In the eye of the storm

June 20 was a momentous day for Tunisia. In Bonn, Lina Ben Mhenni received the Best of Blog prize from Deutsche Welle for her online reportage of the abuses committed by the Tunisian regime during the uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. Meanwhile in Tunis, former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila were convicted in absence and sentenced 35 years in prison for theft and misappropriating public funds.

It’s amazing to see how history can change in just six months. In December 201, Ben Ali was enjoying his 23rd year of ruling the Northern African country of Tunisia when suddenly, things started going wrong for him. A young university graduate working as a fruit vendor to support his family set himself on fire to protest police abuse. They had taken his cart and denied his right to sell fruit.  People from his town took to the streets to protest against the police and the repressive regime. Police fired back, and people started dying.

Lina Ben Mhenni had already been blogging for three years on when the events unfolded. When she saw people were dying, she knew there was no way back. She wanted to make sure she spread the word about the events, so the loss of life would not be in vain. And so she did. She drove to the remote towns where the uprising had just started and documented the deaths. She posted pictures of the victims on her blog to ensure their deaths would not go unnoticed. Her blog and Twitter account were banned in Tunisia, but she kept on going without fearing for her own life.


In mid-January, President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia with his family, and the Tunisian people celebrated the end of a corrupt regime. But six months later, Lina is still not sure that the change that they were yearning for had actually come. “Not much has changed,” she said during the awarding ceremony of DW’s blog awards. “The secret police still exist.”

After the uprising, Lina became part of the committee to reform the media in Tunisia. But according to her, she recently resigned because things were not going in the right direction. Ben Ali’s departure in January was not the end, but merely the beginning of the path Tunisia has chosen to take on the perilous journey to becoming a democratic state. And Lina Ben Mhenni promised to be a close observer of this road trip.

Posted in | 19.06.2011

By: Carmen Paun

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