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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid