Category: Democracy in movement

Freedom of expression will not be muzzled

A tribute to Charlie Hebdo, Tunis. ©Mariem Dali

                                      A tribute to Charlie Hebdo, Tunis. ©Mariem Dali

Wednesday, January 7th 2015. A baleful day for freedom of expression. This morning, Charlie Hebdo was beheaded.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Universal Declaration for Human Rights, 1948.

Half a century later, freedom of expression still lives under constant threat and daily limitations. 720 journalists killed in the world since 2005. 66 journalists killed in 2014, 178 detained, 119 abducted.[1] 12 persons fell today. All in the name of one ideal, a right, a liberty: expression.

When will cease this massacre? When will ignorance cease to break feathers? Because this is what it is about: ignorance. The ones who never felt the power of words between their hands and on their tongue are frightened by it and rebel with the tip of their Kalashnikovs. Sad fools.

This morning, around 11:20, two men wearing a balaclava penetrate Charlie Hebdo’s offices in the 11th district of Paris. Each holds a Kalashnikov when they get to the 10, Nicolas-Appert Street. When entering the building they ask their way to the offices of the weekly satirical journal to two service agents, they shoot one of them. Frédéric Boisseaux, 42, is the first victim.

They reach the second floor and erupt in the newsroom where the editors’ conference was taking place. The whole team was there. They open fire, the massacre begins. Cartoonists Cabu, Charb, Wollinsky, Tignous; the police officer in charge of their security, Franck Brinsolaro; the economist Bernard Maris; journalists Honoré, Mustapha Ourad; a guest of the editors’, Michel Renaud; a second police officer in charge of their security, Ahmed Merabet; Elsa Cayat, columnist and psychoanalyst.
In total, 12 persons fell. 12 libertarians. 12 symbols of freedom of expression and its protection.

The criminals ran away after cowardly shooting at close range police officer Ahmed Merabet at close range, while he was on the ground in the street. They yelled ‘we avenged Prophet Mohamed, we killed Charlie Hebdo’.

Great men fell today. Yes, they were controversial. Yes, they flirted with the limits of freedom of expression at each publication. And this is where there greatness resided. Great libertarians. Men that fought daily to push back censorship and made sure it never took one more step. Free expression, and always at the limits of legality.

Tight rope walkers of the pen, whom each drawing thrilled us with anguish at the thought of falling into the forbidden. Thank you for the thrills; it is thanks to them that we know freedom of expression is very much alive. It is not frozen, it frees itself each day from the lead that is riddled in its wings.

Tunisia is also moved by this tragedy. Tunisia still echoes her own tragedies that know freedom of expression. The current situation of bloggers and journalists prosecuted for criticizing, for talking, for expressing. Tunisia will never forget all those pens broken in the cells of the old regime. Nor the ones that resist today. Tunisia can claim out loud “we are Charlie Hebdo”, for we have suffered and we still suffer from censorship and its violence. Let us never forget that the return of Charlie Hebdo in the Tunisian newsstands marked the return of freedom in Tunisia.

It is in the name of this freedom that twelve souls fell this day. It is in the name of this freedom that men and women around the world give their lives every day. It is in the name of this freedom that we all have a duty. Talk. Talk. Talk loud and clear! and never be quiet again.

Charlie Hebdo, like a phoenix reveals itself through the pen of hundreds of journalists and expresses itself through the pencil of hundreds of cartoonists around the world.

Charlie Hebdo is dead, long live Charlie Hebdo.

[1] Reporters Without Borders, 2014 Round-up of abuses against journalists

Tunisia, a week end at the polls : presidential elections through the observer’s eye

ISIE members in a polling station during the counting

ISIE members in a polling station during the counting

Pantin, Paris suburb, 21-23 november 2011.

This week-end I was one of the 21389 observers deployed for the 2014  Tunisian presidential elections, or shall I say, the first free presidential elections in Tunisia’s history. I was representing ATIDE, the Tunisian Association for Integrity and Democracy in the Elections, and observed the electoral process in one of the 79 voting centers set up in France. My observation center was Pantin (center 35), northern suburb of Paris, and I supervised a team of 5 ATIDE observers for 4 polls during those 3 historical days.

In Tunisia, the electors were invited to vote on Sunday, 23rd of November. Abroad, the polls opened on Friday morning, 8:00 am.

The first morning was filled with excitement and anxiety. How will it go? Will people come and vote? Will the organization be good, and will the members of the voting center be cooperative? Will this week-end be peaceful and smooth, or will there be troubles?

The voting center was located in a gymnasium, wide open space – not a single area was hidden to the eyes of all (except for the voting booth of course). I was there among the first people setting up the polling stations, 7:15 am. A calm tension was palpable. Obviously I was not the only one feeling excited and anxious. A couple of other national observers were present as well. The members of the High Independent Instance for the Elections (ISIE) in charge of organizing this electoral week end were buzzing around the center, setting up voting booths, tables, chairs, posters explaining the voting process and legislation, signs showing the way out and others informing that the use of phones and other photographic devices was not allowed inside. At the same time everyone was welcoming and cheerful, offering us a very much needed cup of coffee or some croissant and pain au chocolat. The wonders of Tunisian hospitality with a french touch.

8:00 am, the voting center opens. The members of the polling station are extremely professional. The observers are invited to witness every stage of the procedure. The urn is perfectly empty. The tracking numbers of the seals are noted down. The urn is sealed. The packs of empty ballots are counted. Every time a new pack is opened, the voting papers are counted in our presence. There are already a few citizens waiting to make their voice count. Five or six people.  The morning starts slowly.  All goes smoothly.

Over the week-end, some incidents happen. On the third day, an elector warned me about a person working in an other voting center giving voting indications to vulnerable citizens – understand old persons not knowing for whom to vote and asking advice. The person asked did not seem to understand that he was not supposed to answer. Another time, a little over-zealous voting station’s president wanted to assess his authority over the entire center, he eventually stuck back to his position. Now and then a few lost citizens, not able to vote because they did not register and did not understand why they were not allowed to vote.

There were also beautiful moments, reminding you that these elections are historical. An aged man, who could barely walk and had eyesight problems came by himself to vote. The members of the voting station set a chair for him at the booth so he could take all the time he needed to decipher the ballot and make his decision. He told us afterwards that he had to come, as it might be his only chance to practice his right to vote in his life. A woman, 54 years old told me that she came to vote for the first time of her life, because for the first time her voice counted. In an another center, a man with both arms amputated insisted on voting by himself without help. He used his feet. He claimed dignity and independence. People brought their young kids, stating that they came to vote today for the future of their children. Another man came in our center proudly waving the Tunisian flag. After he put his ballot in the urn he shouted ‘Tahya Tounes’: ‘long live Tunisia’.

An elector at the polls waving the Tunisian flag

An elector at the polls waving the Tunisian flag

To all those who do not believe it, this is democracy. People expressing their opinion. People proud to exercise their right to vote. People realizing the value of this right to vote, because they have been kept silent for so long.

The great missing in this wonderful electoral week-end was Youth. The Tunisian youth, so great in number does not seem to be really implicated in the democratic process. Or perhaps was not integrate enough in it. About 22% of the Tunisian population has between 18 and 29 years old, almost the forth of the population. However, from what I saw at the polls, most of the voters were aged 40 and plus.

Where is the Tunisian youth? What is certain is that while being the fresh strength of the Nation, they are not integrated in the process of building it, whether politically or economically.

Sunday, 6:00 pm the voting center closes its doors. Time for counting the ballots. But before that, all the procedures. The urn is sealed for one last ceremonial time. The members of the polling station reorganize the space for the counting. Empty tables in the middle where the urn is enthroned, a large panel on the side on which is fixed large pages with the names of all the candidates on columns. Chairs facing all of this, for us, observers. Another large table, that will be later used to put the counted ballots in piles. Everyone gets in place. Tension is more than palpable, it’s breathable. It is 7:15 pm, the urn is opened.

After about two hours and a half counting the ballots, it is done. It’s all done. The electoral week end, the tension, the anxiety, the exhaustion, the sleepless nights and the wait. The wait is over. Some might dare ‘all of this for that?’, well yes. All of this incredible work and dedication from thousands of people around Tunisia and abroad, uncountable hours of work and liters of coffee and tea for this: a smooth transparent and peaceful election.

Voters turn out in France Nord circumscription was 48,64% (almost same as for the legislatives – 48,37%). The exiting president, Moncef Marzouki is leading with 41,93%, followed by the leader of right wing democrats party Nidaa Tounes, Beji Caïd Essebsi with 37,50%. The third man is Hama El Hammami, leader of the left wing party Front Populaire with 11,00% of the expressed votes.*

In Tunisia and abroad, voters turn out was 62,91%. Beji Caïd  Essebsi leads the first round with 39,46% of the votes, followed by Moncef Marzouki with 33,43%. The third man is behind with 7,82% of the expressed voices.

Today we are still waiting for the date of the second round, as some legal actions have been introduced (and retracted) concerning certain polling stations. The High Independent Instance for the Elections should communicate a date in the coming days. We are waiting. After 23 years of dictatorship, patience is a Tunisian virtue.

Unchained voices, confined minds

Protest in Tunis for press freedom

Protest in Tunis for press freedom

I am writing because I can. I can put down letters, that will form words and eventually sentences – hoping they make sense – because here I am sitting at a café, in a free country. A country where you bring up any topic you like. You can talk about flowers and sunshine. You can write poems about love or spleen. You can talk about sex and religion. You can take apart politics and politicians, praise them if you wish. The only threat, on this comfortable couch, would be receiving angry comments, perhaps insults. As long as I do not harm anyone’s life or freedom with my words, I will live through it. My voice is unchained and can confront all minds.

This is not the case everywhere. I grew up in a country where speaking was dangerous. People censored their very thoughts. Friends and families didn’t dare to whisper certain topics. Politics. Relatives had to live in exile for speaking their mind.

In 2010, Reporter Sans Frontière was ranking Tunisia 164 out of 178, just a few ranks above Cuba (166), China (171) and North Korea (177). This year’s report shows a little improvement – 133 – as an achievement of the so called Arab Spring. The situation in Tunisia today is indeed way better than what it was three years ago. The media scene changed drastically, new television channels, new programs, new printed press and information websites. Political debates, caricatures, satirists… But more important, the Tunisian people is now speaking. The joke right after the 2010-2011 revolution was that Tunisia had gone from 10 million football coaches to 10 million political analysts. You will hear no one telling you that you are being too loud on a sensitive topics. The more sensitive the subject is,  the louder you should get.

Of course, there is still work to do. A lot. Artists are still victims of the former regime system. Last year, Weld El 15, a Tunisian rapper, had to bear the consequences of his words in a song denouncing police abuses. He was first sentenced to two years of imprisonment, before being released on appeal and after months of detention and media coverage of the story, as well as a strong support from fellow artists. But this is also proof of change: three years ago, no one would have heard of this story. Perhpas rumors. But no media would have covered the story, and no public personality would have stood up, and no one would have made a social media campaign to support him. Or if they did, they would have been quiet fast.

In 2012, Nabil Karoui, owner of Nessma TV, was being prosecuted after screening the movie Persepolis for ‘violating sacred values’ and ‘disturbing the public order’ because of a scene in the film depicting a representation of God. At the end of the trial he was sentence to a 2400TND fine (about 1100€).

The same year, three journalists were arrested for a scandalous cover on the newspaper Ettounsyia, a reproduction of the GQ Germany cover with a picture of Tunisian football player Sami Khedira embracing his naked wife.

Nowadays, journalists in Tunisia can talk politics. But religion and mores are still sensitive, directly mirroring the situation in the Tunisian society.

Countries like Tunisia need a new generation of professional journalists. Now that people can speak, write, debate, they need the tools for it. Your voice will go nowhere if your tong is twisted. Hopefully, Tunisia still benefits from highly educated individuals with good entrepreneurial skills, and a strong civil society commitment, creating business that profits the community. New internet media are growing. Websites such as http://www.nawaat.org or http://www.inkyfada.com are doing an interesting work on journalism, both in their publications as well as in training new generations and offering employment opportunities.

Security is another terrible concern for the free speakers. Two Tunisian journalists, Sofiene Chourabi and Nader Ktari disappeared the 8th of September in the east of Libya. Today it has been 2 months and 10 days. Let’s not forget them. Their names add up to the long list of detained/disappeared/taken hostage journalists around the world.

As of 2014 in the world: 58 journalists killed, 21 netizens and citizens journalists killed, 177 journalists imprisoned, 174 netizens imprisoned (Reporters without Border).

 

IKEA, or the new international dynamics for Palestine.

Palestinian Mission in Sweden

Mission of Palestine in Sweden

Change is sometimes moving imperceptibly, but it always comes in time.

When one approaches the subject of Palestine, it is often difficult to know ‘where to start’. I decide today to simply analyse the last years developments of recognition, the ones I personally remember without having to make research.

The first message that I remember sent for a possible future for Palestine as an independent State was on the 31st of October 2011, in Paris. UNESCO approved full membership for Palestine. This is not without practical consequences. Legally, only States can be members of the UNESCO (a UN specialized agency). Member states voted for recognition as Palestine as one of them, 106 against 14. This already gave the color.

Last week, Sweden recognized Palestine as a State. It is the first EU State to do so. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven made the announcement at his inaugural speech in front of the Parliament ‘“A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israël’s Foreign Minister gave to the world this interesting diplomatic comment: “The Swedish government needs to understand that relations in the Middle East are more complicated than a piece of furniture from IKEA that you put together yourself, and it should act with responsibility and sensitivity.”  Its Swedish counterpart, Margot Wallstörm, opted for playing that ‘diplomatic game’ and answered “I will be happy to send Israel FM Lieberman an IKEA flat pack to assemble, he’ll see it requires a partner, cooperation and a good manual.”

Sweden became the 135th State to recognize Palestine – out of the 193 UN member states.

Yesterday, the 4th of November, the new EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement to the French newspaper Le Monde, saying  “What would make me happy is if a Palestinian state existed at the end of my term.”

Then goes the snow ball effect, last month Britain’s House of Commons called for recognition of Palestine, yesterday Spanish Members of Parliament made the same move, urging Madrid to recognize Palestine.
Today, 5th of November, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, expressed his position on the question. Recognition of the Palestinian State should not be merely ‘symbolic’, but has to serve the peace process. He still makes a baby step towards the current mainstream position “From the moment when we say that there are two states, there will be recognition of a Palestinian state. That goes without saying, it’s logical” he goes on and explains that “Recognition should be linked to negotiations, but if we reach the point where negotiations are impossible or don’t have any conclusion, France should naturally face its responsibilities.”  In 2012, at the annual dinner of the CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France), then President Nicolas Sarkozy was already calling for a two States solution. France always kept a double sided policy when it comes to the Israël – Palestine conflict, supporting both, and now more clearly admitting the necessity of the two State solution, yet not explicitly stating it.

Jerusalem, the city at the heart of the battle, is again tearing itself apart. Palestinians on one side, Israelis on the other. Violence escalated this week on holy sites in East Jerusalem. Jordan recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv and will make a formal complaint with the UN Security Council over the Israeli actions in the holy city.

Who said that assembling an IKEA furniture was easy?

 

Burkina Faso: the voice of Sankara resonates

'Blaise get out' - photo by Joe Penney/REUTERS

‘Blaise get out’ – photo by Joe Penney/REUTERS

“While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”, Thomas Sankara – one week before being assassinated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014. Burkinabé hit the streets of Ouagadougou. Hundreds of thousands, a million some even say.

President Blaise Compaoré, in power since 1987  (twenty-seven years now) wanted to amend article 37 of the Constitution, in order to allow himself to run a fifth mandate. He did not realize that the people would see it otherwise.

Since Tuesday, violence has been increasing in Ouagadougou. Today, Thursday, October 30, the street took the national television’s buildings, then headed for the Parliament that was set ablaze, before going for the Presidency by the middle of the afternoon. Two people died. The government made a first step back: article 37 will not be amended (for now).

When I got this news, the first thought that I had was “this will not be enough, when the Nation takes the street, it is not for another ‘I heard you’ “. They never hear, they are simply shaking. And the street knows it. I guess it is the Tunisian revolutionary spirit in me talking here.

A few hours later another announcement: the government is dissolved. A transitional government will be formed. Elections will be held within 12 months. Tonight the army declared a state of emergency. A curfew is set. Ouagadougou won’t sleep.

I will follow the development of the situation in Burkina Faso carefully. It seems that if the people stay strong and do not give up the fight – which I hope they wont – it will not be an easy battle. This evening Compaoré was not stepping down, he was simply negotiating extra time. One hope, the army seems to be siding for the people.

A thought: Everyone underestimates Africa, even African themselves. Until now.