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Tunisia: Tweeting Ben Ali's Speech–Change 2.0 or Just a Show?

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

'Long live Ben Ali' Tunisian president depicted on wall in Karouine, Tunisia (2009). Photo by Niqie on Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Popular protests in the streets of Tunisian cities have been going on unabated for nearly four weeks. They have posed the biggest challenge to Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in his 23 years in power. Tonight, the president delivered his third address to the nation in less than a month, promising a series of reforms including the lifting of restrictions on freedom of speech and, most notably, his pledge not to seek a new term during the presidential elections scheduled in 2014.

Right after he listened to the speech Youssef Gaigi, a Tunisian blogger, sent his reaction to Jillian C. York, who posted it on her blog. Youssef wrote:

Today’s speech shows definitely a major shift in Tunisia’s history.
Ben Ali talked for the third time in the past month to the people. Something unprecedented, we barely knew this guy. Ben Ali talked in the Tunisian dialect instead of Arabic for the first time ever.
He spoke directly to the police forces and ordered them not to shoot, unless in cases of self-defense. On the same line he said a commission will investigate in the murders that occurred.
He also said that people misled him in several areas, and particularly in the areas of politics and freedom. He admited that he didn’t achieve his goals or dreams in these areas. He granted that all liberties will be given to the people of Tunisia. He stated that the right of setting an organization, a political party, or a media will be totally opened. He said all censorship online or on traditional media will be stopped.
People are still cautious and doubt these words. We are talking about billions of $ stolen by his family. A political party, RCD, which is much much stronger than other parties. We are also talking about 150k policemen who acted like a terrorist organization for decades and particularly lately. Turning his words into action will be a very difficult mission.
We will probably start by checking his words tomorrow.

During and after Ben Ali's address, the twitter stream continued flowing under the hashtag #Sidibouzid, and was flooded by live transcriptions and comments about the speech.

Paraphrasing Ben Ali, @Khaffousa (Samira Abed) wrote:

“Je vous comprend je vous comprend!!!! Mais comprenais moi je veux rester!!!et d'ailleurs je vais rester au moins jusqu'en 2014″ #SidiBouzid

“I understand you I understand you!! But understand I want to stay! And besides, I'll stay until at least 2014″ #Sidibouzid

Acting on Ben Ali's words, @karim2k (Ben Karim) says he's not impressed:

I am practicing my “new” freedom of speech: We're not done with what happened in #Sidibouzid and the country

Journalist @Dima_Khatib (Dima Khatib), who live-tweeted the minutes of the speech, is also skeptical:

Ben Ali: from now on the right of demonstration is granted but you have to say when and where #SidiBouzid

And the sarcasm is never very far away. @Snake122448 (Snake) tweets:

Source sûre : Ben Ali se fout de notre gueule. Confirmé. #sidibouzid

Reliable source: Ben Ali's laughing at our face. Confirmed. #sidibouzid

The president's words didn't convince everybody. @Houeida (Houeida Anouar) writes that the change the president has been proposing is not what the people have been asking for. She tweets:

التـّــحوّل 2.0 (Change 2.0)…
Are we going to accept this paternalistic position of President Ben Ali?
The problem is, if we're going to test what Ben Ali is proposing, we're going to lose momentum.
To clarify: التـّــحوّل 2.0 means that the president is making his own revolution, on his own government! Not us! #sidibouzid

One of the focal points of Ben Ali's speech was his pledge to free the access to the Internet. Within hours after the speech, reports were already pouring in confirming the unblocking of some previously censored websites. Nawaat.org, is an independent collective blog which played a key role in dissemination information and multimedia material about the protests in the country, delivering a daily dose of content to citizens and mainstream media. @nawaat (Nawaat) tweets:

we confirm, our main blog nawaat.org is no more blocked in #tunisia #sidibouzid

But @nawaat later pondered, regarding press freedom in general:

RT @walidsa3d Press freedom doesn't mean democracy, look at Algeria and Egypt #sidibouzid

Reports were then confirming that access to YouTube and Daily Motion was no more blocked. But @404samiTunis (Sami Ben Romdhane) reminds his followers what the protests were about. He tweets:

Je rappele mes followers que ni Bouazizi ni les autres victimes ont donne leur vie pour accéder a YouTube ou DailyMotion!

I remind my followers that Bouazizi and the other victims didn't give their lives for an access to YouTube or DailyMotion!

@kais_be (kais) agrees. He tweets:

fermer Youtube ouvrez Carthage #free #sidibouzid

Shut down YouTube. Open Carthage [the presidential residence] #free #sidibouzid

@yassayari (Yassine Ayari) also:

Je n'abandonnerais pas ma liberté pour Youtube #sidibouzid

I will not give up my freedom for Youtube # sidibouzid

Minutes after Ben Ali delivered his speech, people were reportedly cheering in the streets, honking their car's horns in a sign of joy and support for Ben Ali's pledges. But some on the Twittosphere started casting some doubt on the spontaneity of such a display of enthusiasm. @benmhennilina (Lina Ben Mhenni) tweets:

tous les gens sur l avenue ont la mm pancarte et la mm photo de zaba.quel hazard!

All the people cheering on the avenue hold the same sign and the same photo of Ben Ali. What a coincidence!

Journalist and commentator @halmustafa (Hasan Almustafa) confirms Lina's doubts. He tweets:

@halmustafa: مراسلة فرنسا 24 من تونس: هنالك من يشير إلى أن كثيرا من الذين نزلوا للشارع محفلين، هم من أعضاء الحزب الحاكم #SidiBouzid

France 24 correspondent in Tunis: There are indications that many of those who took to the streets are members of the ruling party #SidiBouzid

@halmustafa later adds:

الشابي يقول إن هنالك مظاهرات منددة خرجت في القصرين، منتقدا عبر شاشة فرنسا 24، خطاب الرئيس بن علي، والوزير العبيدي #sidibouzid

Chebbi (opposition figure) said to France 24 there were demonstrations in Kasserine condemning the speech of President Ben Ali, and that of Minister al-Obeidi

Later in the day, and 3 hours after the President's speech, the Twittosphere received the confirmation of the liberation of blogger, activist, and Global Voices contributor Slim Amamou, whose first tweet as a free man read: “I am Free.”

@Slim404: "I am Free!"

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

3 comments

  • It’s not over… The revolution is not gauged with our ivory-tour-Tweets, but with people’s determination on the ground

    and I sincerely hope that next days will be even more decisive: People should not forget what all martyrs died for !

  • Mustapha Tlili-écrivain

    Mes compatriotes ont consenti tant de sacrifices qui ont fait l’admiration du monde entier pour que naisse une Tunisie nouvelle: véritablement démocratique, libre et juste pour tous ses enfants. La moindre trace qui resterait des maux qui l’ont minée pendant ces vingt trois dernières années entraverait sa marche vers cet avenir plus heureux. Qu’on y prenne garde!

  • […] Tunisia: Ben Ali Has Left the Building 14 Jan – Arab World: Welcoming the Fall of Ben Ali 14 Jan – Tunisia: Tweeting Ben Ali's Speech–Change 2.0 or Just a Show? 13 Jan – Tunisia: YouTubing the Uprising 13 Jan – Tunisia: Hackers take over Tunisian Foreign […]

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