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

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs