Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s crusade for democracy finally reached the shores of Tunisia one year after the revolution. Holed in a conference centre in Tunis with her armada of “friends of Syria” led by renown autocrats like the Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi rulers, she waxed lyrical on the Arab spring but did not have a single word to say about the assaults on democracy taking place only a stone throw from her hotel. As far as she is concerned, her host, the troika in government in Tunis, could do no wrong.
I am sure that the grey suits who feed her daily reports would have informed her that all is not well in Tunisia. There are plenty of documented cases on violations against journalists and media throughout last year, as wave after wave of attacks by the police against journalists were reminiscent of the police and security worse practices of the old regime, which everyone thought were over. Journalists face frequent full-front assaults to prevent them covering events, confiscation of cameras and to make things worse dismissal at the hand of vicious employers.
Clinton should have been told about her host, the Islamist An-Nahda party, the senior party in government, turning a blind eye to various Salafist groups, some turned militia gangs, who don’t hesitate to attack and intimidate journalists and frequently issue threats to kill journalists and burn down media institutions accusing them of political bias and moral degradation.
She should know about members of the new government making statements that enflamed the already tense situation, some even calling for public media to reflect the views of parties and politicians currently in government. At the beginning of the year, the government forced the pace by appointing officials to head public media, including three editors in chief which was widely seen as a serious regressive turn.
Hilary kept silence. This may have given An Nahda and its most extremist supporters the confidence to step up their attacks. At a demonstration organised last week by the labour federation UGTT, journalists were again targeted by police and security forces seemingly under order to stop them covering the event. Our member union said that half a dozen journalists were hurt some of them seriously. It did not take long for the mask to come down and the new government, put into power by the Tunisian revolution, have now shown their true intention to control journalists and media.
Next week, Nasreddine Bin Said, owner and publisher of the daily Attounissia, will be in court on charges of disrespecting public morality. His paper published a picture of German model Lena Gercke posing naked with her boyfriend Sami Khedira, a German-Tunisian soccer player, a reprint of the March 2012 cover of the German GQ magazine. After he was arrested, he went on hunger strike which forced the authorities to release him. If he is imprisoned or fined, this will signal the beginning of the slippery slope towards a sustained attempt to use the long arm of the law to throttle the little voice that journalists have found post-revolution.