News / Africa

Tunisians React to New Media Options

Protestors burn a photo of former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali during a demonstration in Tunis, 24 Jan 2011
Protestors burn a photo of former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali during a demonstration in Tunis, 24 Jan 2011

Multimedia

Audio
Lisa Bryant

Tunisians are savoring new media freedoms announced a week ago by the country's caretaker government following the toppling of autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.  However, for the Al-Kitab bookstore in downtown Tunis, the fight for free expression is not over.

As anti-government demonstrators mark yet another day of protest, a smaller crowd is gathered before a store window on Tunis' main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, staring at its contents - more than a dozen books on display that were banned less than two weeks ago under former Tunisian strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Selma Jabbes, owner of Al-Kitab, describes the books in the window - books highly critical of the Ben Ali regime. "You see the most wanted one - La Regente de Carthage, which is written by Nicolas Beau, who is a journalist from Le Monde... it's about the family of the ex-president Ben Ali and his wife. And all the exactions (atrocities) they did, all the societies (businesses) they had... "

Even books on the economy and tourism that may have made a passing criticism of the country's government - all fell victim to Tunisia's heavy-handed censorship laws.

That changed dramatically a week ago, when interim prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced "total" freedom of the media. That "total freedom" appears to be in doubt after the interim government shut down a popular TV channel Sunday. Still, Tunisians like Jabbes assume it means freedom of expression, in general.

"It's extraordinary for us - this liberty of expression we see in Tunisia," said Jabbes. "We hope it will stay and it will always be like this. Because Tunisians are big enough to think by themselves, to do by themselves, to read what they want - it's great."

Jabbes is no stranger to media censorship. Her mother opened Al-Kitab  half a century ago, and she took it over in 1988 - a year after Ben Ali came to power. The former president promised free expression. The reality was censorship.

Jabbes was forced to get a government license of every book she ordered - licenses that often were denied. More often than not, she was hauled into the interior ministry to be reprimanded.

"They wanted us to make our own censorship. To limit our orders. But I never agreed with this."

Books about political Islam also were banned by the country's staunchly secular government. Now, 27-year-old Ismael Skheir checks the shop's literature on Tunisia's once-banned Ennadha Islamist party.

Skheir said he is seeking the truth about the Islamists - and whether their thinking fits in Tunisia.

Twenty-one year old university student Miriam Khalfala is another shop window gazer. She said there have always been ways to get around Tunisia's censorship laws, including downloading books on the Internet.

"So even if they say no, we can have those books," said Khalfala. "But it's about the principle. We want freedom. We want democracy. We want those books and they have to know this. "

Even though Tunisia's caretaker government has vowed free expression, those promises have yet to be translated into law. In principle, Al-Kitab must still get a government license for every book it orders.

So bookstore staff like Amel Chehimi are on the street - urging passersby to sign a petition to revoke the license requirements.

So far, Chehimi said, Al-Kitab has gotten 600 signatures. It hopes to get 1,000 before it sends the government its demand for the freedom to order, display and sell any book it wants.

Timeline of Tunisia on Dipity.

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

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More