The week of the US election coincided with the 21st anniversary of ‘change’ in Tunisia. But while Americans went to the polls to elect their 44th president, in its 50 years of independence, Tunisia has had just two presidents – Habib Bourguiba and the current president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power for 21 years – and looking forward for yet a fifth five-year term.

In his inaugural speech, Ben Ali said that he was establishing the foundations for a revival of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights:

“Fellow Citizens,
Our people have reached a degree of responsibility and maturity where every individual and group is in a position to constructively contribute to the running of its affairs, in conformity with the republican idea which gives institutions their full scope and guarantees the conditions for a responsible democracy, fully respecting the sovereignty of the people as written into the Constitution. This Constitution needs urgent revision. The times in which we live can no longer admit of life presidency or automatic succession, from which the people are excluded. Our people deserve an advanced and institutionalized political life, truly based on the plurality of parties and mass organizations.”

According to some Tunisians, history has proven that the above declaration is a far cry from the truth.
Commemorating Ben Ali’s 21st anniversary, Tunisian bloggers were really creative and seized this opportunity to write many ironical posts exposing the political situation in Tunisia.

The blog The Tunisian Debate chose caricature to talk about this occasion. He wrote a first post [Fr] with the following picture and a one sentence commentary:

Qui mieux qu’Obama, symbole du changement, pourrait nous féliciter de 21 ans de changement !

Who better than Obama, the symbol of change, would congratulate us for 21 years of change!

The metaphorical way in which the same blogger tackled the issue makes me think of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm – with Tunisia being the Arab world’s 21st century Animal Farm.

He wrote:

En Tunisie, nous assistons depuis 20 ans à un phénomène étrange qui prend de l’ampleur chaque année: A partir d’halloween, des chiens sortant de nulle part se mettent en rang et aboient à tour de rôle. Ils polluent l’espace public et étouffent par leurs cris les chants des oiseaux. Ils y vont crescendo et d’aboiement en aboiement ils infestent la totalité de la ville. Le septième jour de novembre ils se rassemblent tous pour nous annoncer en chœur l’arrivée du…Mahdi!

In Tunisia over the last 20 years we have witnessed a phenomenon which grows every year. Starting from Halloween, dogs appear out of nowhere, stand in a line and take turns barking. They pollute the public space and their barking drowns out birdsong. Their barking gets louder and louder and their barking takes over the entire city. On November 7, they gather in a choir to announce the arrival of…the Messiah!

Sofiene Chourabi write a post entitled: In the Worship of Big Brother. He said:

في روايته الشهيرة “1984″ هاجم الأديب جورج أروال جميع المؤسسات والهيئات الرسمية والخاصة، وانتقد جل الذهنيات والعقليات السائدة التي تمس من الحريات الأساسية وتتدخل في الحياة الخاصة للأفراد.
العين الكبيرة لـ”الأخ الأكبر” في الرواية هي لحزب يحكم البلاد في دولة “أوسانيا” ويراقب كل حركة قد تصدر هنا وهناك، ويعاين كل نفس قد يبدو وكأنها زائدة على النصاب. دولة “أوسانيا” تغمرها صور عملاقة في كل مكان وتلفزيونه ينقل على مدار الساعة التفاصيل الدقيقة لحياة قادتها، ووسائل البروباغندا تسخّر لإبراز الأمجاد والبطولات.
نقرأ هذه الرواية مجددا على ضوء الإمكانيات الهائلة المرصودة هذه الأيام التي وقع ضخها للاحتفال بذكرى 7 نوفمبر طيلة أيام الأسبوع الجاري. صور ولافتات وشحت كامل مدن وقرى البلاد ومظاهر زينة مزيفة واحتفالات غنائية تنظم في معظم بلدات الجمهورية، تتنزل كلها في إطار مشهد سيء الإخراج يذكر بما عرفته الأنظمة الشمولية في أوروبا الشرقية في عصر خلنا انه انبلج بسقوط جدار برلين وزوال فكرة عبادة الشخصية.
لا أحد يقدر أن يفهم سر هذا التجند السنوي إلا من زاوية الرغبة في تكريس الهيمنة المطلقة على المجال العام واحتكاره لفائدة الحزب الحاكم، وترسيخ الرأي أنه “اللاعب الوحيد” على الساحة من دون منافس، فهل بهذا المنطق المغلوط ستدخل بلادنا عتبة الانتخابات التشريعية والرئاسية؟

George Orwell attacked, in his famous novel 1984, all the official and private institutions, and criticized the majority of mentalities which stood as a barrier in the face of basic freedoms and intervened in people’s private and personal lives. The big brother’s eye in the novel belongs to a party ruling the country of Oceania and controlling every movement occurring in any part of the country. Oceania is covered with huge posters of Big brother. Big Brother TV is broadcasting his news with their boring details all the day. Propaganda instruments are used to show his heroism. We re -read this novel again when we see all these preparations to celebrate the November 7th 21st anniversary for a whole week. Posters and slogans are decorating every city, town and village in the country and music concerts are held everywhere. All this is nothing but badly presented scenery making us remember the oppressing rule that the Eastern Europe countries witnessed. This was during a past era which disappeared from our minds with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end the worship of the characters. No one can understand this annual mobilization but from only one perspective that of the longing to obtain the absolute domination on the general space and its use for the benefit of the ruling party. This is the means to consolidate the idea that there are no other competitors for the rule. Is our country welcoming the electoral campaign with this mistaken logic?

The blogger AS number One chose on her part to write in verse to express her sadness towards the political situation in Tunisia:

Et Vlan! Vlan! pour les infinis menteurs
Pour les infinies promesses enrobées de douceur
Pour tous les Ben Ben reproducteurs
Pour les hypocrites, applaudisseurs, éjaculateurs
Pour toutes ces banderoles qui embellissent nos terres
Pour ces fortunes dépensées à tort et à travers
Pour ce mauve, ces couleurs et ces posters
A l’occasion de mon 21 ème anniversaire
Je souhaite à chacun beaucoup de bonheur
De la pourriture, des corruptions, et beaucoup d’espoir
Des derbys, du “Bel makchouf”, et des crédits bancaires
Et Vlan Vlan pour tous ces maux qui hantent mon cœur
Chantons tous en chœur
“Une nouvelle aire est venu, vive le dictateur”

Vlan! Vlan for the countless liars
For the endless promises coated with sweetness
For all these reproducers Ben and Ben [not sure what Ben Ben means here]
For hypocrites, the applauders, the exclaimers,
For all these banners which embellish our lands
For these fortunes spent carelessly
For this mauve, these colors and posters
On the occasion of my twenty first birthday
I wish everyone a lot of happiness
Decay, corruptions, and a lot of hope
Derbies, ” bel makchouf “*, and bank credits
And Vlan Vlan for all these troubles which haunt my heart
Let us sing all the chorus
“A new area came, lives the dictator”

The writer of the blog For a better world has been more direct and wrote the following:

Il y a deux semaines j’ai posté un message sur Bouteflika, Bouteflika yezzi et maintenant, je poste un message sur le président Tunisien, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, ça suffit, moi j’ai 22 ans et j’ai envi de changement, je n’ai pas eu la liberté de m’exprimer dans mon pays, favoriser le pluralisme et les droits de l’homme, on est tous conscients que ceci n’est pas vrai…, j’ai été témoin de certains agissements de la police Tunisienne… Comment faire ? président à vie ?
J’aime mon pays et je ne le laisserai jamais tomber, 21 ans de présidence et un cinquième mandat à briguer en 2009… il est temps d’arrêter… de nous prendre pour des cons… Time for Change…

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about [the Algerian president] Boutaflika, entitled Boutaflika enough! Now I am posting something about the Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Enough. I am 22 years old and I want change. I have not had the freedom to express my life in my own country, to facilitate pluralism and human rights. We are all well aware that this is not true. I have been witness to certain wrongdoings on the part of the Tunisian police… What to do? With a president for life? I love my country and I will never give it up, 21 years of rule and seeking a fifth term in 2009…It’s high time he stopped, treating us like idiots …Time for change.

While some bloggers used metaphors, others preferred direct discourse. Some of them wrote in prose, others in verse. Some wrote, while the others drew caricatures or downloaded videos. But the message was the same: bloggers were united to say that it is high time to end with this masquerade. It is high time for change. In one voice they cried: Ben Ali Yezi Fock !!**

* bel makchouf is a Tunisian TV show in a private channel.
** Yezi Fock Ben Ali means enough of Ben Ali in the Tunisian dialect.

Published on Global Voices