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Blogging Tunisia: Sweet November

Ben Ali, Wikipedia, Democracy

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

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

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

Criticizing the 19 years rule of Ben Ali, Stranger has published several flash animations around the subject of “19 years, enough is enough”. And for Mkarriz Ben Ali has already intended to remain in power as long as his heart keeps beating.

Mouwaten Tounsi, whose blog was censured [Fr] after publishing a ‘letter to president Ben Ali‘ [Fr] urging him to put an end to the lack of freedom of expression in the country, has condemned the decision of a new Tunisian blog aggregator to ban him too from being indexed.

And in reaction to the censorship of his favorite sites in Tunisia, among them, deviantart.com, blogmarks.net, and wikipedia.org, escalier7 has written his last post and explained why he decided to give up blogging [Fr] :

moi je suis ingénieur en informatique et si on me censure internet pour tout ce qui nouvelles technologies je suis mort. (…) ceci est mon dernier post sur ce blog et la fin de mon activité sur internet.

I am a Computer Engineer and I really can’t live with this censorship blocking me to have access to new technologies. (…) this is my last post on this blog and the end of my activity on the Web.

This brings us to the most discussed issue of the last week among Tunisian bloggers: the block of wikipedia for a couple of days. In the following chronological sample we’ll see how the debate started, and how it ended up:

- November 23 afternoon, access to Wikipedia was being blocked in Tunisia for unknown reasons.

- November 23, asking ‘what is this?‘ (Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?! ) [FR], MetallicNaddou has posted on her blog a screen capture of the error page appearing when trying to access wikipedia.

- November 24, Kassus, a Tunisian blogger involved in wikipedia, reported on the francophone Wikipedia mailing list [Fr], and later on his blog, that wikipedia is being blocked in Tunisia.

- In reaction to the post of Kassus [Fr], some bloggers has called to take action by sending an email to the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) and to all ISP in the country calling them ‘Give us Wikipedia back!’ ‘Rendez nous Wikipedia !’.

- November 24, Karim2k was the first Tunisian to write about the issue in English and to point what he thinks the reason behind the block of wikipedia:

The point is that Wikipedia contains “controversial” articles about Tunisia published in “Le Monde” French newspaper, a set of some lines of texts, based a whole universe of knowledge freshly updated and maintained by thousands of volunteers over the world (…) So, by the way grap your rage once for all , ban Google, Blogger, Flickr, Youtube , … in one word ban the web so we can feel freed from the pain.

- November 25, Xander [Fr] believed that it was not a case of censorship since the famous Tunisian 404 error page which shows up on censured sites is not showing when we try to access to wikipedia. For him it was just a technical problem, and he suggested a way to move forward and to bypass the block by changing the DNS server address.

- November 25, According to Mario tout de go, [Fr] a subscriber to the francophone Wikipedia mailing list, it is probably a case of censorship of Wikipedia in Tunisia [Fr] In his post he made also parallels between the censorship of wikipedia in China and in Tunisia:

Wikipédia semble déranger énormément les pays qui ne croient pas à l’importance de la libre circulation de l’information.

Wikipedia seems to extremely upset the countries who do not believe in the value of freedom of movement of information.

- November 26, commenting the post of Kassus [Fr], Cyberdissident has given a new turn to the debate when he grabbed the opportunity to evoke the importance of the battle for free expression in Tunisia. And even if he felt sorry for the block of wikipedia in the country, he was happy to see how bloggers are taking action against that.

je suis triste pour vous, mais content de vous voir enfin évoquer, enfin, le sujet de la censure au Bled. Depuis des années le net tunisien dissident lutte pour faire de ce sujet une priorité. Comme l'ATI, vous les avez censuré, sur vos aggrégateurs de blogs, sur la page de la Tunisie de WIKI.

I am sad for you, but glad to see you finally evoking the issue of the censorship. Since years the dissenting Tunisian Net fights to make of this subject a priority. Like ATI, you censured them, on your blog aggregators and on the page of Tunisia of WIKI.

His remark about the controversial issues of the Tunisian pages on wikipedia broke out again the old and unsettled tension between cyberdissents and the follows bloggers.

- November 27, Houssein [Fr] has also evoked the same controversial issues on wikipedia linking to the heated debate on the discussion page on Wikipedia [Fr] about Tunisia, between the Tunisian admin Kassus, and others close to the cyberdissidence.

- November 27, Erasoft [Fr] has called the visitors of his blog to send the model letter he wrote to the Tunisian embassy in France and drawing its attention to the block of wikipedia.

- November 27, “Hurray ! Wikipedia, the open encyclopedia, is back. You cannot imagine how happy I am. I felt boring these days, without my preferred siteKaiser wrote in euphoric terms. Hopefully, this good news won't be short-lived, even when it remains unclear what caused the block.

- November 28, back to the clash that is going on between some of the bloggers and a fraction of cyberdissidents, MetallicNaddou [Fr] has suggested that good contacts based on respect will help building a bridge of trust:

Il faudrait qu'il y ait un véritable contact, un échange basé avant tout sur le respect et la recherche d'objectifs communs à tous pour pouvoir envisager quelque chose

It would be necessary to have authentic contacts, a sort of dialogue that must be based on respect and the search of common objectives, in order to achieve something.

On Fikra [Fr], SBG has written about the index of democracies survey [PDF] released by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) the last week.

Ranking 135th among the 167 surveyed countries, Tunisia is classified as an “authoritarian regime” along with 55 other countries. Among the Arab nations (see the graph about Arab country overall score), only Palestine ( 79th) belongs to “flawed democracies”. Lebanon (85th) and Iraq (112th) are both in the category of “hybrid regimes”. The rest of the Arab countries are classified as “authoritarian regimes”. And with an overall score of 3.53, the Middle-East & North Africa is the lowest-ranked region in the world (see the graph about democracy across regions).

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