Although we are seeking to monitor the setbacks that have afflicted the Arab Spring states and their societies, the sheer number of problems that have been encountered are wearying, whilst the implications of these problems represents a major source of concern.
Just days before the one year anniversary of the end of dictatorship in Tunisia, the Islamist Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, issued a decision unilaterally appointing senior figures in the public media, including state television.
This took place in a country that is still celebrating the Bouazizi revolution against state hegemony and the monopolization of the economy, politics, and freedoms. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was previously responsible for appointing state media figures, so Jebali’s decision in this regard shows that he is following the same mentality, even if he later attempted to justify this by saying that these were temporary appointments until media elections could take place.
How can Jebali, who was imprisoned and tortured under the Ben Ali regime, choose to practice the same autocratic behaviour that resulted in his imprisonment for fifteen years? Indeed Jebali was imprisoned as a result of laws which are similar to the laws that he is implementing today.
In the mid-90s, Jebali was imprisoned on charges which included publishing articles that undermined the state and incited unrest, membership of an unauthorized group, and attempts to overthrow the ruling regime. Therefore what is the logic behind the governmental appointment of media figures, if not to control what is being written and said in the media, which is something that Jebali himself ran afoul of during the Ben Ali era?
In reality, many of the emerging facts in Tunisia indicate that those who came to power or parliament thanks to the revolution are not much different in their behaviour and mentality to those in the previous regime.
This is something that has become increasingly clear over the past months. The Islamist Ennahda party, for example, has returned to the mentality of the Ben Ali regime, with the son-in-law of Ennahda party leader Rashid Ghannouchi being appointed Tunisia’s new Foreign Minister. In addition to this, we see the Tunisian Prime Minister appointing media figures, demonstrating that we are facing the reoccurrence of tragic patterns with regards to the regime and the manner of its rule.
The lack of distinction between the public media and the state media, and the public media increasingly toeing the state media line, is one of the priorities that the new ruling elite in Tunisia must address, particularly as they themselves were victims of this abuse [during the Ben Ali era]. In addition to this the media, more than any other sector, is very sensitive to such behaviour and abuse, and the role it played in igniting revolutions and exposing abuse should make it even more sensitive to the possibility of its freedom being hijacked or curtailed by the authority, even if this is an elected authority.
The free media, which is supposed to be one of the gains of the revolution, is not free at all, particularly with regards to the threats that journalists face, whether with regards to personal threats or the threats that exist at the level of laws and appointments. Whatever the case, the signs we are seeing are far from comforting.
We are all concerned about this, whilst Tunisia is not the only country where this is happening.
Has the Arab Spring breeze intensified into a chilling gale? Will we be carried away by another season, only for the spring to bloom once more?