Aggregator • Mideast Youth • ID=79395
In the last 2 decades, cyber activism modified history once and for good. From behind screens, young activists found a safety which old tricks could not offer to militants against corrupt powers. But as ways to control media throve, so did digressions. The new weapon against corruption and restriction of liberties – be they governmental or social – seems to become more and more associated with the forms of expressing dissent.
In Tunisia, cyber protest became active in the late nineties, when the internet first became available to the masses, but also at a time when Ben Ali's regime was exerting its most austere repressive practices. At that time, a small fraction of activists opted for a form of dissent that is characterised by obscenity. By obscenity I mean that which is defined as morally inappropriate and flagged as vulgar, or as violating the codes of moral rectitude. It often involves sexual metaphors, allusions to sexual organs and sexual lewdness in both writing and visual art (particularly caricature and photoshopped art). The use of this language is becoming more and more pervasive among the sphere of bloggers and users of social networks, the largest majority of whom are university students, journalists and intellectuals.
Users of obscene slang often identify themselves as belonging to the left, (though they are not exclusively leftists) or, without affirming their belonging to a certain political trend, they tend to voice leftist concerns. Before the 14th of January, cyber activism in Tunisia identified itself as a voice of opposition against the ruling party, and was characterised by a homogeneity that the present scene seems to have lost. Among the first websites that pounced on corruption and the restrictions on freedom were Takriz, whose very name underlines its dissidence. In Tunisian slang, takriz means ‘balls', but it also indicates a state of anguish and deep anxiety, an outcry of dissidence, making use of the prohibited allusion to the language of the street to envisage this attitude in a way that many consider garish.
According to Mick Fealty who conducted an interview with one of the creators of Takriz's, the concept stands for the ‘the dissatisfaction and frustration at not having your talents appreciated and/or put to good use and giving rise to a form of physical expression.' Youth frustration because of the lack of appreciation from political elite that is more faithful to a tradition of despotism, has been the fuel that channelled actions of protests throughout the whole world, and that which marked the awakening of this decade. As I pointed out in another article, the radical forms of protest in the twentieth century are marking the borderlines between old and new forms of dissent, for new aspects of dissent are often creative, extreme and uncompromising. Following the example of Takriz, more and more Tunisian bloggers and cyber activists started to echo this frustration, first through protesting against censorship, and then through raising different issues evolving around equal opportunities of employment, human rights and freedom (particularly freedom of expression). These websites proliferated in the last few years as cyber activism became accessible to more and more citizens, and as the costs of internet gradually declined. In November 2010, a campaign called 7ell blog (literally meaning ‘Start a Blog') initiated by a movement called Nhar 3la Ammar (literally ‘a Hard Day for Ammar', with Ammar being the nickname for the obscure figure of censorship in Tunisia) unleashed a myriad of blogs created by many young people, some of whom might have never contemplated blogging before. Looking back at summer 2010, one can only think of it as the decisive moment in the rise of political consciousness in Tunisia among youth, and the time when the greatest flow of ideas creatively intersected, exchanging not only thoughts but also modes of dissent.
Under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, anonymity was not an option, but a security measure. After January 14th, many activists chose to reveal their true identities, while many others kept writing anonymously. A Tunisian female blogger for instance speaks here about the privilege of anonymity that allowed her to discuss certain topics considered taboos in the context of Tunisian society.
However, the spell of anonymity goes beyond security, for cyber activism opens up new possibilities and visions with its imaginary characters and unconventional pseudonyms. Bloggers and activists now have the power to choose avatars that catch the essence of their new identities. Waterman, one of the founders of Takriz, has a name that denotes discretion, fluidity and elusiveness, aspects which are consistent with the nature of the hacker, who, despite being defined as a cyber criminal, may be defending a noble cause. Cyber activism flirts with the notion of unlawfulness, of acting counter to law against those who choose to be above law. Ali Chouerreb, an active user of social media, chose for an avatar the name of a Tunisian bandit who died in 1972, and who was said to have entered prison as many as 1500 times. With so many anecdotes attached to his name, he turned into a legend of his time. He was also reputed to be very obedient to his mother, something that comes in a stark opposition with his violent nature, and which is appreciated in the context of the Tunisian culture. His fame might also be due to his early history, as he was said to have fought against the French occupation before starting a delinquency career. His popularity is inspired by his revolting aspect, which started with his resistance against occupation. A cyber activist also represents a lower class hero of sorts, not in the likeness of Zorro who takes from the rich to give to the poor, but in the likeness of someone who spends his life giving headaches to the system.
But what does the use of the obscene translate in new cyber activism in Tunisia?
Obscenity seems to be a response to disappointment with politics, and to the inappropriateness of old modes of dissent. In Tunisia, it marks an outcry against the unchanging conditions which the revolution came against in the first place: against poverty and social injustice that is as rampant as before, against the repression of freedoms, and against the bureaucracy that is blocking the spontaneous flow of youthful energies. If the new cyber activism is expressing this disappointment through obscene language, it does so to say that it refuses deception (the metaphor or rape is often used to signify the act of manipulating and taking advantage of the masses, of ‘penetrating one from behind') and to say especially that it does not accept the sanctification of political figures or political movements which, like their predecessors, are now fast climbing the stairs of opportunism. At large it may seem a rejection of politics, but it is the rejection of the language of politics. Facing it, restrictions seem to be an obsolete method from an old system that needs to understand dissidence before acting against it. You can no longer lock up an activist's voice, for his language and his obscenity spread in a viral speed. This is where cyber activism challenges the old modes of activism, as it now opts for a language that comes from the deep bottom of the social structures whose obscene language equals the obscene contradiction between deprivation and the deceitful political language. ... more