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Trip to Tunisphere

July 13, 2008

The mere coincidence of the first letter of my name and Tunisia made this small North-African country a relevant pick for my class assignment this week to plunge into and explore the international bloggoshpere via Global Voices Online.

My perception of Tunsia has developed in three stages over the years. Stage number one – wishful thinking. Stage number two – the mediated reality check through the eyes of a friend. Stage number three – the virtual reality check.

During stage one Tunisia has always seemed to me like a very attractive travel destination. I remember seeing an article about some gorgeous Tunisian Mediterranean seaside resorts several years ago in a flight magazine. Then, last year one of my best friends made a trip there and provided an exciting account with plenty of photos, but emphasized that the place looks and feels far from the polished tourist magazine image.

Here I am concerned mainly with stage number three – expriencing Tunsia through its blogosphere or as they call it over there – the Tunisphere. This online trip proved to be the closest to reality from all my previous impressions. In my wanderings throughout Tunisian blogs I arrived at several observations. First, it is a vibrant community of bloggers, many of them rightfully concerned with the issues of political freedom, human rights, social justice and freedom of expression, which apparently are seriously threatened there. Second, Tunisian bloggers fill in a void space that official media do not reflect and the consequesnces of being a blogger and a journalist in Tunsia often include censorship, closing down of your blog or publication, job loss, personal freedom restrictions and even imprisonment. That was the case with Slim Boukhdhir, who remains in detainment since December, 2007, and has gone on numerous hunger strikes to protest the harrassment he experienced in jail by Tunisian authorities.

What is happening to blogger and journalist Slim Boukhdhir is terrible and at the same time not surprising in a country, where YouTube is banned. Yes it is, believe it or not! You can not access the biggest online video sharing service anywhere in Tunsia, because the government is affraid that you might stumble upon footage of police violence on Tunisian workers in the rich Phosphorous mines of Gafsa, Redyef and Oum el Arayess, who went on strike earlier this year to defend their right of employment. Many people were seriously injured. Official media remained silent, as if nothing was happening. This was the first case when Tunisian bloggers joined forces with human rights activitist in getting the story of repression out to the rest of the world. They even posted videos, showing wounded protestants.

The Tunisphere is a land of contrast. Just like Tunsia itself – it has both a serious and a casual face. Aside from the serious human rights and freedom of expression issues, there is obviously a young, hip, fashion and style-conscious generation in the country, which also contributes to the bloggosphere. A good example is one of the winners of the first ever Tunisia Blog Awards. Yosra World received the “Most Trendy Blog” award in 2007. Another top Tunisian blog is Subzero Blue, which is one of the few written in English.

A curious news that circulated in the Tunishere very recently is about Dahsha – the new online Arabic encyclopedia. Tunisian bloggers introduce and discuss how it is similar and different from Wikipedia. The principle of volunteer contributors is the same, but Dahsha publishes also video materials, studies and books, which are not supported by Wikipedia as types of content. It currently holds over 32,000 articles and is aiming to “enrich Arab content on the Internet”, according to blogger Mohammed Marwan Meddah. I wonder what are the chances of Dahsha joining Wikipedia one day? And I ask myslef – does it really have to? No doubt it is a different voice in the virtual conversation of knowledge and perhaps it is better for us to be able to draw on a multitude of authentic voices and viewpoints instead of trying to merge the sources.

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2 comments

  1. […] between Greek and Turkish users, which turned into a on-line war. The reason for that in Tunisia was to conceal government’s repression over protesters. I have so taken access to the […]


  2. thanks Tatanya for the great post and for you interest in tunisphere



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