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

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