوس ان شبابا فقدوا البصر في سليانة لأن الأمن اطلق رصاص الرش في عيونهم ؟ #Siliana

Does the rights activist Marzouki [Tunisia President], who two days ago was awarded the Chatham House prize [en], know that young men who have lost their sight due to shotgun shells fired by police?

Tunisian journalist Nadia Haddaoui quotes [fr] Amnesty:

“La #chevrotine peut provoquer traumatismes majeurs et des décès si elle est tirée à faible distance” #Amnesty #Egypte #Bahrein #Siliana

“shotgun shell could lead to major trauma and death if fired from a short distance”

Selim raises a major question [fr]:

Comment ont-ils juste pu accepter d'utiliser ce type de munitions contre les tunisiens?? Blessures graves, risque d'aveuglement.. #siliana

How could they accept to use such type of ammunition against Tunisians?? serious injuries, and lost of sight risks…#Siliana

Editor-in-chief of Nawaat.org, Malek Kahdhraoui said that last June police used the same type of ammunition against demonstrators protesting against what they deemed as a “blasphemous” art exhibtion:

L'utilisat° des armes à grenaille pr la police n'est pas nouvelle. Au mois 2juin +eurs 10énes de blessés par ces armes http://nawaat.org/portail/2012/0

The use of shotgun shells by police is not new. In June, several dozens of injuries due to these weapons were registered http://nawaat.org/portail/2012/0

France24 journalist David Thomson was also injured by shotgun shells. He tweeted a picture of his injured leg:

#Tunisie et me voici à l'hôpital de #Siliana blessé par un tir de chevrotines mais ça va, il y a des blessés graves pic.twitter.com/SJesLq5Z

Here I am in #Siliana hospital wounded by a shotgun shell, but I am fine, there are serious injuries pic.twitter.com/SJesLq5Z

The general strike in Siliana continues. Meanwhile, protests in other regions of the country were staged to condemn police violence and stand in solidarity with Siliana.

November 20 2012

Two Tunisian Graffiti Artists to Face Trial

On 3 November 2012, police caught graffiti artists, Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche drawing graffiti in Gabes, in the South East of Tunisia. Bouagila and Berriche are members of Zwewla [ar] [ “the poor” in Tunisian dialect], a street art community famous for its graffiti in support of the poor and marginalized groups in Tunisia.

Bouagila and Berriche face charges of “writing, without permission, on public property”, “breaching the state of emergency” and “publishing fake news that could disturb public order”. The two young graffiti artists have remained free pending their trial, scheduled on December 5.

Another graffiti by Zwewla in Sousse, central East Tunisia: “The employed and the unemployed are against injustice and exploitation”

Oussama Bouajila told Nawaat.org that when police caught him and Berriche, they were inscribing a graffiti that says “the people want the poor's rights.”

Slateafrique's Tawa fi Tunis blog quoted [fr] Bouajila saying:

Nous avons fait ce mouvement de graffiti parce que personne ne parle de nous, de nos problèmes de chômage, de pauvreté et de marginalisation. Nous avons donc décidé de parler par nous-mêmes. Pourquoi le graffiti? Parce que le graffiti est plus accessible au tunisien qui n’a pas Facebook par exemple.

We created this graffiti movement because no one speaks about us and the problems of unemployment, poverty and marginalization that we face. So, we have decided to speak for ourselves. Why graffiti? Graffiti is more accessible for the Tunisian [citizen] who does not have access to Facebook, for instance.

“They buried the poor alive”, graffiti by Zwewla. Photo by Hamideddine Bouali

On the other hand, Berriche complained [fr] about Tunisian legislation which he “says does not guarantee freedom of expression”:

Le problème, ce n’est pas la police qui a essayé de nous arrêter ou qui nous a confisqué notre matériel. Le vrai problème, c’est la loi qui s’applique pour les uns et pas pour les autres. Et la loi en elle-même ne garantie par la liberté d’expression et continuer de réprimer avec les mêmes méthodes des anciens dictateurs, les activistes et militants

The problem here, is not the police which tried to arrest us or confiscate our equipment. The real problem is that law is applied to certain persons but not others. Besides, this law in itself does not guarantee freedom of expression, and still oppresses along with the old dictators' methods, activists.

October 31 2012

Afef Abrougui, Blogging From Tunisia

As many might remember, it was in Tunisia, as a result of the demonstrations in Sidi Bouzid, where the revolutions and uprisings, collectively known as Arab Spring, came into being. However, in spite of the revolution and the changes it brought about, some people still think that “nothing has changed.”

In this regards, it is illustrative what Afef Abrougui, a Tunisian blogger and activist, tells us about what people have experienced and what they are still going through in her country. It also helps us to know a bit more about a country which, when separated from the Middle East, we actually do not know much about.

Afef Abrougui, Tunisian blogger and activist

Afef Abrougui, Tunisian blogger and activist

The interview has two parts, the fist one is a video recorded in July in Nairobi, Kenya, during the last Global Voices Summit; the second is a written interview conducted by e-mail. You can find both below.

Global Voices (GV): Alef, tell us something about yourself.

I'm student of International Relations at a Tunis based college. I worked before with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Index on Censorship. I do not have a personal blog but I have recently launched the Arab Region in Media Monitoring Blog. The blog is a project for the Young Leaders Visitors Program, which I recently took part in. The blog aims at monitoring the coverage of the Arab region in the most influential mainstream media outlets. I started with a blog to develop good content until I get funding to launch a website (hopefully.)

GV: What are your feelings about the protests against the anti-Islam film? Is it justified or is it an over reaction?

The violent reactions to the amateurish film outraged me more than the film's content. And I'm not the only Muslim who believes so. Nothing can legitimize violence. However, we need to take into consideration the socio-economic background at the reactions of these protesters who attacked the US embassy in Tunis. Most of them are unemployed, deprived, ill-informed and manipulated. All these factors put together can easily lead to the creation of a religious extremist.

GV: This takes us to religion, I know is a very personal thing, but, how important is religion for you in your daily life?

Religion, though important to me, remains a very private part of my life. I don't discuss it much in public. Since you asked me about religion's role in my daily life I would not mind answering you. People deal with stress in their daily lives in different ways by drinking alcohol, doing Yoga, taking a walk or partying. For me the teachings and values of Islam [honesty, tolerance, patience, gratitude, humility, generosity…] is what keep my daily life less stressful and brighter. I guess this illustrates how important religion is to me in my daily life.

GV: We used to think about women in the Arab world as oppressed and with very little freedom. Please tell us your personal and close experience on this.

This stereotype about Arab women is very common in the West. This stereotype is  disseminated by mainstream media which erroneously depict the Arab region as a homogenous entity that looks like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan (though the last two countries are not Arab), that oppresses women. Being born, raised and educated in Tunisia, I did not face any pressure for being a woman.

GV: Tell us about your city and your country. What are your favourites spots?

Well I'm in love with my country's historical heritage. Tunisia is a mosaic of Amazigh, Phoenician, Roman, Arab and Ottoman civilizations. This makes the country diverse and unique. Taking a walk in the Medina (Old city, in Tunis) is priceless for me. Tabarka, a coastal city in the north-west of Tunisia famous for its coral fishing, international jazz festival, and our forests are a good place for peace of mind.

GV: How do you see the future of Tunisia and the Arab Spring? What are the next important things that are going to happen in your country?

I think we as Tunisian citizens longing for democracy and the respect of human rights, are going to face tough and challenging days. It is urgent for Tunisia to have a new constitution as soon as possible (the country already suffered from almost two years without a constitution) and to set an election date. Also, as long as there are still thousands of Tunisians suffering from social injustices and deprivation, the country will still suffer from instability.

In the video interview we talk a bit about Afef's life, her work, her participation in Global Voices, her opinion about the Global Voices Summit, people's reaction to her writings, Tunisian politics and of course, her experience in the demonstrations in Tunisia.



If you like reading Afef's posts in Global Voices, you can read them from her author profile. You can also follow her in Twitter.

Acknowledgments:

Picture by Laura Schneider in Flickr for Global Voices Online, reproduced under a license of Attribution-NonDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).

October 24 2012

Arab World: Salafi Awkward Moments

Recognised by their long beards, and short garbs (thobe), Salafists, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam, were the butt of jokes on Twitter under a new hash tag #SalafiAwkwardMoments.

Following the ousting of Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and the murder of Libya's Muammar Al Gaddafi, Salafists, who were operating underground, rose to prominence, becoming more visible and vocal in public life. In Egypt, Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi leader, even ran for the Egyptian presidential elections - for a short while at least - before being disqualified, after it emerged that his mother was a US citizen. In Libya and Tunisia, they stormed the US embassies after the release of a trailer of a movie, which was insulting of Islam and Prophet Muhammed.

While the West ponders on how to deal with them, let's tune into Twitter to see how funny netizens think they are.

That Salafi has a number of jokes under his sleeve. He tweets:

@ThatSalafi: When you find out that your new boss is a female #SalafiAwkwardMoments

A rally for Salafist former Egyptian presidential elections candidate Hazim Abu Ismail in Cairo's Tahrir Square

A rally for Salafist former Egyptian presidential elections candidate Hazem Abu Ismail in Cairo's Tahrir Square on April 6, 2012. Photograph by Jonathan Rashad, shared on flickr under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

@ThatSalafi: When your thobe is the longest one in the group #SalafiAwkwardMoments

@ThatSalafi: When your son asks you to teach him how to shave #SalafiAwkwardMoments

@ThatSalafi: Just saw an Orthodox Jew with a bigger beard than mine #SalafiAwkwardMoments

Aly Galal quips:

@alycature: When you can't have some soup without soaking your beard into the dish. #SalafiAwkwardMoments

And Egyptian SuperWoman adds:

@Super_Egypt: When a Salafiya gives you the You're-not-Salafi-enough-for-me look and tells you to choose martyrdom #SalafiAwkwardMoments

October 23 2012

Arab World: Obama and Romney are on the Same Page on Syria

Arab netizens had some harsh words to share after waiting to the wee hours of the early morning to tune in to the last US Presidential Debate 2012 between President Obama and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney before the November elections.

On Twitter, netizens rammed the US policy on Syria, saying both Obama and Romney were two faces of the same coin.

Abu Hatem tweets:

@abuhatem: Romney & Obama on Syria: Exactly the same.

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin adds:

@ASE: He [Obama] doesn't have different ideas, bc we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. #Obama on Romney's plans in #Syria #Debate

Obama's position on Syria?

Obama's position on Syria? Shared by The New Syria page on Facebook

And The New Syria page on Facebook says:

Looks like #Obama and #Romney care more about #Syria becoming an ‘ally' to the United States in the long run than actually trying to help the civilians there.

[…]

We don't need your help, Allah is on our side

THE 47th notes:

@THE_47th: So Obama wants 2 c what Israel wants be done in Syria (w/o any intrvntion), Romney thnks Syria is an opportunity. 30k dead r an opportunity.

Meanwhile, Syrian Amal Hanano addresses Obama:

@AmalHanano: Obama, you don't need to visit the Holocaust Museum to remember evil, turn on YouTube and watch #Syria bleed.

Tunisian Sami Ben Romdhane tweets:

@samiTunis: All what I can remember from tonight US presidential debate on CNN is that they are sponsored by Exxon Mobil .. :-) #fact

And Syrian THE 47th jokes:

@THE_47th: The winner today was clearly twitter.

On policymic, Tunisian blogger Ahmed Medien adds:

Monday's debate was not a stellar for both candidates. As someone who might be affected by these same very policies and corporations between U.S. and MENA, I was particularly unimpressed. It is the same talk that we have heard since years

October 21 2012

France: Photos and Impressions from the World Forum for Democracy 2012 in Strasbourg

Logo forumFrom October 5 - 11, 2012, the city of Strasbourg, France had its opportunity to shine at the center of the intellectual debate on democracy. The first World Forum for Democracy, organized by the Council of Europe and the Urban Community of Strasbourg, was entitled “Democracy on Trial: Between Old Models and New Realities”. It was inaugurated in the presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman.

For three and a half days, the Palais de l'Europe hosted a thousand participants from around the world, for a plethora of debates in all formats, on the themes of democracy. The meetings were also a place to exchange experiences and good practices. Participants in the “Arab Spring” were invited to testify, although initially, simultaneous translation was not available. The hashtag #CoE_FWD allowed readers to follow the debates on Twitter.

Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

The interior of the Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

Being from Strasbourg, the author had not far to go, after proper registration, to attend the sessions. Here is a personal selection of quotations and links to resources.

Debates, roundtables, and workshops: a wealth of ideas

Conference on Virtual Values

Conference on the theme of “Virtual Values? Democracy and New Social Networks”. World Forum for Democracy, October 8, 2012.

The author's favorite theme was “Virtual Values ? Democracy and New Social Networks” [fr], including the workshop “Internet, New Media, and Democratic (R)evolutions” [fr].

Some notes and questions, presented in aggregate:

- Citizen journalism, response to betrayal by traditional media companies, which are traded on stock exchanges, and are tools in the service of financial powers
- Technological neutrality of the Internet, and the inability of politicians to understand it: analogy with the advent of the printing press
- Freedom, immediacy, courage: “Should I go there?” “Are others going there?” Following passively in front of one's computer, or taking action
- Anonymous voices of social media - which thus can be manipulated, while the authorities have a public face
- In movements such as “The 132″ in Mexico: The risk of irrelevance and the difficulty of making decisions
- A third way, community media
- Information is still geographically localized, so publish guides to counteract official information
- After protests, use social media to support democratization
- In Senegal, the media workshop RFI warned the international community about potential tampering with elections, and the pressure that ensued has limited the scope of manipulation of the results
- Education for more effective use of citizen media
- Expressing oneself does not imply being heard, journalists still have their role
- Can liberal ideology tolerate difference?
- Who will require social media to fulfill their responsibilities?
- The ineffectiveness of censorship; for illegal content, prosecution is easier if it is not censored

Jillian C. York debates the responsibilities of medias

Jillian C. York, of Global Voices and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, at the debate on the responsibilities of media, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Censorship is pointless”.

Tawakkol Karman World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg

Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the debate on the responsibilities of medias, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Fundamentally, there is a right to receive information”.

Meeting on

Meeting on “Immigration: Solidarity in Crisis?” at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, October 10, 2012

Links and selected highlights [fr]

- Non-governmental organization HRIC (Human Rights in China)

- Toolkit for intercultural dialogue, www.dialoguetoolkit.net

- Canadian information and activism site on immigration, BASICSnews.ca

- The example of the immigration policy of Portugal [fr] (welcomed by the OECD, [pdf])

- The organization ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network), for writers and for those who are, in a larger sense, threatened

- The appeal of writers for peace [fr], by Boualem Sansal and David Grossmann

Lina Ben Mhenni Strasbourg

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni receives the Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement

Additional activities

The aim of a larger audience had been proposed in meetings between writers and journalists, as well as a film festival, exhibitions, and various debates and conferences. Local and regional authorities provided the building, and in this context, the “Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement” [fr] was awarded to Tunisian blogger and activist Lina Ben Mhenni, who previously had already been honored in “Best of Blogs 2011″ [fr].

Was there democracy at the forum?

contestation au forum de la démocratie "off"

A protester at the meeting organized by “Le Monde”, on the subject of the “Arab Spring”. October 9, 2012

Communication about debate sessions was limited, and the mandatory online registration process was closed too soon, which probably excluded a larger number of people who would have been interested. This “very institutional” forum (according to opening remarks) was not a venue open to everyone [fr], but may have more closely resembled a Davos-style club discussion. There was also a small protest at the meeting organized by French newspaper “Le Monde”, on the theme of “The Arab Spring”.

Some people who had been approached about the Forum canceled their appearances : Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki [fr], a former medical student at the University of Strasbourg, cited scheduling conflict for his withdrawal. Guinean President Alpha Condé [fr], who was to have delivered the closing speech, probably preferred to avoid a demonstration which had been announced by his compatriots in the diaspora, who were outraged, and refused to allow him to present himself as a democrat.

On Tuesday the 9th, a demonstration by “Travellers” [fr] blocked the tram line, which connects the Palais de l'Europe to the Maison de la Région Alsace, for several hours.

Next year's meeting

The event is intended to take place annually. Has the challenge been met? To begin preparations earlier, should be one of the lessons learned from this first edition: within the nation of France, at institutions of the European Union, and among the common citizens.

World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg, exit

After a session of the Forum at the Palais de l'Europe

 All photos in this article are by the author. For more photos, see here.
This post was translated into English from its original French by Andrew Kowalczuk.

October 19 2012

France: Photos and Impressions from the World Forum for Democracy 2012 in Strasbourg

Logo forumFrom October 5 - 11, 2012, the city of Strasbourg, France was the host of a global conversation on democracy. The first World Forum for Democracy, organized by the Council of Europe and Strasbourg City Hall, was entitled “Democracy on Trial: Between Old Models and New Realities”. It was inaugurated in the presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman.

For three and a half days, the Palais de l'Europe hosted a thousand participants from around the world, for a plethora of debates in all formats, on the themes of democracy. The meetings were also a place to exchange experiences and good practices. Participants in the “Arab Spring” were invited to testify, although initially, simultaneous translation was not available. The hashtag #CoE_FWD allowed readers to follow the debates on Twitter.

Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

The interior of the Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

Here is a selection by the author of quotes from the conference and links to resources.

Debates, roundtables, and workshops: a wealth of ideas

Conference on Virtual Values

Conference on the theme of “Virtual Values? Democracy and New Social Networks”. World Forum for Democracy, October 8, 2012.

The author's favorite theme was “Virtual Values ? Democracy and New Social Networks” [fr], including the workshop “Internet, New Media, and Democratic (R)evolutions” [fr].

Some notes and questions, presented in aggregate:

- Citizen journalism, response to betrayal by traditional media companies, which are traded on stock exchanges, and are tools in the service of financial powers
- Technological neutrality of the Internet, and the inability of politicians to understand it: analogy with the advent of the printing press
- Freedom, immediacy, courage: “Should I go there?” “Are others going there?” Following passively in front of one's computer, or taking action
- Anonymous voices of social media - which thus can be manipulated, while the authorities have a public face
- In movements such as “The 132″ in Mexico: The risk of irrelevance and the difficulty of making decisions
- A third way, community media
- Information is still geographically localized, so publish guides to counteract official information
- After protests, use social media to support democratization
- In Senegal, the media workshop RFI warned the international community about potential tampering with elections, and the pressure that ensued has limited the scope of manipulation of the results
- Education for more effective use of citizen media
- Expressing oneself does not imply being heard, journalists still have their role
- Can liberal ideology tolerate difference?
- Who will require social media to fulfill their responsibilities?
- The ineffectiveness of censorship; for illegal content, prosecution is easier if it is not censored

Jillian C. York debates the responsibilities of medias

Jillian C. York, of Global Voices and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, at the debate on the responsibilities of media, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Censorship is pointless”.

Tawakkol Karman World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg

Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the debate on the responsibilities of medias, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Fundamentally, there is a right to receive information”.

Meeting on

Meeting on “Immigration: Solidarity in Crisis?” at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, October 10, 2012

Links and selected highlights [fr]

- Non-governmental organization HRIC (Human Rights in China)

- Toolkit for intercultural dialogue, www.dialoguetoolkit.net

- Canadian information and activism site on immigration, BASICSnews.ca

- The example of the immigration policy of Portugal [fr] (welcomed by the OECD, [pdf])

- The organization ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network), for writers and for those who are, in a larger sense, threatened

- The appeal of writers for peace [fr], by Boualem Sansal and David Grossmann

Lina Ben Mhenni Strasbourg

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni receives the Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement

Additional activities around the conference 

The aim of a larger audience had been proposed in meetings between writers and journalists, as well as a film festival, exhibitions, and various debates and conferences. Local and regional authorities provided the building, and in this context, the “Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement” [fr] was awarded to Tunisian blogger and activist Lina Ben Mhenni, who previously had already been honored in “Best of Blogs 2011″ [fr].


Shackles on democracy at the forum?

contestation au forum de la démocratie "off"

A protester at the meeting organized by “Le Monde”, on the subject of the “Arab Spring”. October 9, 2012

Communication about debate sessions was limited, and the mandatory online registration process was closed too soon, which probably excluded a larger number of people who would have been interested. This “very institutional” forum (according to opening remarks) was not a venue open to everyone [fr], but may have more closely resembled a Davos-style club discussion. There was also a small protest at the meeting organized by French newspaper “Le Monde”, on the theme of “The Arab Spring”.

Some people who had been approached about the Forum canceled their appearances : Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki [fr], a former medical student at the University of Strasbourg, cited scheduling conflict for his withdrawal. Guinean President Alpha Condé [fr], who was to have delivered the closing speech, probably preferred to avoid a demonstration which had been announced by his compatriots in the diaspora, who were outraged, and refused to allow him to present himself as a democrat.

On Tuesday the 9th, a demonstration by “Travellers” [fr] blocked the tram line, which connects the Palais de l'Europe to the Maison de la Région Alsace, for several hours.

Next year's meeting

The event is intended to take place annually. Has the challenge been met? To begin preparations earlier, should be one of the lessons learned from this first edition: within the nation of France, at institutions of the European Union, and among the common citizens.

World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg, exit

After a session of the Forum at the Palais de l'Europe

 All photos in this article are by the author. For more photos, see here.

October 16 2012

Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating Women's Genius

I want to challenge you. Yes, you, who are reading this article: mention five, just five names, of amazing women in science and technology you know, from five different countries in the world. The average person will likely fail to complete the challenge. Many will just mention some names they heard in recent news, like Marisa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo.

Ada Lovelace Day, celebrated every October 16, honors international women who are contributing with effort and little praise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths - women whose skills are urgently needed for the future of the world.

Here we highlight some of these extraordinary women from all over the world.

For example: Brazilian molecular biologist and geneticist Mayana Zatz is heading the University of São Paulo's (USP) Human Genome Research Centre; Mexican Environmental Engineer Blanca Jiménez Cisneros is the Director of the Division of Water Sciences and Secretary of the International Hydrological Program from UNESCO; Sijue Wu, from China, was awarded with the Morningside Medal, considered the most prestigious award for Chinese experts in Mathematics. Wu is also the first female recipient in the medal's history.

'Introduce a girl to engineering' by Argonne Library

‘Introduce a girl to engineering' by Argonne Library (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Leading the list of women scientists is Fabiola Gianotti who is directing the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, considered the world's biggest scientific experiment. Gianotti is followed by Sunita Williams, an Astronaut who holds the record for the longest space flight by a woman.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Seberry is well know as The Grandmother of cryptography and computer security in Australia. She is a globally recognized cryptographer, mathematician, and computer scientist who took part in the discovery of the foundations of what is computer security today.

All the women listed above are at the peak of their consolidated careers. They are role models and examples who are inspiring many girls around the world. A new generation of scientists, computer experts, and researchers are taking the first steps to lead science and technology all over the world.

In Cuba Martha Zoe, a specialist in natural medicine in Cuba using native herbs growing in the island, discovered how ‘anamu' pills help those who are sick with terminal diseases.

In Tunisia, Sarrah Ben M'Barek is engaged in similar research, discovering innovative uses of plants. She also advocates to teach children how fascinating science can be with a creative approach.

Meanwhile, Esther Duflo, from France, founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a network of professors from all over the world who use Randomized Evaluations to answering questions about poverty alleviation.

Computer Scientist from Princeton University, Nadia Heninger, scanned the entire Internet and found hundreds of thousands of instances of insecure Internet connections.

While Linet Kwamboka, from Kenya, is a computer expert leading the Open Data Initiative and the Open Government Partnership at the Kenya ICT Board.

Ana Domb, from Costa Rica-Chile, is a researcher studying distribution systems and thinking about the intersection of culture and technology.

Erinn Clark, a self taught computer expert, is one of the bright minds behind Tor Project, updating the Tor Project code and by doing so, allowing hundreds of users to communicate privately and securely. She combines her coding activities with public advocacy.

Berglind Ósk Bergsdóttir, for her part, is an amazing developer of mobile apps from Iceland.

Twelve years ago, Chiaki Hayashi founded LoftWork, which comprises more than 7,000 creators, including web and graphic designers, illustrators, photographers and fine artists and is allowing hundreds of digital creators to work together, share their portfolios and build projects they would have never created in isolation.

Debbie Sterling is an engineer and the founder of GoldieBlox, a toy and book series starring Goldie, a girl inventor who loves to build, seeking to attract girls to mechanics and engineering.

Naeema Zarif in Lebanon is leading a sharing revolution, promoting open digital models.

Architect Joumana Al-Jabri, meanwhile, is using her technical skills to foster human rights with a variety of technology projects, including Visualizing Palestine.

In Costa Rica, Giannina Segnini is leading a team of scientist and journalists working in the most ambitious data driven journalism iniatiative in the region.

Kate Doyle, in the United States, is the director of the Evidence Project at the National Security Archive, and uses data science to uncover human rights abuses and hold criminals accountable of the most horrific crimes.

Models to follow, lives to inspire us, and names we must not forget to tackle stereotypes pushing women away from science. While some names mentioned above belong to very bright and famous senior experts, one must not forget the amazing women leading and forming communities such Mitchell Baker leading Mozilla, Cathy Casserly as CEO of Creative Commons, Kat Walsh as the Board Chair of Wikimedia, and all Global Voices Online female authors and editors, who make up a majority of our community. We should also remember those groups of women who are the custodians and guardians of traditional knowledge in all cultures.

Women have been at all times the keepers of culture, the depositories of knowledge and the seeds for the future. Lets honor all of them today.

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