Tunisia: Corruption and nepotism like in the past, blogger

Parties in power have changed nothing, Leena Ben Mhenni

25 April, 10:22

Blogger Leena Ben Mhenni (photo by Linda Pietropaoli) Blogger Leena Ben Mhenni (photo by Linda Pietropaoli)

(ANSAmed) - TUNIS - Leena Ben Mhenni arrives at the appointment in front of a Tunisian café in the centrally-located Rue Bourghiba and looks around warily, as if afraid of being followed. The tiny, strong-willed 28-year-old Muslim girl is one of the most well-known faces of the Tunisian uprising in her home country and abroad. She was the blogger who followed the first protests against Ben Ali's dictatorship first hand and reported on them to the world, speaking out against the regime's corruption and violence and describing its end. Over a year later, while the Constituent Assembly is trying to draw up a road map for the future, Leena bitterly claims that ''in reality nothing has changed. To the contrary: the situation is even worse than when Ben Ali was in power.'' She told ANSAmed that ''it is true that the people have shed their fear and express their opinions more freely, something that was impossible during the 23 years of the regime. However, the situation in general has not actually changed. When young people took to the streets in December 2010 and January 2011, they called for work, the fight against corruption and nepotism.

With Ennahdha (the moderate Islamic party) and other parties in power, corruption and nepotism have returned and nothing has been done about unemployment.'' While the transitional government ''cannot even manage to keep Salafi fundamentalists under control'', noted the blogger, ''the police have instead resumed using strong-armed tactics on demonstrators calling for transparency and democracy. ''Exactly like in the times of Ben Ali. I would never have imagined finding myself once again in this situation,'' said Leena.

Scenes from a distant past were repeated a few weeks ago, ''when security forces used truncheons and even stones to beat the protestors gathered to celebrate the 'Martyrs of the Revolution' on April 9. I was also beaten. Three policemen held onto me while another bludgeoned me on the head and back. They even groped me to humiliate me at the sexual level, touching me all over my body in the middle of Tunis, in front of everyone,'' she said. These are tough times for young bloggers. There isn't censorship any longer, but Leena said that ''militants paid by government forces manage sites on which they slander and spread false information''. Those who continue to fight on the media for democracy are often taken to court on ''trumped-up charges'', claims the activist. As for herself personally (she was also a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, later given to a Yemeni activist alongside two women from Liberia), she said that she ''is not afraid'', despite having been threatened and included on a list of people to eliminate by a number of Muslim extremists. ''I have lost my personal life,'' she said. ''Everything is being watched. I am attacked and insulted, targeted.'' Meanwhile a huge man wearing a baseball cap recognises her on the street and begins making fun of her, kissing her hand and insisting that she do the same to him. ''If you want equality between men and women, why don't you kiss my hand?,'' he continues to repeat. The blogger is embarassed. ''See how it is? In any case, I assure you that I will not stop and I will continue to tell the world that 'elections' do not automatically mean 'democracy' here.'' (ANSAmed).