Mauritania’s Bouazizi Died Today

23 01 2011

Yacoub Ould Dahoud, A Mauritanian Folk Hero

 

Yacoub Ould dahoud, the Mauritanian businessman who burned himself on January 17, 2011 in front of the presidential palace in Nouakchott, Mauritania died today.  The 41-year old wast motivated by a desire to depose Mauritania’s President, General Aziz and to democratize his country.

His body was supposed to be flown back today from Morocco where his family took him to receive better medical care. It is not clear yet whether the delay is politically motivated – Aziz’s strongest regional ally – as reports indicate that the Moroccan authorities are insisting on conducting an autopsy to determine the causes of his death.

Many Mauritanians this blogger spoke to tonight are convinced that the delay is an act of active collusion designed to help General Aziz win time to manage a public relations fiasco that could potentially lead Mauritanians to take to the streets. This is in the wake of initial protest in the capital city of Nouakchott and other cities against the skyrocketing prices of essential goods.

His death is fueling anger in Mauritania despite an age-old societal aversion towards suicide. Mauritania’s Taqadoumy news website collected reactions of Mauritanians made on Facebook and other source. They reflect a growing outrage fueled by a perceived smear campaign kicked off  by General Aziz’s earlier declarations describing Dahoud’s action as “desperate because of [General Aziz's] war on corruption as [Dahoud] hails from a wealthy family.”

Dahoud was not a poor man, nor was he unemployed like his Tunisian counterpart. His Facebook profile accessed today by this blogger shows Dahoud followed very closely the events unfolding in Tunisia culminating with Ben Ali’s ousting by his people. He came from a prominent family and many Mauritanians I spoke with agree that he was driven by the same motivation as Tunisia’s Bouazizi: making a statement about tyranny and the lack of freedom in their socieities. Not so much a question of Dollars and cents.

Influenced & Inspired By Bouazizi

Yacoub posted on his Facebook wall a link to a manifesto (also posted it on Google Docs) in Arabic and French in the wee hours of January 17, 2011 explaining his demands. Proceeded with slogans posted earlier in French calling for General Aziz’s ouster (Aziz Dégage.) His list of demands included a call to end of Mauritania’s military meddling in politics, and for the regime of (coup master) Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz to be deposed. Dahoud also denounced tribalism as well as slavery on his Facebook wall. His manifesto also included jabs at France’s meddling in Mauritanian affairs under Nicholas Sarkozy who many Mauritanians blame for the success of General Aziz’s power grab in 2008 by providing the necessary political cover internationally allowing him to conduct fraudulent elections in 2009 to legitimize his coup d’etat.

Contrary to initial reports from Reuters claiming Dahoud committed this act to protest tribal grievances, his was a genuine political act of pre-planned and meditated dissent, in fact his suicide note states clearly that he sought peaceful constitutional reform and a functioning democracy.

Dahoud's Manifesto

His manifesto opens with:

Extremism and terrorist groups are a result of 50 years of poverty and the loss of hope that rulers’ oppression will end.

Then he further clarifies:

Enough corruption, enough oppression. Mauritania belongs to the people, not to the Generals and their entourage.

To get the corrupt army band from power, enough with corruption, enough oppression. We suffered fifty years of corruption and oppression. Do we and the future generations not deserve one month of steadfastness to dash out of oppression, intellectual, material and physical oppression [?]

Dahoud then listst his demands:

- The release of human rights activists in prison [Biram Ould Dah] who are fighting against slavery

- Eliminating all taxes and tariffs on rice, wheat, cooking oil, sugar, milk and monitoring their obscene price hikes

- Replacing taxes and tariffs on basic goods through more taxation on cigarettes, luxury cars and tariffs on European ships that are pillaging our maritime wealth, as well as taxing telecom companies or Mauritania’s income from gold mining stolen by the Army commanders’ band.

- A constitutional amendment to be submitted to parliament in an emergency session containing the following points:

a- No current or ex member of the military shall be eligible to be elected President of the Republic

b- An independent electoral committee that will organize and supervise elections without intervention from the Interior Ministry- the source of all ills undermining freedoms in our country.

c- Imposing that the choice of the prime minister be the prerogative of the parliamentary block holding the majority in parliament

d- The nomination ministers of: justice, interior, finance, education shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

e- The nomination of judges and the attorney general shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

f- The nomination of the members of the constitutional council [the highest court of the land] shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

g- Calling via a presidential decree for legislative and presidential decree within six months from the decree’s issuance

h- calling parliament in an emergency session to ratify: the constitutional amendments, an amnesty law for the General [Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz], members of the High Council [military junta ruling body] and the ministers in his government before and after the 2009 elections

If you do not accept this offer, then you should face the people’s wrath and be forced out as Ben Ali was.

I take this occasion to beg the people of France to force its rulers to accept the Mauritanian people’s right to self-determination.

Our lives are a small price to pay for Mauritania so that our sons can live in a country with social justice, liberty and democracy.

Yacoub Dahoud

A simple citizen demanding legitimate rights.

Hasn’t the time come for the Mauritanian people to chose freely and seriously who will preside over its destiny, and manage its resources that can easily service its needs instead of alms of hostile foreign governments?

 





Inner-Workings of A Police State: Foreign Ministry

20 01 2011

 

Guilt By Association: A State Policy Under Ben Ali

This is a summary translation of a document  (the picture above) found after the fall of Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia. It is a report from the Tunisian Consul in France to the Interior Ministry asking for instruction about issuing a passport to the daughter of a Tunisian man living in France. The document shows the consul asking for instructions on how to proceed with the passport application given that the little girl’s father is a political refugee in France.

This is how the Ben Ali regime kept a vindictive eye on dissidents living abroad. Even if a tunisian left tunisia, he or she, will still be under surveillance and subjected to the arbitrary rule of Ben Ali. Most importantly, that this document shows the complicity of in Ben Ali’s crimes and abuses in the foreign ministry. The current foreign minister and his predecessor, are as complicit as Ben Ali himself in the repression and terrorization of the people of Tunisia.

Again, I could have written a longer and more detailed analysis of what is behind this, but I choose not to.The document speaks for itself. The banality of evil..

 

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Consulate of The Republic of Tunisia

Pantin [France]

 

List of documents addressed to

The Minister of Interior and Local Development

(Borders & Aliens Directorate)

Under supervision of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

[Stamp]

000829

Documents Number Notes
Passport Application for Bilqees Bousshaqi Born on on 1/27/2009 registered at our service under the number 100528 

Supporting documents:

-Parent Authorization

-Copy of the father’s national ID Card

-Copy of father’s residency card

-Birth Certificate

4

 

Awaiting your authorization as the father is a political refugee in France.
Total 5

The above mentioned documents were received

Date [Blank]

Signature

Pantin, April 3, 2009

Consul

[Signature & Seal]

Abderazaq Ben Faraj





Inner-Workings of A Police State

20 01 2011

 

Crime: Wearing Hijab

 

This is a summary translation of a surveillance report (the picture above) found after the fall of Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia. I found it through my friend Saudi reporter Hassan Al-Mustafa’s twitter feed.

I could have written a long detailed analysis of what is behind this, but I choose not to.The document speaks for itself.

3/21/2009

[Header]

Interior and Local Development Ministry

General Directorate of National Security

General Directorate of Public Security

SECRET

[handwritten] Ha 222

Report

Re: arrest of a girl wearing hijab “Rawda Ben Attiya”

Authority-based on: administrative order number 1120/SAM dated 10/06/2002 and message from General Directorate of Public Security number 1355 S A dated 11/27/2003

In accordance to the above mentioned directives whose purpose is to dutifully increase actions against the different forms of extremism in order to preserve our society’s character by:

-cracking down on followers of extremist religious groups;

  • aborting their attempts to organize and operate through stricter controls of:

individuals wearing sectarian outfits, bearded men, individuals selling amulets, books, suspect books, activities of the Dawa & Tabligh group, mosques, prayers spaces and activities of Salafis.

It is my honor to inform you that on 03/18/2009 a girl wearing a hijab was detained. Her name is Rawda Ben Attiya born in the city of Seliana, residing in Beni Khiar. After investigation, [we learned] that she performed her religious duties regularly and she was informed that she needed to stop wearing the sectarian outfit [Hijab]. She acquiesced to said request.

An incident report was filed on the matter and archived [here], [the report’s] number is 179 on 02/18/2009

ID Card Data:

Rawda Ben Mohamed Ben Attiya, Tunisian citizen, born on 10/12/1985, female. Mother: Aisha Ben Gamra, married and residing in Beni Khiar

Filed for your information, the matter is still being pursued.

[illegible Signature]

54/ MN

Sent to Mr: R M A W N

[Stamp]

SECRET





Digiactivism Alive in Mideast

26 07 2010

Doesn’t  Sound “Passive”, eh?

Every now and then, someone in the West comes to make some outlandish claim about the use and potential of Social Media in the Middle East, hint: the Iran Twitter Revolution. This time, it comes from the Middle East from Rami Khouri who writes for Lebanon-based Daily Star. His central claim, in his piece picked by the New York Times (..) is that Arabs who are using social media tools are largely spectators:

Blogging, reading politically racy Web sites, or passing around provocative text messages by cellphone is equally satisfying for many youth. Such activities, though, essentially shift the individual from the realm of participant to the realm of spectator, and transform what would otherwise be an act of political activism — mobilizing, demonstrating or voting — into an act of passive, harmless personal entertainment.

This claim does not stand the test of reality, take for example the recent anti-censorship protest in Tunisia reported on this blog, or even closer to Mr Khouri’s levant, the case of Egyptian citizen Khaled Said whose killing at the hands of Egyptian police officers became a rallying point for those same “passive” Arabs. Khaled Said’s murder was quickly picked up and relayed via twitter, Facebook where a group for him quickly grew to include over 200000 users. Later on, those same “passive” youth took their online virtual activism to the real world by organizing protest demonstrations, sit-ins- flash mobs. Now, hold your breath, just last Sunday the latest protest demonstration took place thousands of miles away from Khaled Said’s native Alexandria, it happened here in the US in New York.

Many of us have grown so used to seeing this cycle unfold in the Middle East over the last few years, however, what is remarkable is that the time it took in 2005 to start an advocacy campaign  has been considerably shortened, primarily, due to the scale of users and the growing skill pool: thousands and thousand more Arabs are in fact using Social Media tools. For instance, the Khaled Said tragedy broke out in June, we’re now in the end of July and protest has already been exported outside of the Middle East.

So, it would not be very hard to see why Khouri’s claim here seems bizarre:

We must face the fact that all the new media and hundreds of thousands of young bloggers from Morocco to Iran have not triggered a single significant or lasting change in Arab or Iranian political culture. Not a single one. Zero.

if we only considered the full impact of the Khaled Said campaing (which is just the newest of many): it allowed Egyptian activists to force the government’s hand, the killers are facing trial, and there is an entire new discourse emerging in Egypt crystalizing young Egyptian hopes for their civil rights to be respected: a demand to stop police brutality.

Interestingly, the protest and the sit-ins that happened in Egypt itself were largely driven by young activists without any implication of the existing political parties, thus, it is interesting how new media is giving these activists a voice. Consider for example this new tactic used by young Egyptians to identify  police officers who are involved in torture and compiling their names. See the growing “piggipedia” archive on Flickr tracking those police officers. Talk about crowd-sourcing justice..

Without belaboring the point here, Rami Khouri misses the mark entirely on the realities of Middle East Digiactivism.

On the geopolitical side of Mr Khouri’s piece, chiefly his complaint, heard ad nauseam in the region among those very same activists he dismisses so lightly, about the “hypocrisy” of American government’s interest in social media while it supports the very same dictatorships that crush liberties:

One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

My answer is very simple, these activists might actually NOT, I repeat, NOT NEED US government’s funds or support. They have done fine for themselves so far and grew their skills tremendously. most of them factor already in their game plans that there is no cavalry that will be forthcoming from DC to do a job they already figured how to do for themselves, thank you very much!

Otherwise, check for yourself the scores of Arab bloggers and  journalists who are rotting in jails or facing harassment without a peep heard from Washington about them.

That is the unspoken code many of the shakers and movers of Mideast Digiactivists agree on, and Mr Khouri completely ignores: “we don’t care for what you want, we’re doing our own thing, leave us alone.”, I heard that for myself while attenting the Arab Bloggers conference back in December 2009 where I ran a session precisely discussing the issue of funding.

As of now, it looks to me like Washington DC politicians need Middle East activists a heck lot more than Middle Eastern activists need them..





Ammar404 Scared

24 05 2010

Here is the story of the Day Against Censorship in Tunisia told by tunisians. For those who still don’t know who is this Ammar guy… It’s an imaginary person tunisians invented as a metaphor for the invisible censor blocking their access to many website.. 404 is the error you get on your screen if you try to access “illegal” content in tunisia.

At least in other countries you get a message informing you that the website you are trying to access has been filtered, no such courtesy in Ben Ali’s Tunisia. By the way, this video produced by tunisian activist is on vimeo because youtube, dailymotion among others are blocked.

It is also worthwhile to consider this success within the regional context; as Egypt had its April 6 strike pushed mainly by online activists, Tunisia had its #manif22mai protest movement. The lesson to draw is that online activism is a force to reckon with in ways many classical political groups have failed to cease upon. In other words, it would be premature to discount online dissent as the stuff of posh kids with a fast Internet connection.

One can only wonder why some so-called western “liberals” would write for years such incongruous nonsense about a dictatorship that is afraid of young citizens wearing white t-shirts and peacefully demanding their freedom of speech.
Go figure ..

Ps. lesson to meditate: the activists followed all the legal procedures to lawfully request a permit to organize a vigil. it was denied.





Online Activism Meets Real World Activism: A Day Against Censorship

23 05 2010

@Slim404 Amamou

Tunisian activists geared up to organize a peaceful demonstration against censorship as part of the May 22 worldwide event announced to be the day against Tunisia’s “Ammar 404”: an imaginary person tunisians have created to symbolize their country’s world class filtering of the internet, and a pun on error 404 users get when they try to access censored content online.

manif22mai.wordpress.org

On May 21 in Tunis, bloggers @Slim404 Amamou, Yassine Ayari, and Lina Ben Mhenni filed duly filled forms to request a permit to demonstrate on May 22 as part of the protest. Unfortunately, or predictably, Slim and Yassine were detained by the police on sight for several hours and ultimately renounced their attempt as it was made clear to them that they will not be issued a permit and that their attempt is “forbidden.” They were interrogated, threatened as Slim relates in this video.

the Police demanded that Slim record a video asking people not to show up for the planned demonstration. Apparently, Slim had to negotiate the terms of this “friendly public service announcement.” Afterwards, he had to sign a document saying that he “understood that his call for a demonstration is wrong” and then he was driven out by the police to record that “friendly reminder to stay home” aimed to dissuade people from demonstrating.

On the following day, Aljazeera reported that the Tunisian police made a show of force in front of the Technology and Communication Ministry, the entity behind Tunisia’s state-built great firewall.

World media coverage for these events was scant, covered, Aljazeera hosted an hour long show opening a space for Tunisians to react to this new wave of protest. The show highlighted the Tunisian paradox: it was the first Arab country to introduce the internet, and as such became the pack leader in censorship.

The protest was not limited to Tunisia as tunisians took to the street to protest in several world capitals in front of their country’s embassies and consulates in Bonn, New York, Paris

While the world is busy debating the future of the Middle East and North Africa in light of pressing geopolitical conflicts, tunisians took matters into their hand using an impressive array of social media tools and techniques, they managed to translate online activism to real world actions in a peaceful and respectful way.  Not withstanding some grandiose pronouncements, world powers commitment to securing these freedoms for Arabs has so far been just hot air despite all the prattle about public diplomacy to “win minds and hearts” in the Arab World.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Tunisian dissident and internet activist Zouhair Yahyahoui.








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