Revolution, the “Tunisian girl”’s baby blues
Nathalie Galesne - 26/07/2011
A few steps away from the Kasbah’s esplanade, the cradle of the Tunisian revolution, the hall of the Faculty of Social Sciences is in full swing. After the events that triggered the fall of Ben Ali, it is a safe bet that this resit session is more crowded that usual.
Lina Ben Mhenni pushes her way through the hubbub with a firm step. English assistant at the University of Tunis, she will devote her day to exams. With a childish fringe, a serious look and a slender figure, the young 28-year-old young woman has become a star of the North African blogosphere.
Her trilingual blog (Arabic, English and French) entitled “A Tunisian girl” was created well before the Arab Spring to denounce the repression and the corruption existing during Ben Ali’s regime. It became known worldwide during the riots that marked the revolution.
“I write from the heart,” she explains “I sit behind my computer screen and I write in the language that comes. It was only during my fieldwork in Sidi Bouzid that I chose to write in English in order to spread the information to as many people as possible. In fact, at the time, I even stopped blogging like I used to, I did reportages, I reported what was happening there and I turned into a journalist since Tunisian journalists were not doing their job.”
Ordinary blogger or journalist? The border between the two has become increasingly imperceptible in countries where freedom of expression, of information is banned and where citizen journalism has taken over.
“I originally started my blog haphazardly in 2007 and I called it crazy thoughts. It was a means to express myself, I wrote about everything and nothing, I described my nights out, my love affairs but I also wrote on social issues in Tunisia. Little by little I started to become acquainted with the Tunisian blogosphere. The other bloggers organised campaigns against censorship. In 2008, when the events of the mining area took place, we created a blog called Pour Gafsa (for Gafsa) and it was censored more than twenty times.”
With the revolution, Crazy thoughts becomes A Tunisian girl and European media
Interview Lina Ben Mhenni left right and centre. The young woman has been awarded Best Blog 2011 by the Deutsche Welle and this has brought her to travel a lot. She has also just published a short text edifying the Tunisian Girl. “Blogueuse pour un printemps arabe” (Blogger for an Arab Spring) is edited by Indigène Publishers. No wonder, Lina is on edge with indignation especially during this sensitive phase of democratic transition in Tunisia.
Lina is also tired, distressed, anxious… She has the revolution’s baby blues. “What I see now on Facebook or on blogs is rubbish”, she laments, “it’s paradoxical but before, under Ben Ali’s regime, it was easier to be informed. Right now rumours and disinformation are taking over. Everyone has understood the importance of social media. There are groups that engage in propaganda, the forces of those that are against the revolution are infiltrating. Under dictatorship, I used to write everything I wanted, I was censored of course but those who were interested in my blog used proxy to read me.”
Today, Lina’s heart is heavy. With a bitter taste, Lina states, “I was obliged to self-censorship because each time I give my opinion I receive death and rape threats. Before the revolution, the enemy was identified, Ben Ali, his police force…Nowadays, instead of having one dictator, we have thousands. There is a current campaign against me on Facebook and this was created after my trip to France and my appearance on TV where I spoke of secularism and denounced the double discourse of radical Islamists. They accuse me of everything, of being Christian, Jewish, a mason, lesbian and drug addict, of working with the CIA, the FBI and the Mossad. After 50 years of silence and dictatorship, one can understand the emotional release of speech. At first I was shocked but now I do not care. I believe of what I do.”
This delirious conspiracy is even amusing her. Her look is now less dark, a couple of laughs escape only to disappear immediately. In the stale atmosphere that she descries, Lina Ben Mhenni has recently resigned from the body responsible for the reform of information in which she was taking part. “I have antagonised all journalists who could do bear to deal with a blogger.” But Lina insists that the real problem “is to hold free elections with the same media and journalists of Ben Ali’s rule. Actually, there are many young people who have suggested I work with them on different projects but they did not get a license. This is the case of Radio Kalima who is obliged to diffuse its programs on the web since it is not allowed to do on air”.
With the deterioration of the blogs and social media, Lina felt the need write down the experience of her participation to the movement of cyber activism since 2008. Tunisian Girl. Blogueuse pour un printemps arabe (Blogger for an Arab Spring) was released on the 16th June in France and has already been translated in German and in Spanish. This precious little book dismantles a series of freshly ground myths revolving around the revolution. “Everyone thinks that this revolution happened all of a sudden, in a haphazard way”, argues the blogger. “There was a sudden onset of course but one should not forget the social movements that took place in 2008 and all the others that have been aborted, crushed by the regime; it is actually a combination of several factors that made the revolution possible.”
At three months before the elections, the Tunisian political landscape is not easier to decipher. “The situation is strange, we have 97 parties. From one party, we passed to 100”, notes Lina. “I want to vote because I have never voted in my life but to be honest, I don’t know who to vote for. Even the parties opposed to Ben Ali are not very convincing. They are not interested in the people. Politics is a dirty game but at the moment they are decaying. The people are not satisfied with the current government who forgets too easily that it was formed to ensure transition and that it was not elected in a democratic way. The credit it has received is an example. The Tunisians will have to pay for years. It’s absurd.”
It is not so easy to fit into a democratic process especially when you’re young, genuine and with little scope for compromise. “I am really depressed,” says Lina, “but I’m still optimistic. Young people are aware of all that is happening. We will remain vigil and I will continue to fight”.
(1) “Tunisian Girl. Blogueuse pour un printemps arabe” (Blogger for an Arab Spring) , Lina Ben Mhenni, Indigène Publishers, 32 p., 3 Euros.