Friday, October 14, 2011

Lina Ben Mhenni - Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

Tunisian Girl Bloger Lina Ben Mhenni was Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. One of the first to report on the immolation of Mohamid Bouazizi and the suppression of the news reports on the protests he sparked, Lina Ben Mhenni continues to blog on the state of the revolution from where it began. has reposted Lina Ben Mhenni's first blog report on the situation in Tunisia, less than a week after Mohamed Bouazizi literally sparked it all.

This is the report she posted two days before Christmas, six days after Bouazizi lit the fire.

Written by Lina Ben Mhenni
Posted 23 December 2010 17:33 GMT

An unemployed Tunisian set himself on fire in protest against his joblessness, sparking a wave of riots on the ground and solidarity and support on social networking platforms.

While the fate of Mohamed Bouazizi, aged 26, from Sidi Bouzid, in southern Tunisia, remains unclear, Tunisian netizens ceased the incident to complain about the lack of jobs, corruption and deteriorating human rights conditions in their country.

From Facebook to Twitter to blogs, Internet users expressed their solidarity with Mohamed, who had graduated with Mahdia University a few years ago, but could not find a job. Being the only breadwinner in his family, he decided to earn a living and with his family’s help, he started selling fruit and vegetable from a street stall. His venture gave him very little, enough to guarantee the dignity of his family. But city hall officials were on the look out, and have seized his goods several times. He tried to explain to them that what he was doing was not his choice that he was just trying to survive. Each time, his goods were confiscated, he was also insulted and asked to leave the city hall premises. The last time this happened, Mohamed lost all hope in this life and decided to leave it forever. He poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire.

On Facebook, several groups were created to denounce what happened. Mr President, Tunisians are Setting Themselves on Fire (Ar) is such a group. In less than 24 hours, the group attracted 2,500 members, and today boasts more than 10,000 fans. In less than 24 hours, it has also been censored by the authorities, who have clamped down on the Internet with an iron fist.

Here are two screen images, (one showing a photo of Mohamid Bouazizi and typical Facebook page) the second showing what Tunisians see when they try and access the page: NOT FOUND.

Some bloggers wrote about what happened and expressed their anger. Writing in a Tunisian dialect, Boukachen wrote a post entitled The Sidi Bouzid Holocaust:
الحكاية يا جماعة ميش جديدة، عندها سنين حالة المناطق الداخلية ميزيريا تتحد في تسليطها على الناس الظروف المناخية و تهميش هالمناطق بكل لامبالاة و فرح دائم و طحين مستمر. اما الحكاية ما تاقفش هنا، لأنو الاعلام المنحط متاع بلاد العم بوكشان يمارس تعتيم كامل عالحكاية،…

What happened is not something new. This miserable situation has been ongoing in the remote areas for many years. It is the result of the combination of the climatic conditions and the marginalization of such areas, coupled by the total indifference (of the authorities). But the story does not end here as our depraved media exercises a full blackout of this incident.

Dernièrement , les immolations par le feu se sont multipliées en Tunisie .Les acteurs de ces actions sont généralement des citoyens tunisiens qui ont perdu tout espoir en une vie descente . Chômage et pauvreté sont au rendez-vous et ont envenimé leur existence.

The Tunisian government did not find another solution but to censor the websites disseminating the story and imposing a blockade on the city of Sidi Bouzid, where people are expressing their anger by protesting in the streets.

On Twitter, the furor is also continuing, with the hash tag #sidibouzid trending among Tunisian users.

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As reported in Global Voice Online: This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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On December 17, 2010, an unemployed Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, aged 26, from Sidi Bouzid, in southern Tunisia, set himself on fire to protest against joblessness, sparking a popular uprising against the government. Two more suicides followed, spurring protests across several other Tunisian cities. The social movement - initiated by lawyers, journalists, and labor unions - demanded more work opportunities and reform of the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Clashes between protesters and security forces lasted for nearly a month. According to government counts, 23 Tunisians were killed by police and security forces, while numerous more were injured. On January 13, President Ben Ali gave a speech in which he promised to step down in 2014. The president also guaranteed reforms, including an end to restrictions on the media and Internet. Shortly after the speech, the country's pervasive Internet censors were turned off.

Despite Ben Ali's promises, however, the unrest continued throughout the night and into the next day, at which pointemergency law was enacted. Shortly thereafter, the president closed Tunisian airspace, fired the parliament, and promised governmental elections within six months. Protesters continued to gather outside of interior ministry, however, demanding Ben Ali's resignation.

Shortly thereafter, Ben Ali fled the country, and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi took over, citing Chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution as the article by which he was taking power, a move which some in the country called unconstitutional. On January 15, the country's constitutional court appointed parliament speaker Fouad Mebazaa as interim president. Mebazaa has 60 days to organize elections, according to article 57 of the Tunisian constitution.

Please contact Global Voices Middle East and North Africa EditorAmira Al Hussaini if you have links or story ideas, or want to add to this page's resource list.

What we do: Global Voices bloggers from the Middle East and North Africa report on how citizens use the Internet and social media to make their voices heard, often translating from Arabic. Check back for further developments to this page.

Interview w/ Lina Ben Mhenni

Tunisian Blogger Lina Ben Mhenni Responds To Critics

Written by: Magharebia
October 12, 2011
Interview by Houda Trabelsi

Known for her unabashed criticism of the former Tunisian regime, Lina Ben Mhenni was one of the most vocal voices behind the Tunisian revolution.

Through her award-winning blog, “A Tunisian Girl”, she exposed the practices of the ousted regime and chronicled events in Sidi Bouzid and Regueb during the uprising.

Last April, Ben Mhenni, 28, won the Best Blog award at the 2011 Deutsche Welle Blog Awards, which promotes human rights and freedom of expression. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but did not win this year’s award.

Ben Mhenni spoke to Magharebia about the nomination, the trials of blogging under repression and her views on religion and Islamism.

Magharebia: The Nobel Peace Prize went to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, activist Leymah Gobwee and Yemeni rights defender Tawakkul Karman. How did you take the news?

Lina Ben Mhenni: I feel relieved now because I had a horrible week under the spotlight but the fight continues. I am happy that an Arab woman has won the Nobel Prize.

Magharebia: Did you expect to be nominated?

Ben Mhenni: I did not anticipate an award for my efforts to expose the dictatorship of the former regime. I was surprised by this nomination, which I learned of by accident on Tuesday (October 4th) on Twitter. This honour places more responsibility on me to continue using my blog to inform public opinion in the whole world to defend freedom of expression and to convey the image and voice of all those whose rights were violated.

I was nominated along with Egyptians Wael Ghonim and Israa Abdel Fattah. Furthermore, my nomination for this award was due to my criticism of social and political conditions in Tunisia and coverage of the scenes of persecution and censorship during the reign of the deposed president on my blog in three languages: Arabic, French and English. Although I was exposed to harassment at the time, I withstood the difficulties and tried to convey the true image of the practices of the former regime in Tunisia to different parts of the world through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Magharebia: Some people do not think you can represent Tunisia’s youth revolution. How do you respond?

Ben Mhenni: I say it to myself. I do not represent Tunisia’s revolution because many honourable and liberal people participated in the revolution. We were all joined by love for Tunisia and the power of freedom and lifting the country out of oppression and intellectual tyranny in particular, and social tyranny in general.

Magharebia: Some critics also say that you are hostile to Islam and that is why you were nominated. What do you say to those people?

Ben Mhenni: I am a Muslim and I am not hostile to its values and principles.
However, I am hostile to the reactionary ideas that have penetrated it, being threatened with death because of my opinions or told I am a woman and my place is the kitchen and home and I therefore deserve the harassment that happens to me. According to my knowledge, Islam rises above such shameful behaviour because it is a religion of tolerance, love and rationality.

Moreover, I have Salafi friends or those that belong to the Ennahda Party, and they call me and thank me for my courage even though sometimes we disagree on certain issues.

I also stress the importance of diversity and different opinions and authorities, for this is the only guarantor of democracy, without exclusion of any party.

Magharebia: You said on the French channel that you fear Islamists and this may be the reason they attack you. Why this fear?

Ben Mhenni: First, my comment on this channel has been exploited in a roundabout way. They cut out a large part of my response to the programme host’s question, limiting my words to saying I am afraid without identifying the reason for this fear, which I see as logical when some Islamists use religion to gain access to political positions or some parties want to return women to the dark ages and to confine their role to the home.

Magharebia: What is your response to those who allege the West took advantage of bloggers to overthrow Arab regimes through revolutions?

Ben Mhenni: Personally, neither the West nor any foreign party created me, and I was not one of the first bloggers in Tunisia.

How does the West support bloggers when they were the ones selling the blocking devices and supporting authoritarian regimes and continue until now to back the interim government? It is true I visited several Western states before and after the revolution, but with the summoning of non-governmental organisations. I hate everything official so I rejected several political positions, because I want to continue in the field of blogging and to remain a human rights activist seeking to change reality and rid some citizens of corruption.

Furthermore, I did not undertake training to overthrow the regime, as some have also alleged.

About the author: Magharebia. The Magharebia web site is sponsored by the United States Africa Command, the military command responsible for supporting and enhancing US efforts to promote stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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