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.
    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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.