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Lina Ben Mhenni

Lina Ben MhenniTunisian blogger and activist Lina Ben Mhenni, born May 22, 1983, was nominated by the 2011 Nobel Prize committee for her sustained activism by showing scenes of repression and violence that took place during clashes between the former regime and protestors, particularly in Regueb and Sidi Bouzid. Her strong criticism of the social and political conditions in Tunisia and the posting of these scenes of oppression and violence on her blog in Arabic, French and English brought the truth of this violent regime to the attention of the world.

Unfortunately, her work is finished. Lina Ben Mhenni, an activist blogger who bore witness to the 2010-11 popular uprising in Tunisia died on Monday the 27th of January 2020 in Tunis. Her untimely death was caused by a stroke resulting from complications of an autoimmune disease while in the hospital.

Ms. Ben Mhenni documented police violence against protesters in several regions while the Ben Ali regime sought to impose news media blackouts. She took photographs and wrote on scene accounts , posting them on her blog as well as on her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Several French media outlets that could not enter the country were able to report on the violence because of her work.

The risks she was exposed to were clear. “Of course I had fear, but when I saw people being killed by the police, I forgot it, and it gave me the strength to do my work,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2011.

What has been termed as the Arab Spring has spawned uprisings across the Arab world in countries like Egypt and Libya as well as the ongoing violence in Syria and elsewhere. The problem is that even though oppressive regimes have been toppled the aftermath seems to point to even more oppressive rulership gaining positions of power. It is not likely that the authors of the Egyptian uprising had the intent of a new regime in favor of imposing Sharia Law as a facet of the new Egypt. The same can be said of Libya where it has turned into a contest between mainstream Muslims and Islamists who follow a narrow interpretation of the faith and believe it should control laws and government policy. There is a great deal at stake. Both sides have large quantities of weapons, and the outcome will determine who ends up with political power in Libya. As sometimes said... "they won the battle, but lost the war..." No, for Lina Ben Mhenni the revolution did not end on January 14 — it started on January 14. Ben Ali has left the country, but he was just the head of the system. Every day Lina is more and more convinced that the whole system is still there. The police are back to committing violence and there are more and more limitations on freedom of speech. The fact that there are people who worked for Ben Ali presenting themselves to participate in the elections shows that the revolution is not complete. Tunisians have to be very careful now that they have these elections and keep a vigilant eye on what is going to happen.

Lina Ben MhenniLina Ben Mhenni was one of the few who reported from the midst of the revolution in Tunisia. Through her accounts and photographs she allowed the world media to know about the dangerous situation inside the country. This in spite of criticism from detractors, particularly on social media, from fellow Tunisians attacking her for the attention she was receiving from the outside world. Her writing was one of a handful of firsthand sources of information on the uprising coming from inside the country at a time when foreign journalists were banned from entering and the national media was merely a tool of the Tunisian government. During the early days of the uprising against Ben Ali that started on December 17 2010, she travelled to the rural Tunisian cities of Sidi Bouzid, Regueb and Kasserine to document police repression and catalysing protests throughout the country, being the only blogger in Regueb and Kasserine when the security forces were slaughtering people. Her accounts accompanied by photographs of the dead and injured ensured that other Tunisian activists and the international media knew what was happening in the center of the country during the most violent days of the uprising. All this she did using her real name while former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was still in power. Her blog, A Tunisian Girl as well as her Facebook and Twitter accounts had been censored under the Ben Ali regime. It takes courage to be a whistle-blower in a muslim male dominated society when you are a 27 year old female. To be constantly bombarded with crude, cruel and often threatening messages is not what anyone should have to endure especially not a young woman who simply documented the truth.

Lina Ben MhenniLina took part in a rally organized by university faculty, students and workers to denounce the increased violence occurring in Tunisian Universities. Individuals presenting themselves as islamists started occupying the Faculty of Literature, Arts, and Humanities of la Manouba. Impounding and assaulting the Dean of the Faculty in order to force him to allow the girls wearing burkhas to set for exams without undergoing a security check and even asked for single-sex courses. Similar incidents happened in other faculties and universities all over the country, with many teachers - especially females, being harassed or assaulted by these islamist students and the students of an Art Institute, were also threatened. Lina had received a call from a close friend asking her to join her at the Faculty of Arts and Letters and Humanities of Manouba to try to free the Dean who had been sequestered in his office by students calling themselves Salafis Islamists. After driving almost 22 hours, accompanied by her father, to support the people who were already there trying to negotiate with this group of pseudo students. Some members of the faculty recognized a few faces in this islamist student group who were responsible for attacks on the theater Afric'art the previous June. Once inside the building she noticed the presence of several people from civil society who had evidently rushed to place following the call to Lina. From these Salafi Islamists occupying the DRC a shout of 'Get out Lina Ben Mhenni'. Linas feeling about their presence...? "Oh it relieves me. The bearded men know me and follow all my activities and even refer to my debate with Tariq Ramadan and my French more than any. From me they were treated to the finger which will surely turn them to the social networks to introduce me as a rude bitch..."

The Salafis did not leave. They even developed new arguments calling for the prohibition of mixed classes and the establishment of a list of teachers academically persona non grata. Every time Lina and the students wanted to discuss issues with them, they began to scream their famous Takbir - some sort of magic formula to divert the discussion. The Scientific Council met to discuss the possibility of police intervention, but this proposal was rejected by the students who promised to protect their rights as their own.

Lina Ben MhenniWith the advancement in new technology, cyber activism is a means by which advanced information and communication technologies and tools like mobile phones and computers are used to disseminate information to large audiences. By the use of social media they can mobilize and galvanize people around a cause. Practical and effective actions can be spread and acted upon. Recent events in the Arab World as well as around the globe show the importance of cyber-activism and the efficiency of its use. Media blackouts are no longer effective means of keeping large scale oppression in the closet. For Lina Ben Mhenni, a cyber-activist is an individual who collects information and shares it via the internet in order to awake people's interest and push them to move towards a goal of improving and eventually changing unjust situations. Even though Lina had to use a proxy server to access her blog and her Facebook profile as well as her Twitter account which is not accessible in Tunisia. The cyber-activist is on the ground, so to speak, in the midst of different incidents and events. From first hand observation they have witnessed the cyber-activist then can report it as well as document it in digital images. In Tunisia at Sidi Bouzid, witnesses reported the violent death of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself afire. After continual corrupt police harrassment, this Tunisian vegetable market worker doused himself in a flammable liquid and lit a match in despair and frustration when all attempts to end his ordeal of continual police harrassment came to no avail. If Tunisians practice determined vigilance his death will have not been in vain and hopefully his family can find a little solace in the fact that he helped Tunisia unburden itself from corrupt police and government.

Lina Ben MhenniHis death was a catalyst in the Tunisian Revolution. Photographs and video sequences of his tragic death recorded what was going on and were shared on the Internet. People were alarmed by this and started to follow what was going on in other areas by using YouTube and Facebook. Much information was being posted to uncover the truth and show the reality of conditions. Many Tunisians left their computers and travelled around the country to record videos and shoot pictures to share on the internet. With this immediate dissemination of information a great number of people became aware of what was happening in other parts of the country and started using Facebook to launch campaigns, online events, blogs as well as posting on Twitter to mobilize people. This is basically how the demonstrations started all over the country. That the word spread was thanks to the Internet. Even despite the Tunisian regime's attempt to hide all information about the clashes between the security forces and the Tunisian population by blocking internet content the cyber activists succeeded in circumventing thier censorship and provided ordinary internet users with the tools to access the blocked content. The Tunisian regime failed in controlling information and no one could stand indifferent to the horrible pictures showing fellow Tunisian citizens being ill-treated. This is what got Tunisians to the streets on January 14th after the scandalous speech of Ben Ali. The information for the demonstration was set on the internet and Ben Ali fled the country. Ben Ali being overthrown inspired the wave of pro-democracy struggles that have broken out across the Arab world.

Lina Ben MhenniThe twenty seven-year-old Tunisian activist is a Professor of English who spent a year in the USA as a Fulbright Scholar teaching Arabic at Tufts University in Massachusetts. She lives in Tunis working as an assistant of linguistics at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences. Lina began blogging in 2007 mainly fighting for Human rights and struggling against censorship. In 2008, she was invited to write for Global Voices Online and since has become the contributor for Tunisia at Global Voices. Lina was also awarded the prize for best international blogger by BOBS, at the Deutsche Blog Welle Awards as well as El Mundo’s International Journalism Prize. Also an athlete, she won several medals in the World Transplant Games in 2007 after undergoing a kidney transplant. The hardest part of her job is still facing Lina Ben Mhenni and the people of Tunisia. They must do away with the entire corrupted system in order to succeed in their democratic transition. The internet has a very important purpose, but can be turned into a double-edged weapon. The counter-revolution forces are now trying to use the internet and social networks harmfully. When used for positive change the internet can transform governmental manipulation of information. For Lina the Nobel Prize nomination is a recognition of the importance of what happened in Tunisia and what is happening across the Arab world — it started here in Tunisia, but has spread to other parts of the Arab world, and on to Europe and now to the United States. This is the beginning of a global wave of protest. In December 2011 Lina Ben Mhenni was in the same city where she first heard the slogan Bread and water and not Ben Ali خبز و ماء و بن علي لا. She was in Kasserine, the capital of the martyrs and wanted to express her feelings but could not even identify them. They ranged from the emotion of nostalgia, joy, sadness, melancholy, disappointment, pride, sorrow, gloom, hope, despair, despondency - feeling confused and contradictory...

A Tunisian Girl



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