Last week’s discussions pertaining to policy development and strategic planning got me thinking about a very unique country insofar as this topic is concerned. Tunisia, a small North African country, is best known for having undergone a revolution that ignited the ‘Arab Spring.’
Well, last spring I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Tunisia almost exactly one year after the country had just become newly independent from the former dictator Zine ben Ali. Almost every Tunisian I met is connected in some way as far as social media is concerned – most commonly with facebook. It is now understood that had it not been for these social networking tools, Tunisians would not have taken to the streets and demanded for change. Ironically, the government used these tools as ways to keep the public quiet – but obviously that was not enough.
After the revolution, there has been a tremendous boom in how Tunisians communicate and debate about the future of the country. ICTs have enabled doors to be opened to groups previously unable to participate in social activism. Groups in the southern part of the country who were the marginalized poor are now making their voices heard, thanks to ICTs that before were only accessed by select groups of people who were well educated and trained to navigate the murky waters of a censored internet.
In a report titled “Tunisia: From Revolutions to Insitutions,” authors Zack Brisson and Kate Krontiris cite this phenomena as “e-activism” which is evidence of a newly robust civil society. Many of these activists seek to change the political atmosphere in the country depending on their platforms (ex: traditional versus progressive, islam versus secular), and are using the internet as their tool. In response to these individuals and groups, the Tunisian Internet Agency, TIA, (which before was the agency responsible for censoring) is now engaging with – rather than harassing – activists.
The report covers a broad range of topics related to post-revolutionary Tunisia and where it is headed, but the one overarching theme is the role that ICTs have had in transforming civil society. This is just one example of what having the infrastructure and development in place can do for a country’s ability to use ICT as a tool for democratization.