Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Tunisia: Blogger's books confiscated at customs

When Tunisian blogger Zizou from Djerba returned home to Tunis from Cairo last week, he received more than the welcome he bargained for.

At the airport in Tunis, Zizou was surrounded by customs and security officers, his luggage searched, two books purchased in Egypt seized. Zizou‘s readers were not surprised.

“Ah yes, that's the reality in our country, not what we read in the newspapers,” one reader commented.

Tunisia is notorious for its repression of speech. Books are frequently censored or seized, internet sites blocked, and bloggers harassed or arrested.

Here is Zizou‘s account of events:

Vol : Le Caire – Tunis Hier soir

Je passe le controle de police tres rapidement et sans aucun probleme , le policier n'avait pas de moustache, Il etait tres gentil et tres accueillant.

Je mets mes bagages a mains au Scanner et je passe par le portail detecteur de metaux qui affiche vert. La ! Le policier qui manipule la machine a rayons X me demande si j'ai des livres dans mes bagages. J'ai dit oui… J'ai pris mes bagages du scanner, j'ai recupere ma valise , fait un pt tour au freeshop et puis je me suis dirige vers la sortie.

Flight – Cairo to Tunis last night

I pass through the security checkpoint quickly and without incident. The policeman didn't have a dark mustache. He was very nice and friendly.

I put my hand luggage on the x-ray machine and walked through the metal detector, which was green. But then the policeman who was operating the x-ray machine asked me if I had any books in my bags. I said yes…I took my carry on luggage from the scanner, picked up my checked luggage, passed by the duty-free shop and then headed for the exit.

A ce moment la j'ai vu un agent en uniforme qui s'approchait de l'officier des douanes et lui soufflait qlq mots en ma direction. Automatiquement, l'officier des douanes me demande de m'arreter et de partir pour la fouille. La ! un comite d'accueil qui inclut 3 policiers en civil, deux officiers de douanes (3 etoiles), plusieurs agents entourent mes bagages, parcourent mon passport et me posent des questions quant a ma profession.

Tout s'est tres bien passe, les services de douanes et de polices ont ete tres courtois et tres poli. Ils ont note mon adresse detaille a Tunis et puis ils m'ont informe que deux livres que j'ai achete en Egypte vont etre saisis temporairement. Il s'agit de “memoire d'un militant” de Mahmoud Materi et “Ma part de verite” de Mohamed Mzali.

That's when I saw an agent in uniform go to the customs officer and say a few words, looking in my direction. Immediately, the customs officer asked me to stop for inspection. Then the welcoming committee, which included three plainclothes police officers, two customs officials (3 stars) and several agents, surrounded my bags, looked through my passport and asked me questions about my profession.

Everything went well; the customs and police were very courteous and polite. They took down my address in Tunis in detail and then informed me that the two books I bought in Egypt would be temporarily confiscated. One was a “memoir of a militant” by Mahmoud Materi and the other “My Side of the Truth” by Mohamed Mzali.

J'avoue que cet attroupement pacifique de services de l'ordre et de douanes m'a inquiete. Qu'avais je fais de mal pour qu'autant de haut grades debarquent? Est ce que ces livres portent un messages ou une ideologie ennemie ? Est ce qu'il est interdit de lire des autobiographies d'anciennes figures du parti destourien et de personnalites importantes de l'histoire de mon pays? Je suis vraiment surpris et j'avoue que j'ai eu peur… Que se passera t'il par la suite ? Dois je essayer de recuperer les livres ? Dois je arreter de m'interesser a l'histoire de la Tunisie ? Je ne sais plus quoi faire ni quoi penser?

I admit that this peaceful group of security and customs officials has unsettled me. What did I do wrong to attract such high level attention? Did these books carry an enemy message or ideology? Is it not allowed to read autobiographies of former party figures and important people in the history of my country? I was really surprised and I admit I was afraid…So what happens next? Do I try to get back my books? Do I stop being interested in the history of Tunisia? I don't know anymore what to do or think.

Censorship is a way of life in Tunisia

Many of Zizou‘s readers expressed not shock or outrage but resignation about what has been the status quo in Tunisia for many years.

Bloton:

Ils vont les lire pour voir s'il y a qque chose de suspect (enfin suspect suivant leur normes). Pour eux, l'histoire de la Tunisie commence en 1987…

They're going to read [the books] to see f they contain anything suspect (suspect according to their norms). For them, the history of Tunisia begins in 1987…

samsoum:

Eh oui, ca c'est la réalité de notre pays, pas ce qu'on lit dans les journaux :(

Ah yes, that's the reality in our country, not what we read in the newspapers :(

Emma Benji:

yé Zizou, tawa ne sais tu pas que le tunisien ne lit pas.

Donc rien que le fait que tu aies un livre c'est louche…parce que bientot y aura une loi nqui interdira de lire quoi que ce soit, mis a part les manuels scolaires

Hey Zizou, don't you know that the Tunisian doesn't read?

And so the mere fact that you have a book is suspicious…because soon there will be a law against reading anything, except schoolbooks.

Profilo:

C'est malheureusement la Tunisie. Je crois que le mieux est de lire à l'étranger et de ne rien apporter ici. en plus le slivres concernent la Tunisie donc ils sont parano qu'ils doutent de toutes choses qui a relation avec le bled.
en plus toi t'es passé par des pays qui sont louches pour eux le soudan et apres l egypte.

Sadly, this is Tunisia. I think it's better to read when you're abroad and bring nothing back here. Especially books about Tunisia because they are paranoid and question everything related to the country.
Also, you came from Sudan and Egypt, countries which for them are suspect.

Some books should be confiscated

But a fair share of readers seemed to support the practice of confiscating books in certain cases. One anonymous reader wrote:

Je suis d'accord pour qu'on contrôle et qu’on interdise les livres haineux. En France et en Allemagne, ils ont longtemps interdit Mein Kampf…. mais là ça devient de la paranoïa…

LA question qui se pose : Est simplement un excès de zèle de la part du service de police de l’aéroport ? Ou est ce que sont des instructions qui viennent d’en haut, ou plutôt « tawjihète sayed el Raiis »

I agree with monitoring and banning hate books. In France and in Germany, [Hitler's] Mein Kampf has long been banned…but there it has reached a point of paranoia…

The question is: It is simply a matter of overzealous police at the airport? Or are these instructions that come from above, or rather “His Excellency the President.”

And other:

Je suis pour la saisie du livre de Mzali. Le mec est connu pour ses détournements (à part de fonds) de la réalité et pour semer la zizanie. Quant à celui de Materi????

I am for the seizure of the Mzali book. That guy is known for hijacking reality (not to mention money) and for stirring discord. As for the Materi book????

A “herd” mentality

Reacting to more conservative comments, julian sark writes:

… il ne faut jamais donner main libre aux controlleurs qui vous dictent ce qui est à lire et ce qui est tabou.

Parce que dans ce cas le peuple sera guidé comme un troupeau de moutons, ce qui est le cas maintenant.

…we must never give a free hand to those who dictate what can be read and what is taboo.

Because in this case, the people will be led like a herd of sheep, as is the case now.

“Has the world gone mad?”

As we learn from one reader living in France, Zizou‘s experiences are not unique. LadyFrenchy writes that she send a letter, a necklace, some photos and two books to a friend in Tunisia.

When her friend went to pick up the package at the post office, the two books–Khali Gibran's The Prophet and The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo were missing.

“What do you think was subversive about my books,” LadyFrenchy writes. “They were works about the beauty of life, nothing offensive: only happiness and simplicity.”

One month, a fax to the Ministry of the Interior, and several visits to the post office later, the books have yet to materialize.

Je suis très choquée, existe t'il une liste noire de ce qui est permis ou interdit de lire ? la censure à ce point, mais c'est ridicule ! Heureusement que j'ai de l'humour, ça me fait presque rire …

Comment peut-on asservir les gens à ce point, les brimer ? De quel droit peut-on se permettre d'aliéner les consciences ? C'est horrible ! Des 2 côtés de la Méditerranée, ça dégénère : nous avec notre loi ADN, eux avec leur censure, mais c'est quoi ce monde de dingues ?

J'avoue que je n'ai toujours pas compris.

I was very shocked. Is there a blacklist of what reading is permitted and what is banned? Censorship to this point…it's ridiculous! Fortunately I have a sense of humor. It almost made me laugh…

How can people be enslaved, aggravated to this point? By what right are they allowed to control people's minds? It's horrible! On two sides of the Mediterranean, things are deteriorating, us with our DNA law, and them with their censorship. Has the world gone mad?

2 comments

  • Noah

    Pauvres Tunisiens vraiment, ils n’ont rien, ni la liberte de s’exprimer, ni celle de s’instruire, ils ne peuvent pratiquer aucune religion meme pas la leur (et christianisme est tabou), ils n’ont aucun droit a leur fonds financiers et n’ont absolument droit a aucun choix ni decision…l’idee d’etre Tunisien m’aurait donne des boules dans la gorge..J’aimais visiter votre beau pays souvent mais a ce point la beaute est a re-definir..mes sympaties les plus sinceres vraiment surtout que j’ai constate pendant mes visites comme ils sont intelligents, chaleureux et…terrifies!

  • To that degree? In this case, how to know that such a book is forbidden becuse it’s “subversive”.
    I imagine myself going to Tunisia for tourism and carrying with me a Jacques Attali “Rifaa sons” and An Amelie Nothomb “Stupeur et tremblement”. Should I have fear that customs will confiscate these works?

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.