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<nettime> Revolution in Tunisia and Wikileaks
nettime's avid reader on Mon, 17 Jan 2011 10:41:40 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Revolution in Tunisia and Wikileaks

From: nettime's avid reader <nettime {AT} kein.org>

Tunisia's youth finally has revolution on its mind

We've become used to gossiping about the regime and feeling that we're 
plotting. But now we see the time to rebel has come

          o Sam
          o guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 January 2011 10.00 GMT


I am part of the new generation that has lived in Tunisia under the 
absolute rule of President Ben Ali.

In high school and college, we are always afraid to talk politics: "There 
are reporters everywhere," we are told. Nobody dares discussing politics in 
public; everyone is suspicious. Your neighbour, your friend, your grocer 
might be Ben Ali's informer: do you or your father want to be forcibly 
taken to an undefined place one night at 4am?

We grow up with this fear of activism; we continue studying, going out and 
partying, regardless of politics.

During high school, we begin to find out the intricacies of the "royal" 
family and hear stories here and there â about a relative of Leila 
[Trabelsi, the president's wife] who took control of an industry, who has 
appropriated the land of another person, who dealt with the Italian mafia. 
We talk and discuss it among ourselves â everybody is aware of what's going 
on, but there is no action. We quickly learn that Tunisian television is 
the worst television that exists. Everything is relayed to the glory of 
President Ben Ali, who's always shown at his best. We all know he dyes his 
hair black. Nobody likes his wife, who has a wooden smile: she never seemed 

We do not live, but we think we do. We want to believe that all is well 
since we are part of the middle class, but we know that if the cafes are 
packed during the day, it is because the unemployed are there discussing 
football. The first nightclubs open their doors and we begin to go out, to 
drink and enjoy the nightlife around Sousse and Hammamet. Other stories are 
circulating â about a Trabelsi who gave someone a horrible kicking because 
he felt like it, or another who caused a car accident only to return home 
to sleep. We exchange stories, quietly, quickly. In our own way, it is a 
form of vengeance: by gossiping, we have the feeling we're plotting.

The police are afraid: if you tell them you're close to Ben Ali all doors 
open, hotels offer their best rooms, parking becomes free, traffic laws 

The internet is blocked, and censored pages are referred to as pages "not 
found" â as if they had never existed. Schoolchildren are exchanging 
proxies and the word becomes cult: "You got a proxy that works?"

We all know that Leila has tried to sell a Tunisian island, that she wants 
to close the American school in Tunis to promote her own school â as I 
said, stories are circulating. Over the internet and under the desks, we 
exchange "La rÃgente de Carthage" [a controversial book about the role of 
Leila Trabelsi and her family in Tunisia]. We love our country and we want 
things to change, but there is no organised movement: the tribe is willing, 
but the leader is missing.

The corruption, the bribes â we simply want to leave. We begin to apply to 
study in France, or Canada. It is cowardice, and we know it. Leaving the 
country to "the rest of them". We go to France and forget, then come back 
for the holidays. Tunisia? It is the beaches of Sousse and Hammamet, the 
nightclubs and restaurants. A giant ClubMed.

And then, WikiLeaks reveals what everyone was whispering. And then, a young 
man immolates himself. And then, 20 Tunisians are killed in one day.

And for the first time, we see the opportunity to rebel, to take revenge on 
the "royal" family who has taken everything, to overturn the established 
order that has accompanied our youth. An educated youth, which is tired and 
ready to sacrifice all the symbols of the former autocratic Tunisia with a 
new revolution: the Jasmin Revolution â the true one.

â This article was originally published in French on nawaat.org


The First WikiLeaks Revolution?

Posted By Elizabeth Dickinson Thursday, January 13, 2011 - 6:17 PM Share

Tunisians didn't need any more reasons to protest when they took to the 
streets these past weeks -- food prices were rising, corruption was 
rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia 
as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink. These 
protests are also about the country's utter lack of freedom of expression 
-- including when it comes to WikiLeaks.

Tunisia's government doesn't exactly get a flattering portrayal in the 
leaked State Department cables. The country's ruling family is described as 
"The Family" -- a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie 
jar in the entire economy. "President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is 
sclerotic and there is no clear successor," a June 2009 cable reads. And to 
this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: 
"persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and 
continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT 
[government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in 
southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst 
offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the 

Of course, Tunisians didn't need anyone to tell them this. But the details 
noted in the cables -- for example, the fact that the first lady may have 
made massive profits off a private school -- stirred things up. Matters got 
worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was 
blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists 
on social networking sites. 

As PayPal and Amazon learned last year, WikiLeaks' supporters don't take 
kindly to being denied access to the Internet. And the hacking network 
Anonymous launched an operation, OpTunisia, against government sites "as 
long as the Tunisian government keep acting the way they do," an Anonymous 
member told the Financial Times.

As in the recent so-called "Twitter Revolutions" in Moldova and Iran, there 
was clearly lots wrong with Tunisia before Julian Assange ever got hold of 
the diplomatic cables. Rather, WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst: both a 
trigger and a tool for political outcry. Which is probably the best 
compliment one could give the whistle-blower site. 


WikiLeaks cables: Tunisia blocks site reporting 'hatred' of first lady

US embassy warns Tunisian anger over corruption and unemployment, as well 
as 'intense dislike' for president's wife, threaten country's stability

    * Ian Black, Middle East editor
    * guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 7 December 2010 21.30 GMT


Tunisia has blocked the website of a Lebanese newspaper that published US 
cables released by WikiLeaks describing high-level corruption, a sclerotic 
regime, and deep hatred of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's wife and her 

Deeply unflattering reports from the US embassy in Tunis, released by 
WikiLeaks, make no bones about the state of the small Maghreb country, 
widely considered one of the most repressive in a repressive region.

"The problem is clear," wrote ambassador Robert Godec in July 2009, in a 
secret dispatch released by Beirut's al-Akhbar newspaper. "Tunisia has been 
ruled by the same president for 22 years. He has no successor. And, while 
President Ben Ali deserves credit for continuing many of the progressive 
policies of President Bourguiba, he and his regime have lost touch with the 
Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or 
international. Increasingly, they rely on the police for control and focus 
on preserving power.

"Corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now 
keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians 
intensely dislike, even hate, first lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In 
private, regime opponents mock her; even those close to the government 
express dismay at her reported behaviour. Meanwhile, anger is growing at 
Tunisia's high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the 
risks to the regime's long-term stability are increasing."

Effective delivery of services, 5% economic growth, model rights for women 
and religious tolerance are all impressive and unusual for the region. But 
Tunisia suffers from high unemployment and regional inequities. It is also 
"a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and 
serious human rights problems". France, the former colonial power, and 
Italy are singled out as having "shied away" from applying pressure for 
political reform.

Frustrating though this all is, the US cannot afford to write off Tunisia. 
"We have too much at stake," Godec's report continued. "We have an interest 
in preventing al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups 
from establishing a foothold. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian 
military professional and neutral. We also have an interest in fostering 
greater political openness and respect for human rights."

Days later, an evening in the opulent home of Ben Ali's son-in-law Mohamed 
Sakher El Materi provided a striking illustration of the "great wealth and 
excess" fuelling resentment of the presidential family. (El Materi had 
recently helped the British ambassador to secure several appointments for 
the Duke of York, who was visiting to promote UK trade.) Aged 28, he owns a 
shipping cruise line, concessions for Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche and 
Renault, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm, and real estate companies.

El Materi, keen "to assist McDonald's to enter Tunisia", served a lavish 
dinner with ice cream and frozen yoghurt brought in by private plane from 
St Tropez, where he and his wife, Nesrine, one of the president's 
daughters, had just spent a two-week holiday (although their favourite 
destination is the Maldives). The El Materi household includes a large 
tiger, named Pasha, living in a cage, which consumes four chickens a day. 
The situation "reminded the US envoy of Uday Hussein's lion cage in 
Baghdad". The couple were planning to move to a new home "closer to a 

Godec concluded: "The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and 
their behaviour make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali's family 
are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali 
family are growing."

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