Recent Unrest in North Africa May Change Approaches to Censorship

As riots continue in North Africa from December into the new year, changes to regimes in Algeria and Tunisia are also bringing changes to censorship practices in the region. Some highlights from the blogosphere to date:

Algeria

  • The World Socialist Website noted that among the public works protesters destroyed were police stations, banks, and government offices in Constantine, Jijel, and Bouira, home to many Algeria urbanites.
  • According to an AFP report yesterday, three Algerians attempted to commit suicide via self-immolation on Wednesday, increasing the number of incidents this week to eight.
  • In an interview with Ahram Online, Algeria’s Minister of Trade Moustafa Benbada claimed that the “freedom of expression is guaranteed” in the country. He said today:

“The situation in Algeria is not similar to Tunisia. What happened in Tunisia is the consequence of things which accumulated for years. In Algeria, freedom of expression is guaranteed; the press can criticize officials even more severely than in some European countries. The access to internet and to the information sources is also guaranteed. It was not the case in Tunisia.”

Tunisia

  • Whereas Algerian riots stem from rising unemployment and food costs, violence in Tunisia is mounting more on grievances over political censorship. After strong protest over the Tunisian government’s ongoing censorship of media in the country, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali—forced into exile—has acknowledged the demands for more “political freedoms. Along with reducing the prices of food staples, Ben Ali also announced that he plans to give “complete freedom to all media outlets… as long as they respect our values and the value of the profession.” According to Euronews, 20 people have died in the country due to the unrest due over high unemployment.
  • Al Qaeda became involved in the Tunisian uprising on Thursday when an audio message was released in Islamic Maghreb. Assumed to be from Al Qaeda leader Abdelmalek Droudkel, the message gives support for the protesters to continue with demonstrations across the nation. Part of the 13-minute-long message says:

“Now for your movement to be fruitful, your uprising should not be limited to one city or one suburb but your duty is to spread all over and extend your action to every part of the country because the tyrant can only extinguish the fire of one uprising of one limited group but not the fire of the uprising of the whole nation.”

  • Anonymous Guardian UK blogger and Tunisian youth Sam recently published a post on the youth revolution occurring in his native country, testifying to the rigorous censorship policy the government has implemented there to this day. In his article, he notes the attempts to get around government filtering:

“Schoolchildren are exchanging proxies and the word becomes cult: ‘You got a proxy that works?’”

  • The Financial Times has reported that Arab political activists have been helping their Tunisian counterparts to avoid government censorship by hacking into their email and Facebook accounts. They are also turning to the U.S. government for make more demands on the Tunisian regime.

Egypt

  • Government worker Hazim Abdel-Fattah was stopped before lighting fuel he poured over himself, Reuters reported yesterday. The 35-year-old water company employee was intercepted by security while protesting poverty and repression in the country. This was the fourth self-immolation in Egypt this week.
  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit rejected the idea of Egypt as a “failed state” during the Arab League Conference, saying that the country’s large number of cell phone users testifies to Egypt’s well-being.

Mauritania

  • The Province reported that 42-year-old Yacoub Ould Dahoud torched himself to protest against the political situation in his country and express his anger toward the Mauritanian government. He suffered severe burns over 95% of his body.

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About the Author: Qichen Zhang

Qichen is an undergraduate studying Social Studies at Harvard College. Besides Herdict, she blogs for the Berkman Center's OpenNet Initiative and Blogging Common. She can be reached at qzhang@fas.harvard.edu.

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