Tunisian Bloggers Workshop in Douz
Tunisian Bloggers Workshop in Douz. Pic by Abdelkarim Benabdallah

They are bloggers, journalists, academicians, students and many of them are tech-savvy activists who didn’t really know each other and met for the first time since the revolution in Douz on December 22nd and 23th during The 45th International Sahara Festival of Douz. The bloggers discussed some great questions from the locals of the south-western Tunisian town. Topics included the decentralization in Tunisia, the role of the Tunisian blogosphere in fulfilling the goals of the revolution and the importance of empowering ordinary citizens with blogging skills.

Most of them have been blogging for years already; others created their own blogs during the workshop, still they agree that the revolution is still ongoing, that the traditional media is still lagging behind and that they have the obligation to touch on unreported issues and influence the process of transition in Tunisia through blogs and other social networks.

Today the Tunisian blogosphere is thriving, however people in the interior regions remain to be marginalized and overlooked. The Open Workshops for Blogging initiative started on August 2011 to reach out to the underrepresented Tunisians and train them to express their concerns and tell their stories to their fellow citizens and to the world through blogging. Building a network of well-trained bloggers all over Tunisia is deeply vital for the future of democracy in this country. Abdelkarim Ben Abdallah a co-organizer of the workshop and a blogger.

The Association of Tunisian Bloggers brought together a diversified group of participants to the blogging workshop to further nurture the multiplicity of individualized voices in the Tunisian blogosphere. The issue of language was highlighted during the workshop since many bloggers choose to communicate in French “the colonizer’s language” which sometimes does not appeal to the masses who speak the Tunisian Arabic as a first language. The weak status of the Arabic language on the Internet had been brought to the fore during the debate and the participants were encouraged to boost the amount of Arabic content online. Concerning the topics of the blog postings, the workshop’s facilitators noted that blogging should not be confined to politics and revolution.

The 45th International Sahara Festival in Douz
The 45th International Sahara Festival in Douz. Pic by Abdelkarim Benabdallah

A very spectacular part of the Open Blogging Workshop program was attending The 45th International Sahara Festival of Douz, which is a celebration of the folk arts and traditions of the desert region. The setting was splendid and breathtaking with camels racing, poetry recital and folk dance performances. The festivity mood in the South was successful in attracting tourist audiences and non-locals eager to explore life in the desert. The festival featured also extravagant traditional wedding ceremonies. Everywhere you look you would be dazzled by the variety of colors of the folks’ clothing and accessories, the fancy wedding caravans and the sound of celebratory ululations. No other venue offers a more authentic Sahara experience to observe Exotic desert life and rich culture better than The International Festival of the Sahara in Douz.

On the second day of the workshop Yamen Bousrih, a financial consultant and cyber-activist, introduced the initiative of OpenGov in Tunisia; “the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight”. OpenGov is based on three pillars: transparency, participation and cooperation with civil society and government officials,”Bousrih believes that the Tunisian citizens have the right to know since freedom of information is a human right.

Tunisians can claim their rights as citizens through alternative media. The media blackout and attempt to control the flow of information may be reversed throughout citizen journalism”. Creating, augmenting, and editing Wikipedia entries about Tunisia is a shared responsibility to enhance the body of documentation about our country. The Tunisian Wikimedia community launched the “Wikies for Cities” a pilot project in Tunisia which aims to preserve Tunisian town’s history.

Tunisian Bloggers Workshop in Douz
Tunisian Bloggers Workshop in Douz.Pic by Abdelkarim Benabdallah

Unlike Tunisia’s emasculated opposition parties, bloggers and cyber dissidents were among the fiercest enemies of the Ben Ali dictatorship. Today, they still play a prominent role in preventing the hijack of the revolution, exposing corruption and manipulation and demanding freedom, justice, and human rights two years after the toppling of the authoritarian regime. The citizen journalists can be seen indeed as the legitimate protectors of the revolution and guardians of the smooth path towards democracy.