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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora