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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid