Tunisia, February 2011: Still skeletons in the closet

«This is only one of many statements overheard at a conference in Tunis last Friday.  The conference, hosted by a number of previously «forbidden» civil society organizations in Tunisia, aimed to look into how the opposition and the NGOs can work together in order to secure a true, democratic development in the country.  These organizations were not allowed by Ben Alis regime, and arranging a conference like this only one month ago was not possible.  The Ben Ali regime did whatever they could to stop the Tunisian people and NGO from getting together.»

Says Secretary General of norwegian PEN, Carl Morten Iversen, just returned from a three-day stay in Tunisia´s capital Tunis.  «All pictures of president Ben Ali which greeted you at the airport, on huge posters throughout Tunis, in cafes and hotel receptions as well as daily on the front page of the regime friendly»La Presse», have been removed», he says.  «This does not mean that democracy is secured.  The president may have fled, but too many of his supporters are still holding positions in the transition government, the administration or in the media.  At this point there is no guarantee that a true, democratic Tunisia will be the result of this ongoing process.»

The Tunisian political opposition and civil society organizations are now at a critical stage.  «Almost all the people we talked to seemed to realize that Tunisia now had one golden opportunity to establish a working democracy, but time is of the essence.  There are lots of actors and many skeletons in the closets.  The journalists in «La Presse» who have formerly conducted smear campaigns against free expression- and human rights-activists, now come across as the heroes of the revolution and attack president Ben Ali whom they previously supported.  This is hardly believable», says Iversen, who has contributed to the monitoring of the situation in Tunisia through the international Tunisian Monitoring Group (TMG) since 2004 and visited the country six times since 2005.

«It is important not to forget Tunisia now that the focus of the world press is aimed at the recent events in Egypt.  Our colleagues in Tunisia still need international support, among other things in order to establish free and independent media institutions, including an independent media council.  The TMG members are now looking into the possibility to get funding for this work so that it can get started immediately», he adds.

9. february 2011