News / Middle East

Why Did Tunisia Block Palestinians From Arab Blogger Conference?

Activists attending this week’s 3rd annual Arab Bloggers Conference in Tunis thought they were gathering for four days of networking, socializing and information sharing; instead, they found themselves organizing yet another protest.

Seats reserved for Palestinian bloggers are seen empty at the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunis, Tunisia, October 05, 2011.
Seats reserved for Palestinian bloggers are seen empty at the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunis, Tunisia, October 05, 2011.
TEXT SIZE - +
Cecily Hilleary

Pro-democracy activists attending this week’s 3rd annual Arab Bloggers Conference in Tunis thought they were gathering for four days of networking, socializing and information sharing; instead, they found themselves organizing yet another protest.

The list of attendees reads like a Who’s Who of the Arab Spring, but most notable were the participants who were prevented from showing up - Palestinian bloggers.  Organizers invited twelve bloggers to Tunis, but only one Palestinian blogger, Saed Karzoun, was granted a visa. It’s believed that this is because he submitted a visa request much earlier than the others.  Entry was denied to the other eleven.

Lama Hourani is a program coordinator in the West Bank office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which co-sponsored the meeting along with Global Voices Online and Tunisia’s Nawaat Association. She says she followed the same procedures in applying for visas for the Palestinians as she did all for all the other conference attendees.

“We were told that it would only take a few days, don’t worry,” said Hourani.  “And then suddenly, we were told after a few days, that the Ministry of the [Tunisian] Interior refused the visas.”

Hourani says the Embassy offered no reason, but suggested she appeal to the Interior Ministry to reconsider their decision.  She says the Embassy claimed they had denied the visas because Nawaat is not a registered organization in Tunisia and therefore, the conference itself was not licensed.  

Why then, wonders Hourani, were all the other Arab attendees granted entry?  

Blogger Saleh Dawabsheh was also denied the chance to attend the conference.  He described his reaction to VOA:  “I did nothing at the very beginning, but then when I saw other bloggers from all over the world participating in the conference, I got mad and I decided to do something.”   He and the other bloggers drafted a statement of their own:

"We, the undersigned…demand that the Tunisian authorities issue a formal apology addressed to both the Palestinian and Tunisian peoples for undermining their historical ties, as well as for preventing Palestinian bloggers from benefiting from their Arab colleagues’ acquired expertise in their joint battle for liberty, dignity and humanity."

Meanwhile, the event sponsors issued a formal statement protesting Tunisia’s decision:

"We demand an explanation from the Tunisian Interior Ministry and seek clarification as to why Palestinian participants were denied… an Arab Bloggers Meeting without participation from Palestinians is an offense to the long tradition of solidarity between Tunisia and Palestine, and deprives participants of a key contingent of the Arab blogging community."

Asked to offer an opinion on why he was blocked, Dawabsheh said, “I can’t think of any reason because this never happened before.”  He says, however, he’s certain that this was no accidental omission, but something planned.  “And that's why we're working very hard to get this explanation, and at least to not be discriminated this way again.”

The apparent snub is all the more unusual because historically Tunisia has been a strong backer of Palestinian initiatives. From 1982 to 1991, Tunisia was home to Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) after the resistance movement was driven out of Beirut during the Israel Lebanon War. More recently, Tunisia also supported the Palestinian Authority’s bid for U.N. statehood.

It should be noted that VOA placed several calls to the Embassy of Tunisia in Washington for clarification, but received no answer.

Getting Around Governments

In spite of the distraction, the four-day conference went on as planned.  In formal sessions and informal discussion groups, bloggers emphasized the important role of citizen journalists in global events.  As blogger Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, wrote in her blog, “Tunisians were aware of corruption and human rights violations, but leaks and activism confirmed it.”

Bloggers also shared methodologies to insure that the internet remains a tool of citizens, rather than governments, debating the merits of a variety internet privacy tools and security software; they argued big issues, such as pan Arabism and restricted regional borders; and they paid tribute to protesters in Bahrain and, in particular, Syria, debating the ways in which the Arab blogosphere could best assist Syrians still suffering under harsh government repression.  

In their final tweets, participants talked about the sense of unity and solidarity, and planned future events and protests.  Dawabsheh, who was able to follow events back home via the internet, said he was disappointed he could not be there in person, but at least one good thing had come out of the ordeal: 

“The Tunisian Ministry of Interior gave the Arab bloggers a great topic and a great issue to talk about, defend, and support, this issue united the Arab bloggers and made them feel that they're one hand," said Dawabsheh.

In the end, perhaps one tweet by @astaris summed the meeting better than any other:  “What MENA autocrats fear most of all isn’t tech, but the kind of human network that came together in Tunis.”

لماذا تونس الفلسطينيين من كتلة المؤتمر لالمدونين العرب؟ حضر مؤتمرا نشطاء المدونين العرب في تونس. الزوار تهدف إلى جمع لمدة أربعة أيام من أجل الشبكة. بدلا من ذلك ، بدأوا تنظيم احتجاج آخر في دعم الفلسطينيين.
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid