Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tunisia: Demonstrations Reveal Corruption, Media Restrictions

Last week I reported on the issue of corruption as a global phenomenon that is severely hindering the ability of the international community to reach the UN millennium target of halving extreme poverty.

Tunisia is this week experiencing some of the convulsions that arise when corruption is left unchallenged, and when a lack of press freedom allows citizens little outlet but to take to the streets to vent their frustration.

The spark to the current unrest, which has seen street demonstrations and the death of two protesters, was the attempted public suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, in the town of Sidi Bouzid in the centre of the country. Aj-Jazeera carries a rather grim photograph of the student in hospital covered entirely in bandages. 

If, as Al-jazeera reports, lawyers are among those who are now joining in the demonstration against government corruption, this would seem to indicate that the government is in serious trouble. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was re-elected in 2009 in an election described by Human Rights watch as taking place in "an atmosphere of repression." The incumbent President received a reported 89% of the votes cast.

The President and his family are reported to be at the centre of the nation's political corruption, as revealed in a recent Wikileaks cable from the US Embassy in Tunis. Cable 08TUNIS679 contains the following revelations:

"President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often  referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean....  Ben Ali's wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family -- the Trabelsis -- provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians. Leila's brother Belhassen Trabelsi is the most notorious family member and is rumored to have been involved in a wide-range of corrupt schemes from the recent Banque de Tunisie board shakeup (Ref B) to property expropriation and extortion of bribes."

The corruption inside the ruling family has coloured day to day dealings in the economy , according to the leaked cable:

"Beyond the stories of the First Family's shady dealings, Tunisians report encountering low-level corruption as well in interactions with the police, customs, and a variety of government ministries."

Severe reporting restrictions on the country's media has meant that many protesters have turned to the Internet to report on the recent riots and to protest with others. A Facebook page supporting the demonstrators has attracted over 12,000 subscribers - though it is unclear how many are form within the country itself. 

Tunisian bloggers supporting the protests include Boukachen and Tunisian Girl, who is the owner of the image used above, used with permission under a creative commons licence.  Demonstrators are using the hashtag #sidibouzid to spread information about the protests on Twitter.

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Anonymous said...

Except the Wikileaks didn't reveal the information- it's common knowledge. "The Family" operates openly- Tunisians know better than to go against them and even being sucessful is a problem as they will come in and make themselves a partner in your business.

Al Shaw said...

It sounds like a dreadful situation in which to live and do business.

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