The question was evidently a troubling one for the (generally reserved) minister of Culture. On Friday, September 22, Minister Hayet Ketat Guermazi stopped at Nawaat’s stand among the festivities organized for Dream City. Apparently, the detour was worth her time. Two days later—a Sunday, no less—an employee from the National Heritage Institute was urgently dispatched to take photos of the cover page for Nawaat Magazine’s special issue #2 on « Saied’s New Order ».

So…photo or caricature? However burning the question may be, we will not answer it here. Instead, we will leave it to the experts at the Ministry of Culture to decipher the nature of this cover and weigh the gravity of our « error ». What we will say is this: the incident which took place last Friday was a very accurate and barefaced reflection of the extraordinary (mis)adventures that unfold under Saied’s New Order.

Provocation, you say?

Friday, September 22. As she toured the cultural festivities during the opening day of Dream City, the minister of Culture stopped at the stand occupied by Nawaat. And Hayet Ketat Guermazi was not impressed by what was on display: a poster of the cover for Nawaat Magazine’s special issue #2. Questioning the « real » reason for the image’s placement just across the entrance, the minister voiced her disapproval of what she considered a « provocation » and unjustified prejudice against the president. Finally, she « kindly » asked Nawaat’s Logistics Manager who was present at the time to hang the poster elsewhere, if not take it down altogether.

The poster was not removed, nor was the minister disinclined to pursue the issue. On Sunday, September 25, an employee of the National Heritage Institute was deployed by his superiors on a mission to photograph the poster on display at Nawaat’s stand. The objective, ventured the employee, was ostensibly to determine whether the image was a photo or caricature.

Provocation, you say? Who exactly is driving efforts to bend the will of the media in general, and of Nawaat in particular?

Series of attacks

These incidents for which we have yet to receive any explanation from the Ministry are not unprecedented. Nawaat is accustomed to cyber-attacks carried out on a near-to-daily basis, and to the stratagems employed by a range of government representatives. On March 23, 2022 in Rades (a southern suburb of the capital), police agents prevented two of Nawaat’s photojournalists from completing their assignment. Our colleagues were taken to the police station at Rades Meliane and their equipment was temporarily confiscated, despite the fact that they were carrying the necessary work authorization.

Nearly four months later, on July 18, 2022, Mohamed Yassine Jelassi, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) and member of Nawaat’s editorial team, was assaulted in the capital during a protest organized by the « Civil Coalition » against the constitutional referendum. What might have first passed for a few disparate hassles has since come to resemble a series of repeated offenses.

The real question that begs asking is this: who are the real agitators? The transgressions and practices described above offer several clues. The incidents which unfolded during Dream City—barely 48 hours after the arrest of caricaturist Tawfiq Omrane for his press cartoons—reveal the extent of authorities’ intolerance for criticism, and their aversion to artistic forms deemed undesirable because relatively rare.

In sum: Nawaat’s troubles with the minister of Culture, plus the comical dialogue with the National Heritage Institute employee on a mission of great urgency, hint at the fear which a simple illustration, photograph, or article can stir up among our officials. For any media outlet committed to ethical journalism, however, what other purpose could there possibly be?