News / Africa

Internet Powers Tunisian Protests

A student-run Facebook page shows an image depicting the Tunisian national flag smeared in red on a computer screen, 11 Jan 2011.
A student-run Facebook page shows an image depicting the Tunisian national flag smeared in red on a computer screen, 11 Jan 2011.

The grassroots demonstrations that ousted Tunisian strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali were fueled by a young, Internet-savvy generation of bloggers. But can this so-called cybernet revolt be a model for the Arab world? 

It is being called the Jasmine Revolution; but some call it the Facebook Revolution. Facebook posts, tweets, blog entries and e-mails mobilized weeks of protests across the North African country of Tunisia against the autocratic regime of long-time president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

They culminated in massive, nation-wide demonstrations Friday that drove Ben Ali into exile.

On the streets of the capital, young Tunisians like 27-year-old telecommunications workers Marouen Gara, have no doubt about the newest weapon for change - cyberspace.

Gara calls it an Internet revolution.  Bloggers overcame Tunisia's censors and the state-controlled media to send out their grievances about the lack of democracy in Tunisia around the country and the world.

Ben Ali's authoritarian government had little tolerance for Internet freedom.  It closed down many sites and arrested bloggers.

But young Tunisians like Salouah Dalhoumi, sitting at a cyber cafe in Tunis, found ways to get their message out.  She says Tunisian authorities tried first to block cell phone videos of December killings of protesters, which sparked a national revolt.

"He [made] a firewall to filter this video," said Dalhoumi. "But we can make upload and we can download it in the laptop and after we give it to the people."

The Middle East and North Africa programs head for London's Chatham House policy institute, Claire Spencer, says ultimately Tunisia's youths proved cleverer than government censors.

"The moment something is banned, someone is breaking, going around it." said Spencer.  "So it has been counterproductive in recent years as a control strategy."

The cyber messages sped around the world, connecting Tunisia's diaspora to the events in their home country.  Mohamed Ben Hazouz, a software engineer living in Paris, read them.  He flew back to Tunis early Friday to participate in the massive demonstrations that ended up ousting Ben Ali.

"I think as a software engineer, it is the first cybernet revolution in the world," he said.  "In the new world of the Internet it was done from Africa."

Some of the same ingredients creating this so-called cybernet revolution in Tunisia are present elsewhere in the Arab world - authoritarian governments, high unemployment rates, Internet cafes and a large population of well educated, restless youths who frequent them. 

"Whether they will coalesce into something parallel to what we have seen in Tunisia in the immediate future is questionable," said Claire Spencer. " But I think the long-term trend is - this is a generation that is educated, that is well informed, that will be more demanding of their rights to participate, to have a civic role in their states.  And not to sit through gerrymandered elections and the lack of representation politically and lack of participation in the economy."

Tunisia's Internet revolution, if it can be called that, is still going on.  What lessons it will ultimately offer to the rest of the Arab world remain an open question.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs