News / Middle East

    Tunisia Testing Newfound Freedom of Expression

    The leader and founder of the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, adresses the media during a press conference held in Tunis, October 28, 2011.
    The leader and founder of the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, adresses the media during a press conference held in Tunis, October 28, 2011.
    Lisa Bryant

    Tunisia's revolution has exploded longstanding curbs to free expression.  Media, civil society groups and political parties are flowering.

    Journalist and blogger Haythem el Mekki, 29, earns a living poking fun at politicians for Tunisia's popular Radio Mosaique. It is the kind of free-wheeling satire that did not exist here a year ago.

    During the marathon presidencies of former dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisian media was censored, human rights activists were hounded, and many people were afraid to speak their minds. Many who did ended up in prison, including members of the moderate Islamist Ennahdha Party, which emerged as the winner of last week's election.

    El Mekki counts among the young bloggers who drove Tunisia's January revolution that ousted Ben Ali.

    "If somewhere there was a demonstration in my town, I made videos, I uploaded them on the Internet, it is stuff like this," said El Mekki. "But I did not write a single world about revolution on my blog. The bloggers of the revolution which all the media talks about are just people who reported about the revolution on social media."

    Today, the options for free expression have exploded. Dozens of political parties and civil society groups have formed. Even the state media now criticizes the government.

    A survey by Human Rights Watch found all the parties running for the elections were committed to free expression. But as regional deputy director Eric Goldstein notes, with caveats.

    "If you press them on issues like defamation of religion," said Golstein, "if you press them on whether a Christian has the right to stand on the street and urge people to convert to Islam, there is not as much unanimity on that."

    Several incidents this year, including attacks on a synagogue and two movies considered to denigrate Islam, are raising fears of a new religious censorship in this once staunchly secular nation. Earlier this month, a small group of Islamist radicals attacked the private Nessma TV station after it broadcast animated movie Persepolis. They took issue, in particular, with its depiction of God.

    Nessma's head Nabil Karaoui describes the attack as a shock, but cautions against reading to much into it.  Others believe the Western media has hyped up the incident.

    "I want to think that it was very special because of the elections and now the situation will be more calm and more normal and I hope that we will continue to find a way with this new constitution protections for media because because [there is] no democracy without free media," he said.

    But the attacks are raising new concerns about political Islam, particularly with Ennahdha's strong show in the polls. Spokeswoman Yusra Ghannouchi says the party is committed to free expression.

    "Freedom of the media as well, and artistic creativity," she said. "And at the same time, people may express their opinion whether or not they agree with what is shown, as long as it is within the law and using peaceful means."

    El Mekki worries about another kind of censorship. Businesses stop advertising in media that criticize them. Sports fans are outraged when their teams get negative coverage.  He believes Tunisia's new freedoms have bred intolerance.

    "It is just like Ben Ali left and left us with about 10 million Ben Alis," said El Mekki. "Everyone is trying to set up his rules and make himself command control everything.  Everyone wants to have the authority, everyone wants to be the new dictator."

    El Mekki hopes the new government, and ordinary Tunisians, will stay true to the principles of the January revolution - a demand for dignity and freedom.

    Related story by JulieAnn McKellogg:

    You May Like

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora