Article written

  • on 14.01.2011
  • at 06:38 PM
  • by Staff

Tunisia: The role of social media in Ben Ali’s end 0

Through Facebook and Twitter, demonstration has spread across in Tunisia, challenging the 22-year-old regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country today. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power.

Earlier President Ben Ali announced a state of emergency and fired the government following the worst unrest to hit this North African country in decades.

Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Tunis demanding Ben Ali step down. The main Habib Bourguiba Boulevard was a sea of humanity, as young and old, well-off and poor, chanted for change.

The riots began three weeks ago, when a 26-year-old man set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his fruit car by the security forces in the town of Sidi Bou Zid. Townspeople soon took to the streets to protest the lack of economic opportunity.

In the ensuing days, more protests erupted across the country, many of them morphing from economic protests into challenges directly against President Ben Ali. Quoting human rights groups, the New York Times puts the death toll at 30; Reuters reports the number of civilians killed is 23. Some of us have called the situation in Tunisia a “jasmine revolt,” as jasmine flowers are a national symbol in Tunisia.

Public dissent is almost unheard of in Tunisia, where free speech and free assembly are routinely quashed by authorities. Many of these protests have been met with force by Tunisian police, and because of the dearth of Western jounalists on the ground, a great deal of the reporting is coming directly from protesters on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

The U.S. State Department in an unusual public criticism of a pro-West Arab government said last week it was concerned about “recent reports that Tunisian ISP providers, at the direction of the government, hacked into the accounts of Tunisian users of American companies including Facebook, and providers of email such as Yahoo and Google, and stealing passwords.

This kind of interference,” it continued, “threatens the ability of civil society to realize the benefits of new technologies.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has evidence that log-in details of Tunisians are being intercepted. “Individuals have reported that these sites’ pages have either been blocked entirely, or been manipulated to include malicious code that collects private usernames and passwords and then relays them to the Tunisian Internet Agency.

The accounts of bloggers and journalists have subsequently been broken into using these stolen credentials.” On Wednesday one prominent blogger, Messou T7Essou, posted that his blog was being censored.

The protesters have been quick to mock the government’s efforts to stifle them — with slogans like “Free From 404″ Internet language for “file not found” abounding online and in the streets. Activists like Lina Ben Mhenni have posted photos and video of the protests and of some of those killed in the demonstrations.

Ben Mhenni, who uses Twitter and Facebook and has her own blog called “A Tunisian Girl,” posted photos Monday of five people she describes as the “martyrs of Erregueb.”

Regueb is a town in the Tunisian province where clashes between protesters and police broke out on Monday. Another blog (largely in French) called Nawaat included video of students in Tunis this week organizing themselves into the shape of the Arabic characters spelling Horriya or “freedom.”

By Staff

Source: AFP, CNN and Reuters Africa

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi