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18

Feb

Updates on ‘SAWTY: صوت شباب تونس’ or ‘My Voice: Voice of Tunisian Youth’
To recap:
This is an organization (pending legal certification) that some friends and I founded nearly 2 weeks ago, with the vision of uniting Tunisian youth under the banner of transparency and government accountability. SAWTY is a nonpartisan advocacy organization that will be the platform for understanding Tunisian politics, parties, and persons. We hope that by publishing need-to-know information about Tunisian politics, organizing speaker events, panel discussions, debates, and civic education workshops and seminars, that Tunisian youth will be best equipped to cast responsible & educated votes in the upcoming elections (whenever they are). Our goal is much broader than that, though: we hope to instill in ourselves and in our peers the drive to remain active in civil society, and to show our country and the world that we will never again allow our country to be overtaken by despotic autocrats.
With SAWTY, I am Chief Communications Officer and Co-Founder, and as such have met with representatives of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) the President and Cabinet of el-Nahdha (the Renaissance) Political Party, Tunisian civil society activists and respected journalists, et al. Making important contacts and benefitting from their knowledge, expertise, and insight is a big part of what SAWTY is, and we are already well on our way to making a real name for ourselves.
SAWTY’s first 2 weeks: These first 2 weeks have been hectic beyond comprehension. All of us are first-timers in the ‘Create an NGO’ field, but we are also committed, diligent, hardworking, and flexible. So far, we have:
1. Gathered and filed necessary paperwork to the Interior Ministry to be recognized as an official Tunisian civil society organization. Official certification is expected, but still pending.
2. Drafted our Constitution, though it remains a work-in-progress.
3. Started, and are nearly finished, with the SAWTY official website, which is the central location of all announcements, news & correspondence updates and information, feedback and interaction, etc.
4. Specified a structure to our organization to ensure both flexibility and order. We will have an Executive Committee comprised of the 6 founders (including myself), a Steering Committee, a News & Correspondence Committee, and an Events Planning Committee.
5. Doubled our numbers with fellow young Tunisians, with whom we have begun establishing contacts with students on high school and college campuses, school administrators, journalists, respected artists and musicians of the revolution, lawyers, government officials, leaders and officials of various political parties, etc.
6. Prepared for, and appeared on, our first television interview on France 24 news channel. This appearance was just the first of what we hope to be many such appearances, and are in fact looking forward to at least one more in these coming few days, that being the BBC.
7. Met with students at the Medical School and the Law School in Tunis to create lasting partnerships and build the foundations for large-scale initiatives in the coming weeks and months.
8. Opened files on notable government officials and political parties & their leaders, began gathering research and useful information, so that we may first educate ourselves enough that we may have a real impact on our peers.
.. and I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting at the moment. But I think you’re beginning to have a good grasp of SAWTY, its foundations, and its future. My work with this organization is, as crazy as it sounds, only HALF of what I have been doing in Tunisia. I spend about half my days at the SAWTY office, and the other half with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID).

Updates on ‘SAWTY: صوت شباب تونس’ or ‘My Voice: Voice of Tunisian Youth’

To recap:

This is an organization (pending legal certification) that some friends and I founded nearly 2 weeks ago, with the vision of uniting Tunisian youth under the banner of transparency and government accountability. SAWTY is a nonpartisan advocacy organization that will be the platform for understanding Tunisian politics, parties, and persons. We hope that by publishing need-to-know information about Tunisian politics, organizing speaker events, panel discussions, debates, and civic education workshops and seminars, that Tunisian youth will be best equipped to cast responsible & educated votes in the upcoming elections (whenever they are). Our goal is much broader than that, though: we hope to instill in ourselves and in our peers the drive to remain active in civil society, and to show our country and the world that we will never again allow our country to be overtaken by despotic autocrats.

With SAWTY, I am Chief Communications Officer and Co-Founder, and as such have met with representatives of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) the President and Cabinet of el-Nahdha (the Renaissance) Political Party, Tunisian civil society activists and respected journalists, et al. Making important contacts and benefitting from their knowledge, expertise, and insight is a big part of what SAWTY is, and we are already well on our way to making a real name for ourselves.

SAWTY’s first 2 weeks: These first 2 weeks have been hectic beyond comprehension. All of us are first-timers in the ‘Create an NGO’ field, but we are also committed, diligent, hardworking, and flexible. So far, we have:

1. Gathered and filed necessary paperwork to the Interior Ministry to be recognized as an official Tunisian civil society organization. Official certification is expected, but still pending.

2. Drafted our Constitution, though it remains a work-in-progress.

3. Started, and are nearly finished, with the SAWTY official website, which is the central location of all announcements, news & correspondence updates and information, feedback and interaction, etc.

4. Specified a structure to our organization to ensure both flexibility and order. We will have an Executive Committee comprised of the 6 founders (including myself), a Steering Committee, a News & Correspondence Committee, and an Events Planning Committee.

5. Doubled our numbers with fellow young Tunisians, with whom we have begun establishing contacts with students on high school and college campuses, school administrators, journalists, respected artists and musicians of the revolution, lawyers, government officials, leaders and officials of various political parties, etc.

6. Prepared for, and appeared on, our first television interview on France 24 news channel. This appearance was just the first of what we hope to be many such appearances, and are in fact looking forward to at least one more in these coming few days, that being the BBC.

7. Met with students at the Medical School and the Law School in Tunis to create lasting partnerships and build the foundations for large-scale initiatives in the coming weeks and months.

8. Opened files on notable government officials and political parties & their leaders, began gathering research and useful information, so that we may first educate ourselves enough that we may have a real impact on our peers.


.. and I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting at the moment. But I think you’re beginning to have a good grasp of SAWTY, its foundations, and its future. My work with this organization is, as crazy as it sounds, only HALF of what I have been doing in Tunisia. I spend about half my days at the SAWTY office, and the other half with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID).

17

Feb

On Valentine’s Day 2011, hundreds of Tunisians gathered on Habib Bourghiba Avenue to celebrate the 1-month anniversary of Ben Ali’s departure and the success of the revolution!!!

Chants include: ”ثورة ثورة في قلبي مازال حي”, or “The revolution, in my heart, is still alive”

Among many things, this revolution has really brought people together. This particular celebratory demonstration took advantage of the coincidence of Valentine’s Day and the 1-month anniversary of Ben Ali’s departure with slogans like: “Joyeux Fete de l’Amour, ma Tunisie!” or “Happy Holiday of Love, my Tunisia!”

It was a great night of national solidarity. May it foreshadow the new Tunisia!

16

Feb

FoxNews must be in crisis

First, it was the Tunisian Revolution that caught the world’s eye, which watched keenly with awe and respect.

Then, the Egyptian Revolution added icing to the cake, and fermented the centrality of public outrage with the despotic rulers of the Middle East and North Africa on the international stage.

Now, we see protests, demonstrations, and scheduled ‘Days of Rage’ in Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan, and elsewhere in the region.

Everywhere, the messages are clear: peaceful, unequivocal calls for change. DRASTIC change. Regime change. Democratic change.

Through all this, I can’t help but consider how FoxNews and friends must be feeling, as they watch their deliberately misconstrued lies about Muslims and Muslim societies prove to be thus: lies.

It must be uncomfortable.

When covering the Tunisian Revolution, they made sure to add the term ‘secular’ to all descriptions of the protests, the protesters, and the slogans they championed. And this was true: though Tunisia is a predominantly Muslim country, the revolution was by no means religiously motivated. 

With Egypt, the story was much the same: images of Muslim and Christian Egyptians protesting side-by-side were unavoidable on all major news outlets, and such images embodied the spirit and reality of the national uprising against the 30-year tyrant.

Even at that moment, however, FoxNews could still attempt to make falsified generalizations about Muslims worldwide - namely that they are violent and impossibly incompatible with democracy, freedom, and human rights.

But NOW?

If they want to continue to push their worldview, they have to contend with:

1. Tunisia

2. Egypt

3. Libya

4. Algeria

5. Bahrain

6. Jordan

7. Yemen

Et tu, Yemen?! But aren’t you an ‘al-Qaeda stronghold’? Aren’t you a bastion of backwardness, religious extremism, and authoritarianism?

HOW CAN THIS BE?!?!

Honestly, I feel sorry for FoxNews. For so long, they have been the hub for lousy excuses for journalists, unabashed vendettas and ideologies, and intentional misinformation.

For starters, I suggest they take a second look at their tagline - “Far & Balanced” - and establish a new relationship with it that’s, ya know, actually fair and balanced.

Just a thought.

**Specific information concerning my work in Tunisia is forthcoming..

11

Feb

The narrative about how Arab countries are inhospitable for democracy, how the Arab world is incompatible with modernity — that has been shattered by the courage and vision of so many Tunisians and Egyptians.
Nicholas Kristof, of the NYTimes

10

Feb

The Heart of a Revolution — The Story from APM

My follow-up interview with Dick Gordon from NPR’s “The Story” about my experiences in Tunisia in these last 2 weeks.

I spoke with him via Skype this past Monday, February 7th.

09

Feb

Soldiers patrolling Tunis-Carthage Airport in front of a tank. Sorry if the picture seems a bit fuzzy; I was in a moving car when I took it.
Scenes like the one above are not uncommon, but are far more concentrated around areas of dense population, particularly Carthage and downtown Tunis (near government buildings).
The Tunisian army is seen as the ‘Protectors of the Revolution’, contrary to what many might think. The ‘real dangers’, according to people’s perceptions, are plotters inside the coalition government, rogue policemen, random mobs, and the personal guard/militia of the dictator. There have been random attacks - mainly on high schools, curiously enough - by unidentified groups of men in the past few weeks, and it is the army that comes to protect the people and restore order. Just yesterday, a high school in the Byrsa quarter of Carthage was attacked by one of these mobs, who flanked the school and threw giant rocks at classroom doors.
My friend/sister Fatma Rekik was in class at the time, and described to me the fear and panic that characterized those 10 or so minutes before the army finally arrived.
Hearing about these sorts of incidents definitely worry me, but do not dissuade me from being in Tunis at this time. It appears that there may be plans to instill chaos in the society by those who are not happy with the revolution and had been benefitting greatly from the morally deprived old regime.
We shall not give in.
Tunisians continue to work diligently for their democracy and will not be scared away.

Soldiers patrolling Tunis-Carthage Airport in front of a tank. Sorry if the picture seems a bit fuzzy; I was in a moving car when I took it.

Scenes like the one above are not uncommon, but are far more concentrated around areas of dense population, particularly Carthage and downtown Tunis (near government buildings).

The Tunisian army is seen as the ‘Protectors of the Revolution’, contrary to what many might think. The ‘real dangers’, according to people’s perceptions, are plotters inside the coalition government, rogue policemen, random mobs, and the personal guard/militia of the dictator. There have been random attacks - mainly on high schools, curiously enough - by unidentified groups of men in the past few weeks, and it is the army that comes to protect the people and restore order. Just yesterday, a high school in the Byrsa quarter of Carthage was attacked by one of these mobs, who flanked the school and threw giant rocks at classroom doors.

My friend/sister Fatma Rekik was in class at the time, and described to me the fear and panic that characterized those 10 or so minutes before the army finally arrived.

Hearing about these sorts of incidents definitely worry me, but do not dissuade me from being in Tunis at this time. It appears that there may be plans to instill chaos in the society by those who are not happy with the revolution and had been benefitting greatly from the morally deprived old regime.

We shall not give in.

Tunisians continue to work diligently for their democracy and will not be scared away.

08

Feb

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=176864389024346
Last night, the Tunisian Parliament held its first session after the deposition of Ben Ali. The entire night consisted of similar charades as the woman (see video through Facebook link above) portrays: overblown, fake enthusiasm and anger rhetorically out of solidarity with fellow citizens, but what was actually a pathetic show of fear, fear of people turning on them and voting them out in the upcoming elections.
This particular woman was one of the first Representatives to boisterously call for Ben Ali to run for re-election in 2014, just MONTHS after he had been ‘elected’ to that position for the fifth time!!! This woman, and others like her, were already calling for him to run for a sixth term.
Freedoms of speech and of expression are great, but won’t save these sorts of people. Fiery speech will not erase your histories of greed and corrupt acts.

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=176864389024346

Last night, the Tunisian Parliament held its first session after the deposition of Ben Ali. The entire night consisted of similar charades as the woman (see video through Facebook link above) portrays: overblown, fake enthusiasm and anger rhetorically out of solidarity with fellow citizens, but what was actually a pathetic show of fear, fear of people turning on them and voting them out in the upcoming elections.

This particular woman was one of the first Representatives to boisterously call for Ben Ali to run for re-election in 2014, just MONTHS after he had been ‘elected’ to that position for the fifth time!!! This woman, and others like her, were already calling for him to run for a sixth term.

Freedoms of speech and of expression are great, but won’t save these sorts of people. Fiery speech will not erase your histories of greed and corrupt acts.

07

Feb

The Deluge

It is Sunday, February 6: 8 days since landing in Tunis, and so much has been happening that it will be difficult to explain.

I apologize sincerely for my absence in these past few days, but it is not without cause, I assure you.

The activities over these part few days have been incredibly overwhelming - AMAZING - but overwhelming. With the 10pm curfew that was in place until just this past Friday night (when it was extended to midnight), I would literally be out all day, from 8 am onwards, and get home 10 minutes before I would be stopped by the army or police and questioned. You see, Tunisia is surprisingly running normally in the aftermath of such an incredible revolution, with a major exception of army presence in many areas around the capital city and throughout the country, serving as the reminder of what had transpired.

In these past few days, I have:

1. Attended several lectures and seminars on the causes of the revolution, its immediate aftermath, and the present & future of the Tunisian polity at ‘El Jahedh’ Forum, an organization that has been operating underground for about 7 years. After the ousting of Ben Ali, their locale has been swarmed by eager citizens, doubling and tripling the number of attendees at their meetings and necessitating a larger venue. The conversations are engaging, and the audience is encouraging.

2. Met somewhere between 30-40 activists, among them journalists, students, leaders and members of outlawed political parties, vocal conscientious objectors, and civil society activists, who are all in constant contact with one another in pursuit of lasting democratic reforms. For instance, I have now met a significant number of the leaders of ‘El Nahdha’, the leading Islamic political party in Tunisia, the vast majority of whom were only recently released from prisons that had been their reality for the past 20 years or who had, just in the past few days, returned to their homeland after 20+ years in exile. It was a humbling encounter indeed, to be in the presence of people who had paid real sacrifices in the pursuit of freedom and democracy. It was an honor and a privilege that I won’t forget!

3. Worked diligently on several CSID - or, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, the non-profit of which my father is Founder & President - project proposals and concept papers for various initiatives in Tunisia in the upcoming weeks, months, and years. Though I cannot disclose details of these projects for the simple reason that they are still works-in-progress, the general premise is democracy education and training among all strata and demographics of the Tunisian population.

4. Along with 5 friends, I have co-founded an organization called “SAWTY: Sawt Chabab Tounes”, or “MY VOICE: The Voice of the Tunisian Youth”. It is an organization that seeks to make Tunisian politics - which has for years been closed off, cryptic, and exclusive - more accessible to young people through awareness and grass-roots campaigning. Our goal is to register to vote 3/4 of Tunisia’s nearly 2 million youth and to equip them with the knowledge and tools necessary to make educated, responsible decisions at the ballot box. Three out of the six of us withdrew from our schools and are committed full-time to working for a successful democratic transition as the elections are fast-approaching. We have only just begun, and we already have a headquarters located in the Kasbah section of downtown Tunis, with final preparations nearly complete and our move-in date set. We are setting out with the 6 of us, but are already well under-way recruiting dozens of others to help us in our many planned initiatives and have begun making contacts with Tunisian government officials, representatives of international NGOs, news outlets (television, newspaper, magazine, AND radio), and establishing links on various high school and university campuses throughout the country.

Check out our facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sawty-Sawt-Chabeb-Tounes/107393566005661

Our website will be published very soon! We are working on the final touches and hope to publish it in the very near future.

So stay tuned, my friends. I will have many, many more updates as time goes on. These posts will become daily, and I’ll start posting some of the pictures I’ve been able to capture to help you get a more vivid idea of life in the new Tunisian republic.

03

Feb

An incredibly inspiring and amazing piece of artwork shared by my amazing friend Caryn Wilson. Thanks :)
Words to live by.

An incredibly inspiring and amazing piece of artwork shared by my amazing friend Caryn Wilson. Thanks :)

Words to live by.

02

Feb

The fight for liberty in Tunisia is still raging in the streets, in schools, government offices, board rooms, and in private residences. Truly, Tunisia was the first successful breach of the Arab world’s Berlin wall, but it has not yet completely fallen.
Inspired by a conversation with my friend Yasser Taima, and verified by my daily observations on the ground.

30

Jan

The first 24


Suspense. Excitement. Disbelief. Numbness. Euphoria. Disbelief part 2… Optimism.

A vastly divergent spectrum of emotions was mine in my first 24 hours in Tunisia. This country has changed so drastically in a matter of one month that it’s almost too good to be true. My grandmother told me that she watches the news almost as a reminder to herself: ‘We really did it.’

In Tunis-Carthage airport, I paid specific attention to the usual locations of Ben Ali’s portraits - absent.

The customs officers and policemen were cheerful and efficient in their work - unusual.

The pay stations in the airport parking lot that went directly into the infinitely vast pockets of the ousted ruling family - closed.

In place of these markers of the old regime are soldiers and tanks on patrol, burnt commercial and government vehicles still on the roads, crime - though less rampant than in prior weeks - still imminent, and an entire population consumed with conversation, complaints, fears, and concerns about their present and increasingly precarious future.

Two hours after landing and barely settling at my grandparents’ home in the suburbs of Tunis, my father - Radwan Masmoudi, Founder & President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) - and I attended a lecture on the causes and future of the revolution at the ‘Al-Jahith Forum’, where we spoke with many civil society activists, students and professors, religious and secular citizens who had more then a fair share of updates and developments to share. The conversations continued long after the lecture itself was over and spilled out into the street outside - very much to my surprise; that would have never happened just one month ago. I was finally beginning to believe that Tunisia was really changing, and rapidly.

Just this afternoon, young Tunisian activists gathered at my grandparents house to speak with my father and exchange ideas about the initiatives and campaigns of the coming election season. We’ve had these sorts of meetings before; this time, though, we didn’t have any lingering fears in the backs of our minds.

All day, every day, Tunisians follow the developments in Egypt, and pray for them. The Tunisian people were there, in similar positions, 2 and 3 weeks ago.

The Tunisian Revolution was difficult and the people suffered through it. With that said, deposing the dictator may well have been the easiest part. This transition to democracy proves to be far more trying and strenuous. National television and radio programs are almost all preoccupied with laying blame on old or current politicians and businessmen and discussing the infinite range of corrupt actions and wrongs that were done by Ben Ali and the Trabelsis, his wife Leila’s family. 

My efforts and those of all Tunisians, must be to bracket those complaints for the moment and focus all our energies on ensuring the success of the upcoming elections in 6 months. The time will come, after a truly representative government is in place, to conduct thorough investigations into the wrongs of the past and to bring those accountable to justice. 

That time is not now. 

Establishing a stable and promising democratic state MUST be our priority. We have the power, capability, and impetus to be the Arab world’s first successful democracy. For that goal to be realized, these coming 6 months are critical.

It has only been roughly 24 hours since my arrival in the country, and change is in the air. The time is now, and Tunis cannot wait.

26

Jan

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

President Barack Obama

The Annual State of the Union Address in the United States Congress

January 25, 2011

Thank you for your support, Mr. President, as we, the Tunisian people, struggle in the coming weeks and months to strengthen and consolidate our developing democracy. Please, do not forget about the struggles and sacrifices of the brave protesters in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and elsewhere, who too seek to free themselves of the tyrannical chains with which they have been bound for too long.

24

Jan

The Daily Tar Heel, the official school newspaper of UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote an article about my up-coming adventures in Tunisia and the exciting political developments in the country.
I hope this article will help to spread knowledge and awareness about the Tunisian Revolution, and will garner encouragement for the Tunisian people, instill fascination in their brave uprising, and develop a propensity for international support.
(Click the photograph to be transferred directly to the DTH article)

The Daily Tar Heel, the official school newspaper of UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote an article about my up-coming adventures in Tunisia and the exciting political developments in the country.

I hope this article will help to spread knowledge and awareness about the Tunisian Revolution, and will garner encouragement for the Tunisian people, instill fascination in their brave uprising, and develop a propensity for international support.

(Click the photograph to be transferred directly to the DTH article)

20

Jan

Before the Beginning

What an amazing time to be alive.

This, is my story:

I am a Senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, double majoring in Political Science & Religious Studies. I would be graduating this May, 2011, if it weren’t for the withdrawal forms I just submitted to the UNC-Chapel Hill Advising Office.

I never thought I would consider withdrawing in my last semester before graduation. I never thought it possible, though, because there had never been a reason.

You see, Friday, January 14, 2011 gave me that reason. That day changed my life.

On that day, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali - then president of Tunisia - fled the country in the midst of a popular uprising, the likes of which the country had not known in his 23 years of rule.

On that day, Tunisians showed the extent of their determination, resilience, passion, and unequivocal disapproval of Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, and refused to step down and retreat from the threat of violence.

On that day, I wanted to do something.

Protesting in solidarity with Tunisians wouldn’t do much more than provide a show of support, which is certainly always appreciated and meaningful in and of itself, but was something I felt would not be enough.

Ben Ali created a police state, and ruled it as one. This was the first time in 23 years that people had organized or had voiced substantial distaste for his regime. 

Popular movements or associations were largely unknown for the younger generation - those under the age of 25 years - who constituted 50% of the entire Tunisian population.

On that day, I wanted to join my people on the road to democratization and political reform.

After much debate with my parents, I withdrew from UNC during my last semester before graduation, and decided to travel to Tunisia to donate my time & energy in the service of my native country.

Ben Ali’s cowardly departure meant the beginning of a new age in history. There would be presidential elections in 60 days, a constitutional committee would re-examine the Constitution and determine whether revisions or amendments were necessary and, if so, what kinds, and parliamentary elections would take place in 6 months. All that, however, would be nothing if the people do not take matters in their own hands and become actively engaged with every step of the process, ensuring the impossibility of authoritarian rule to ever again take hold.

I am going to Tunisia to struggle and mobilize with my fellow Tunisians. Among other things, I will be:

1. Inviting college-aged Tunisians to constitute a strong and vocal coalition of young democrats committed to demanding essential freedoms and liberties, and to bettering their nation.

2. Rallying for democracy, learning what it means to be a citizen in a democratic state, and what rights and responsibilities that entails.

3. Getting people excited, energized, and prepared for the upcoming Presidential & Parliamentary elections.

This is the first of countless posts chronicling - through various media - my experiences in Tunisia.

This, and I am still in Chapel Hill, sketching my life and work for the next few months.

This, and it is still before the beginning.