Saturday, 15 January 2011

Yeezey Moment on #Sidibouzid

Jacked from Reuters
FotoCredit: Gulf News

Yo, Tunisia I'm really happy for you that you've kicked out Ben Ali n all and the world's started paying attention to you. I'm even a li'l jealous that we couldn't do the same thing with our Robert Mugabe, minus the 65 and rising deaths (condolences to those who perished in Tunisia)...But uhmmm I'd've preferred it if the expulsion of Ben Ali had happened without all this attention and only the forward thinking bloggers, Al Jazeera, SBZ News, Global Voices readers, connected tweeters, North Africans and Arabs in my timeline were tweeting about Ben Ali. Even though most of the non-journalists and non-bloggers who retweeted the violence, hardship and frustration experienced by Tunisians were basically ignored and the story didn't make it into mainstream Anglo Western media till the 11th hour, it was way better that way. Better when there were no self-congratulatory tweets and armchair disciples cloaked as liberal columnists writing the gospel of St Julian of Assange who released the cables that sparked a revolution. The revolution was not ignited in Sidi Bou Zid where a frustrated graduate set himself aflame in protest to the hardship and humiliation he'd suffered as a vegetable seller, no it all began because of a US embassy cable released by a suave, international man of mystery and his secret organisation. Apparently Tunisians were completely oblivious to their own government's corruption and weren't frustrated enough by the economic situation to do something about it that it took St Julian of Assange's leaks to rile up the masses. Why didn't Elizabeth Dickinson et al, jump to the broadsheets when the self-immolation of Mohammed Bou Azizi happened? What about on Day 10 when the government cut off most forms of digital communication in Sidi Bou Zid? Surely these were the moments to start tweeting and writing the New Testament of the Great Wikileaks Revolution, the Fall of the Emperor of Carthage. 

Day10 might have read: Verse 1 - The twitterwhale wept. Verse 2 - The wicked Emperor of Carthage hath declared there shall be no internet for the townspeople of Sidi Bou Zid. Yea the hand of the ruler hath been chief in this threat upon thy sons and daughters. Verse 3 - We fall upon our knees in despair and mourn with thee twitterwhale, Lord why hast thou forsaken us, our social media revolution shall surely fail! Verse 4 - Hath the Lord forsaken the scribes and journalists in bondage? The terrible Emperor hath declared not another word 'gainst him shall they write. St Julian of Assange's revelations hath made the people revolt, but the world shalt not know of this.
Verse 5 - HTTP Error 403 Access Forbidden.

 ...But that isn't what happened, St Julian of Assange's revelations weren't the main catalyst of what happened Sidi Bou Zid, so there was no interest. As Max Fisher of the Atlantic tweeted at the time, the spat between Glenn Greenwald and over the contents Bradley Manning files was far, far, far more compelling than reporting on some unknown Arab journalists in a small North African town that had been under siege for ten days. When Anonymous Ops attacked the website of the Tunisian government, it raised a few eyebrows, but that was all, nothing to sustain long-term interest in those now falling over themselves to congratulate social media and Wikileaks on 'leading a revolution.' 

Obviously they can't explain why in this Twitter-led 'revolution', the tweeters on my followers list didn't care much for the few tweets I posted on Tunisia or RT'd, but now the #Tunisia tweets are coming thick and fast because the anglophone media corporates finally decided on Day27 that Tunisia's turmoil was worthy of serious attention as Ben Ali was on the brink of demise. If the revolution is going to be tweeted, it will only be tweeted because there is a big enough political machine behind it to make it happen. If the revolution is going to be tweeted and retweeted it is going to happen because the politically minded do it, as was the case with (forgotten) Iran, not to wait +20days until The Guardian, CNN or BBC give the go-ahead. 

During the post-Ben Ali power vacuum things seem so unpredictable. In less that 24 hours there have been 3 leader changes and the militia, looters and police are having their way harassing citizens and foreign reporters while witchunts for the most supportive members of Ben Ali's regime are being carried out in haste. It feels like an Animal Farm/Night of the Long Knives situation where Mr Jones of Manor Farm is replaced by Snowball. It happened before in 1987. President Habib Bourguiba ceded his presidency to Ben Ali after a coup supported by the military. Twenty-five odd years later, same thing different scenario. The expulsion of Ben Ali is led by the people but the army and Presidential guard now have control over Tunis, Tabarak is on the verge of food riots and according to one tweeter, @rafik from Tunis: 'trust me people of kasserine,thala ou sidibouzid (semi-arid areas) are unlikely to see jasmine [revolution], and they paid the price.' 
This is why I feel it's inaccurate to call this a 'revolution' as though things have changed and to speak of it in the past tense. Tunisia's story is still unfolding. The army wields power against defenceless citizens. Fouad Mebazza a member of the Old Guard has been interim President for less than a day, but some in the ivory towers of Foreign Policy, NY Times and elsewhere had already declared this a revolution past by Friday evening. It's also impossible for them to think that decades of poverty, unemployment, activism, state corruption and censorship could  have driven people into protes because it's too hard to give credit to the ordinary people who rose up in solidarity and to commemorate Bou Azizi's death...Wikileaks and St Julian of Assange in Tunisia make a better gospel. It does, doth it not?  

For the record, I'm team Julian Assange & Wikileaks, and I'm not mocking him, but those who are desperately trying to spin this as a Wikileaks story. And yes I do acknowledge the role all forms of social media played in this, but I think it's impact is over-emphasized and dismisses the events that took place on the ground and it also fails to understand the process of events on the ground. And there's also an over-emphasis on Twitter, it wasn't just Twitter that people used to send out messages. I've concentrated on the level of public response to critique the notion that this is a social media revolution because often when people speak of social media revolutions the scale of impact is always key determining factor and the fact that no amount of tweets, Facebook postings and You Tube videos got massive global attention yet in comparison to the Iran Green Movement of summer '09 recieved worldwide attention and Neda Soltani became the face of the cause.

1 comment:

Jay said...

You can always trust Babylon to come jack your swag and never let you run tingz. Easier to large up Wikileaks and social media, than to understand this from the people's perspective. That's the mistake. Agree that Facebook n dem played a part but like y'say tings are overstated and context is needed.
Funny Bible verse dere, burnnnn!