After the Tunisian Revolution, this award-winning blogger continues to fight for her country and her people
By Julia Hanweck
Lina Ben Mhenni has experienced repression first-hand. Since 2007, three years prior to the Tunisian Revolution that sparked the Arab Spring, she actively wrote about political and social issues in her blog that she titled, “A Tunisian Girl.” Freedom of speech, human rights–especially women’s rights and student’s rights–and social problems fueled her blogs that she wrote in French, English and Arabic.
The Tunisian Ben Ali regime viewed her as a threat. They censored her blog and banned her Twitter account in Tunisia. Police often followed her and ruthlessly came into her parents’ home and stole her laptops. Search warrants were not in the terminology of this regime.
Even though she feared being caught by the police, arrested or tortured, she said that she forgot about her fear because she had to fight for her country and her people. Once she started blogging, there was no turning back.
Lina Ben Mhenni accepts her "Best Blog" award at Deutsche Welle's international blog awards ceremony. Photo by Julia Hanweck on June 20, 2011 in Bonn, Germany
As a delegate, attending this international conference, the bravery and dedication of this 28-year-old blogger struck me. In addition to blogging, she works as an assistant professor at the University of Tunis.
I asked her how she pressed on despite the climate of fear in her country.
“When you believe in something, and you see injustice everywhere and when the oppression is so big, you lose your fear,” Ben Mhenni answered, explaining how she forgot about her fear. “When I saw the first person killed by the police, I got rid of my fear.”
On Friday, December 17, 2010, in the remote Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, a humiliated 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the town’s municipal office. A police officer had confiscated his scale for weighing produce, and local officials refused to help him. After countless times of being hassled by the police, this was the last straw.
Bouazizi’s desperation and self-immolation emotionally resonated with his fellow citizens sparking the Tunisian Revolution that set the Arab Spring in motion. An unknown person from an unknown town, who had little hope beyond being a street vendor, unintentionally made a significant contribution to history as the unstoppable chain reaction of revolutions and uprisings shook the world.
In December 2010 and January 2011, to document the repression and killings and to ensure that the deaths from the revolution would not go unnoticed, Ben Mhenni travelled to remote towns–including Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine–where the uprisings had started. She posted victims’ photos and provided online support for the revolution and for the people who risked their lives demonstrating in the streets.
The Tunisian people celebrated the end of a corrupt regime in mid-January 2011 when President Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia. Over six months have passed, and Tunisia’s journey toward a democracy is sprouting, but it will need nurturing, close observation and citizen participation to succeed.
The drive due south from Tunis–Tunisia’s coastal capital in the north–to Sidi Bouzid is around 170 miles. Once unknown outside the country’s borders and economically and politically on the margins from the inside, Sidi Bouzid now has a spot on history’s map as the birthplace of the revolution and the Arab Spring. In honor of Bouazizi, the main route through his town has been named Boulevard Mohamed Bouazizi.
Ben Mehnni has been blogging about the difficult road to democracy and knows that the struggle did not end just because of the regime’s downfall. Protecting what she terms as, “the fruits of the revolution,” is one of her goals in this tense post-revolution period.
Along with other award winners, "A Tunisian Girl," Lina Ben Mhenni, holds her "Best Blog" award. Photo by Julia Hanweck in Bonn, Germany on June 20, 2011.
In addition to writing her blog, “A Tunisian Girl,” she has been a contributor to “Global Voices Online” since October 2008. Her most recent article, “Tunisia: Time to Register for Elections,” posted on July 25, 2011
, she urges her fellow citizens to register for the electoral lists. Just as bloggers reported on the events during the revolution, they are also covering the registration for the upcoming October elections.
“But statistics have shown that Tunisians are reluctant to register on the lists,” wrote Ben Mhenni in “Global Voices Online” on July 25, 2011. “That is why a group of Tunisian bloggers have launched an online campaign to urge people to register on the electoral lists for the election of a constituent assembly on October 23, 2011.”
Despite all the challenges and oppression she has endured, Ben Mhenni continues to shine a light on the political developments and social issues of her homeland.
2011 Deutsche Welle BOBs Awards Ceremony (Best of Blogs). Photo by Julia Hanweck in Bonn, Germany on June 20, 2011
If you would like to view Sidi Bouzid’s location in Tunisa and Boulevard Mohamed Bouazizi on the internet, search “Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia” and “Boulevard Mohamed Bouazizi” on Google Maps.
Copyright (c) 2011. The 14th Moon: Shining bright to illuminate the night. By Julia Hanweck. All Rights Reserved. (The Fourteenth Moon).
If you would like to read about other people who are award-winning human rights advocates, please see my other blog, “Human Rights, Our Greastest Needs: We Must Thrive, Not Just Survive” at www.juliahanweck.wordpress.com
Thank you for visiting “The 14th Moon.” Next time you observe the moon, think of all the people in our world working towards a more peaceful planet and how the beauty of the moon can also bring us our own inner peace.