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Tunisia and the Challenge of Security and Freedom




By Diana Moukalled

25 March 2015

Internet censorship is no longer kept a secret and no longer a sign of embarrassment. Governments don’t feel embarrassed when they announce new measures to control and track down users of certain websites. Yes, the era of hesitation or confusion when an authority announces plans for censorship over the internet and over social media websites is over.

Who can argue with a government when it says it’s taking such measures to fight terrorism and violence? How can anyone resist this logic when we see how social media and the Internet generally are being used to plan, recruit, market, and coordinate attacks?

“There’s Internet censorship and it’s ongoing as it is part of governmental work strategies,” said Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid following the bloody attack against the Bardo museum. This attack is the most difficult test for Tunisia which enjoys the characteristics of the only semi- successful of Arab Spring countries.

Before this attack, we were commending the Tunisian success of achieving democracy, compared to countries whose Arab Spring transferred into murder and chaos. However the recent attack in Tunisia came as a cruel slap to anyone who holds on to this hope linked to the Tunisian experience.

How will the mechanism of Tunisian response to this attack be?

The wheel of time is turning to where we were once before

This response will specify if Tunisia will fall in the same trap that Libya, Egypt, Yemen and other countries have fallen into after they drowned in chaos within the context of their battles against violence.

Yes, the Bardo attack is dangerous and it threatens the fragile Tunisian experience. The threat posed is not limited to security, as it is also political, social and democratic. If Arab uprisings have released that violence lying in Arab societies, this does not mean that terrorism is not the fruit of regime’s tyranny. On the contrary, it is these regimes’ legitimate son. We are worryingly observing policies enforced in Arab Spring countries which are once again adopting practices of suppressing freedoms, jailing people and narrowing the margin of freedom of expression. History is repeating itself.

Organized Suppression

The slogan “no sound is louder than that of the battle” was previously a reason to attack opposition figures and jail them and to suppress political and other freedoms. All this was carried out under the slogan of confronting colonization and Zionism. The wheel of time is turning to where we were once before. There’s currently organized suppression under the slogan of confronting terrorism and anyone who is critical is accused of being a traitor and an agent. Isn’t this what’s currently happening?

Violent Islamic extremism which we are suffering from today has developed in the shadow of collusion of some regimes and religious institutions. Confronting this threat via suppression and counter violence is not a successful means to eliminate it. Confronting extremism is a battle where security and freedom are parallel. Mechanisms containing violence have a security and military dimension, yes, but they also need intellect, art and culture as well as freedom of expression.

Repeating the failed experience will not save Tunisia. These experiences did not suppress terrorism and did not develop freedoms and societies. We can see how activists are being jailed and how intellectuals and the judiciary are being intimidated under slogans of security and patriotism. Above all that, neither security nor stability were achieved.

The upcoming phase is crucial for Tunisia, and modern technology has broken plenty of restrictions. Yes, there’s a need for censorship strategies against the activities of extremists and those who violate the law as these people use modern technologies to serve their harmful aims. However, will this happen via an absolute legitimization of operations of suppression and control over critical opinions, like is happening in more than one country?

Which road will Tunisia take while confronting its ordeal?

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV.