"Nothing has truly changed in Tunisia"
Oppression, violence, sham debates in parliament... Lina Ben Mhenni, a 28-year-old blogger and university teacher from Tunisia, feels nothing has changed in her country. There has been an air of expectation ever since dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January last year. But even after subsequent democratic elections in October, the first post-Arab Spring vote in the region, Mhenni says the same problems are persisting.
Mhenni shot to fame after becoming one of a few to report from ground zero of the Tunisian revolts. Her blog, 'a Tunisian Girl', packed with posts and photos, told the world what was happening. Mhenni chats to Metro about the state of Tunisia today, including the rise of censorship.
Q: Following the Arab Spring and elections back in October, do you think real changes have happened in Tunisia?
A: I didn’t vote in October because I felt the ballot paper only listed the parties, without properly listing the real individual change-makers. It was mainly young people and women who took part in the revolution but I only saw them at the bottom of the ballot paper; they had no chance of winning. At least fifty parties were founded out of the old party of Ben Ali, and while in the revolutionary euphoria it seemed there would be real changes, the only change that actually happened was that we broke down the barriers of fear. Everything else is the same – the social-economical problems, the lack of independence for the judiciary system, nepotism and corruption... And they created sham debates instead of tackling the real problems.
Q: One could say, "Welcome to democracy". Here in Europe, the democratic structures help fight some of these problems...
A: When we went to the streets, we did it to get rid of all of this [mess]! Two days ago, the police used violence on a peaceful protest. This cannot be accepted, and we won't accept!
Q: You reported about the revolution on your trilingual blog without disguising your identity with a pseudonym. Weren't you afraid?
A: I think people will trust you if you show them your face and if you are brave enough to use your own name. I of course had been afraid – I was followed by policemen, was even beaten by them and at one point they broke into my parents' house to steal my laptop.
Q: Activists in Egypt complain about their media being the same like before, because the same people who were trained by censorship write the articles. Do you fight the same problem?
A: The situation is even worse here. Censorhip works again. Last month the editor in chief of [Tunisian daily newspaper] Attounissia was arrested just because he published the photo of a half naked woman. Mainstream media is controlled by the government, people are manipulated. We could fight this with the internet as we did before, but people who are in power now know how the internet works and they distribute propaganda on it. They are stronger – they are paid to do this, and we are only volunteering in the fight for Tunisia's freedom.
Mhenni’s blog in Arabic, French and English
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