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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs