Faces of the Arab Spring: Tunisia’s digital evolution

The various players in the Arab Spring – which swept in so dramatically across the Middle East this year – remain very much in the media spotlight, but some of us may have forgotten its origins.

It was sparked by the protests that occurred in Tunisia on December 18, 2010, following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest of police corruption and ill treatment.

After Tunisia’s mostly peaceful revolution, in the countdown to historic elections  to a constituent assembly this October, the United Nations wanted to help encourage the country’s young people to go to the polls, and looked to technology for answers.

According to Elizabeth Dickinson, writing for the Interdependent last month:

Specifically, it turned to Twitter and an online game called DemocraTweet. Users answered questions about democracy, transparency, and a free vote; the winners will be flown to New York to meet with the UN Secretary General.

“We had to try and find new ways [to work] because of being confronted with a highly internet literate population,” recalls Philippa Neave, elections outreach advisor at the UN Development Program. “[There are] 3.2 million internet users in this country, which in a country of 10 million is huge.”

The two young winners of the contest, Mariem Werghi and Hassine Hassen (that’s them in the photo above) were flown to UNDP’s HQ in New York, and this past Monday, answered questions live on Facebook that all had been invited to put to them via calls on UNDP’s social networking stations.

Some of the questions included:

“What differences have you observed (post revolution) in your own lives and your peers’ lives?”

“Can there be a peaceful transition within an election cycle? Or will we need more patience?”

“What do you think youth should do to prepare themselves for democratic transitions?”

To which the answers included:

By Hassine Hassene: ”The differences between before/after the revolution are very important but the society need time to lose some old habits. I feel changes in my spirit as I feel more freedom in my being.

“Regarding how I view the future:
I was very optimist soon after the revolution but now I realize the challenges we are facing, such as the world economic crisis that is affecting Tunisia, and especially some negative effects of the revolution such as the degradation of our economy and the lack of investment (e.g. in Tourism).

“I believe that it would bring positive changes because citizens have now a say into what politicians do. On employment, now local and foreign employers will have to respect workers’ rights.”

By Mariem Werghi: “The youth are the future of the country and we are the ones who will make the transition happen … A democratic transition takes a lot of time. We will need a lot of patience. We lived for a long time under totalitarianism and complete repression of everything. We cannot expect to change things that quickly”.

You can read the entire exchange on UNDP’s Facebook page here.

And if you’re curious to brush up on the impact of the Arab Spring on community media, you can view a recording of a plenary on the subject, which took place at the recent CMFE 2011 event, organised by Peace it Together partner CCMC.

Meanwhile, you know how much we like inspiring videos here at the Peace Exchange. The one below is a music video this time, called “Enti Essout” – “you are the voice”.

It was recorded by six young artists, all from the Tunisian underground, calling on their fellow citizens to vote as members of a democracy in the lead-up to October’s elections.

The lyrics – (English subtitles included for non-Arabic speakers) – are a call to rise from the bonds of repression and suffering to embrace a new future – as proud, responsible and peace-minded citizens. A good reminder of how important a role every creative outlet can play in bringing a society – a nation – forward.

More on the making of the extraordinary song here.

That’s all for the moment, so, till soon, keep warm and…  see you in the next post!

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