BEST OF BLOGS AWARDS 2011
LAUDATORY SPEECH -
(CLAIRE ULRICH - GLOBAL VOICES IN FRENCH)
To:Lina Ben Mhenni, BLOG "A TUNISIAN GIRL" - Best blog 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very honoured to present the Best of Blogs awards for Best Blog in 2011 to Lina Ben Mhenni, whose blog, "A Tunisian Girl", was selected as best blog in Bonn last April by an international jury. Before congratulating Lina, I would like to thank Deutsche Welle and the BOBs awards. They are not only a showcase, but an asylum, a shelter, for blogs across the world that are not necessarily trendy, popular or “liked” on Facebook, but are very important.
On December 23rd 2010, when everyone was very busy with the holidays, a handful of Tunisian bloggers wrote for the first time about a remote town in Tunisia that no one had ever heard of, Sidi Bouzid. People there were angry, and were taking to the streets. Out of despair, a young man had set himself on fire a few days earlier: his name was – is – Mohamed Bouazizi.
Very few Tunisians knew what had happened in Sidi Bouzid, because Tunisian media and the Tunisian web were censored.
No one knew then it would make history, and ignite what is now called the “Arab spring”. But Lina Ben Mhenni was one of those Tunisian bloggers who took notice.
When she opened her blog “A Tunisian Girl”, in 2008, Lina wrote in her profile: “Assistant teacher in the Linguistics department of the University of Tunis, and a blogger, mainly blogging about freedom of speech and human rights”. That was not - and is still not - the shortest route to becoming a popular blogger, but she probably did not care about her blog stats... her blog was censored, invisible to most Tunisian eyes.
Although I've never met Lina Ben Mhenni "in real life" before today, I feel as if I have “known” her for a long time. Such is the new vocabulary, and power, of online media. Over the years, reading her blog, here are a few things I’ve learnt about Lina:
- She would like to look her real age, and not 18
- She feels lonely and sad at night in foreign hotel rooms.
- She wears bright colored shoes with bright socks. The pictures are on her blog.
· She understand the Egyptian Arabic dialect, thanks to the Egyptian TV soap operas
· She is a compulsive writer. Before opening a blog, she used to get up in the middle of the night to scribble down a thought or two on a piece of paper.
· She is shy and most at ease expressing herself behind a computer screen, not in a crowded room.
· The word Militant ("activist") is a sacred word for her, and she does not deem herself worthy of the title.
Most importantly, we, the readers of her blog, know this:
We know that Lina is "difficult ":
She never satisfied herself with the Tunisia pictured in the glossy tourist and official brochures: sunny beaches, jasmine and olive groves. She did not think that living in a country at peace, where most people had enough on their plate to eat, was enough. She wanted more. An end to students doing jail time for a protest poster, an end to death from torture in secret prisons, an end to the white 404 error page of censorship on her computer's screen. And since the Ben Ali regime was toppled, she continues being “difficult.” She questions where the "new" Tunisia is going.
We know that Lina is fearless:
During those first days of January, she went beyond blogging about demonstrations, repressions, snipers on the roofs, live bullets. It was a situation that was quickly getting out of hand.
She drove to the far-away towns of Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, armed with a cell phone that took pictures, a laptop, a roaming internet connection key, to document the repression and killings before the police and Ben Ali’s local men wiped away the evidence.
We know that Lina is loyal:
Thousands of nameless Arab citizens have lost their lives since January during the Arab uprisings. Lina still takes the time on her blog to remember these people: Manel Boallagui (26), a mother with two children; Raouf Kaddoussi (26); Mohamed Jabli Ben Ali (19); Moadh Ben Amor Khlifi (20); Nizar Ben Ibrahim (22). These are the people killed during January's riots in remote Tunisian towns. Their names have already been forgotten, save by their relatives and in their home towns, but Lina has not forgotten them.
And today, we know Lina is worried:
Last month, Lina wrote on her blog: "Lately, I am worried, about one single thing: the Tunisia of tomorrow. How will it be? Who is going to manage the country? The people or a new dictatorship? I am worried, anxious… I am afraid of losing my identity, I am afraid of losing my rights as a woman. I am afraid of losing my freedom to think, to express myself, to dress how I wish. To talk. I'm afraid of losing my freedom of expression, which I have only recently torn away from them."
Six month have gone by since January, 14, 2011, when Ben Ali fled Tunisia. Just once in one's lifetime, to witness that the will of the people can topple a dictatorship is a heady but very pricey feeling. The Tunisian revolution, in which Tunisian bloggers played a part, has truly rocked the world and has set very high expectations. And it is now in troubled waters. There are talks of postponing the elections in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya is suffering. Syria is in hell. Bahrain is shocked into silence.
Dear Lina, ladies and gentleman, beyond this award that allows us to be together here, this is a crucial moment for bloggers and for us all living in these times of doubt. It's about choice. It's about trust. Who do we chose to trust?
In some countries, the Internet is a battle ground for political powers, where the issues at stake are bigger than us individuals. In this difficult moment, I would like to include in this laudatory speech all bloggers and netizens from around the world who strive to resist injustice. I hope that they will keep faith, and stay safe, as much as possible, because we need their voices. To journalists, and to the "people of the Internet", that is to say, all of us in this digital age, I say: stand by them. Not only because netizens are now absolutely essential to getting diversified and local information on an increasingly complex world, but because they are not pixels and pawns, they are our fellow humans.