14
Sep 12

Tunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats up

If you want to understand what underlies the riots and attacks against US embassies across North Africa, have a look at one usually under-reported country where three people died in disturbances at the weekend. In Tunisia, the struggles of a newly-liberated Arab society over religion, society and law are being played out in and around the media.

Tunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats up

Never seen as a cradle of revolution before 2011, Tunisian protestors triggered the Arab Spring. Overthrowing the dictator now looks like the easy bit. Working out new rules for a society which has thrown away the old ones turns out to be the hard part. The media, once run or intimidated by the state machine, has turned into one of the flashpoints. The first free elections saw a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, come to power at the head of a coalition which faces more radical Islamists and Salafists one one side and the secular opposition parties (“leftist lobbies” in goverment language) on the other, some tainted by association with the old regime.

The pivot of the competition for power under new constitutive rules is not between “western” (i.e. Euro-American) ideas of liberalism and something vaguely labelled “Islamic” but between rival interpretations of Islam. There are many different versions of how Islam co-exists with civil society – and indeed whether Islam tolerates something we call civil society. Few regret the passing of corrupt Arab dictators such as Tunisia’s Ben Ali, but those dictators were aggressively secular.

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Tunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats upTunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats upTunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats upTunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats upTunisia and its media: the quiet struggle heats upShare This Post

29
Dec 10

Wikileaks and…Tunisia

A few posts back, reflecting on the arguments swirling over the release by Wikileaks of the American diplomatic cables, I said that I couldn’t see any geopolitical situation which might have been changed by the appearance of the information. I’ve spotted one case which might (only might) be an example of a specific country being changed by the revelations.

 Wikileaks and...Tunisia

President Ben Ali

The country is Tunisia, where anti-government demonstrations and riots have broken out in the last ten days. The events have not been widely reported, but are extremely unusual in a state held in a tight grip by an old-fashioned ex-military strongman, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. There’s a summary here (but the parallel with the fall of Romanian dictator Ceaucescu is implausible), more detail and rumours here and Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni here. The picture on the Al Jazeera piece of the protesting Tunisian lawyers in their black gowns and white collar tabs doesn’t suggest that a violent revolution is under way.

Now recall that one of the diplomatic cables to get early attention was the one from the US Ambassador in Tunis which mentioned seeing the pet tiger kept by the President’s son-in-law (and possible successor) and glimpses of the son-in-law’s “over the top” lifestyle. In a less gossipy despatch a year ago the ambassador put Tunisia’s problems in a nutshell:

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