First Creative Commons Salon Tunis: a celebration of openness, creativity, freedom of expression

Yesterday`s first Tunis Creative Commons Salon was one of the most coherent I`ve ever seen. After assisting to a 2 hours and half performance of different artists and activists working in different fields (from music to comics to cyber activism and blogging) one could feel like having met with Tunisia`s freedom of expression “hard core”movement. Each artist and activist, in his/her own field – whether visual art or blogging,etc- was fighting for two very simple things: expressing thoughts freely and have the right to access  information and knowledge in an open, transparent way.

Tunisian rap group Armada Bizerta -who is now a regular in Creative Commons` meetings, having performed at the “Sharing the Spring” concert in Tunis last July and at the CC global meeting in Warsaw in September 2011- opened the Salon with an unplugged set accompanied by the multi-talented Kerim Bouzoita (who is a blogger, a scholar, a film maker, a musician). Armada Bizerta`s rap shows how much politics matter for this new generation of Tunisians, and how the revolution is an ongoing process which did not stop on January 14th, when Ben Ali left. “I say NO!”, one of the group`s latest song, takes inspiration from recent protests against Qatar`s intervention in Tunisia`s domestic affairs and the Gulf country`s support to religious parties in a country that, as Armada shouts in its rap, “has not made the revolution to find itself ruled by a foreigner”. “La wizara qatarya fel aradi at-tunsya” (no to Qatari presence on Tunisian lands), shouted Armada in a very powerful unplugged rap that rocked the crowd at the CC Salon.

Then Nadia Willis (who also hosted the Salon in the beautiful boutique and art gallery Arty Show), from Yaka comics collective, explained how the comics-makers, illustrators, visual artists in Tunis have organized themselves in different collectives after the revolution to boost freedom of expression and protect it.  She smiled when recalled that, after Ben Ali`s departure, the artists enjoyed themselves a great deal by doing graffiti and illustrations in apartments that were former property of Leila Trabelsi`s, a symbolic act where the citizens  have finally taken back what was stolen by dictatorship.

Nawaat`s Sami Ben Gharbeia`showed how the web platform worked before, during and after the revolution. He showed stuff from the first online demonstration against Ben Ali, “yezzi fock”, to the collection of pictures that have spotted the presidential airplane landing in different European airports to take Leila Ben Ali go shopping without any excuse of being on an official visit. Nawaat`s strategy before the revolution has been to show the average Tunisian citizen -with a simple language and tangible examples- that he was not living in the Tunisian “postcard” that Ben Ali was selling out to the West. Once the revolution erupted, Nawaat`s role was focused on curating news and videos, translating, tagging and archiving them, in order to give the Pan-Arab and international media professional news material to work on, in order to produce news items and updates on what was happening in Tunisia between December 2010 and January 2011. And now that Ben Ali is gone, Nawaat finally has a legal status: it became an association, opened an awesome office near the Casbah in Tunis and is doing plenty of activities, including hosting the hackspace curated by Chamseddine Ben Jomaa and Ali Hentati.

Chamseddine, alias Kangolya, another symbol of Tunisian activism, presented the hackspace to the CC Salon crowd and beautifully explained the meaning of the opengov movement tracking it back to ancient Greece.

The newly born association of Tunisian bloggers illustrated how they are now getting together,  organizing themselves and trying to give themselves editorial rules, too. Blogging has been for years the only counter-voice to an official press which was totally submitted to the regime, therefore bloggers have developed incredibly professional skills and a “grassroot” ethics of cross-checking sources, quoting and linking them, etc. They probably can teach the official press and “professional” journalists how to re-organize themselves, now that the former dictator is gone.

CC Salon Tunis was able to offer an overview of all these experiences that are related one to another by the will of these folks to advocate for transparency, openness, freedom of expression, creativity. These light talks were punctuated by the music –Armada, Saloua ben Salah, Undergaa, Kerim Bouzoita-. A film on the former Tunisian cyber police, “Memory at risk”, directed by Kerim Bouzoita and licensed under CC, was also shown.

The energy flowing at Arty show gallery yesterday was a tangible sign that a new Tunisia is coming out, and will rock the world.

Tunisia`s 7hell!

Many things have changed in Tunisia since one year ago. For me, the most relevant -and the most charming- is that the fall of Ben Ali`s dictatorship has opened a Pandora vase which, in this case, was full of good things that have been repressed and hidden. The vibrant creativity of the Tunisian youth is one of them. The few times I visited Tunisia during Ben Ali`s regime I had the impression it was a suffocating country. They were trying to sell us foreigners the idea of the carte postale (postcard), of the safe beautiful country not touched by any problem, and no political or security issue. They use to pass us boring (according to me) Tunisian films that were the exact projection of what the former colonial powers (especially France) wanted to see coming out from this country. And I could see no youth`s  activities, except from the one I witnessed online, done by the brave Tunisian activists, like Nhar 3ala Ammar, the flash mobs, the protests, daring videos like the ones posted by Astrubaal.

But the post-14 Janvi Tunisia is an explosion of creativity. And the vibrant Tunisian youth is driving the change, organizing youth generated media activities, grassroot events, communities meet-ups. I`ve recently visited the amazing office space opened by the Nawaat folks near Tunis` Casba -a beautiful, historic place which in 2011 witnessed huge mass protests that have brought down two governments after the fall of Ben Ali-.   It`s a traditional Arabic house, which reminds me of the Damascene houses I`ve lived in, where Nawaat has set up its offices and the awesome hackspace, the first one in Tunis, whose activities are coordinated by open source advocates Kangoulya and Ali Hentati. They are carrying out a number of projects dedicated to openness, freedom of expression, free and open software together with the many open communities that are present in Tunisia (Ubuntu, Mozilla, etc).

This upcoming Friday 27th Jan at 7pm they`ll be hosting a community talk regrouping these communities, Creative Commons Tunisia, Wikimedia (who`s trying to set roots in Tunisia), and Nawaat of course. The same day, at 2pm, Wikimedia will present Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and try to get more Tunisians helping creating original online content in Arabic.

And on the 28th at 6 pm, Arty Show Galery in La Marsa, Tunis, will be hosting the first Creative Commons Salon in Tunisia, celebrating openness and creativity. A CC-licensed film about Tunisian cyber police by Kerim Bouzoita will be shown, and many “open” artists will be featured as CC-friendly rap group Armada Bizerta and the comics collective Yaka. The Tunisian bloggers` association will join and give a talk, as well as Nawaat and Kangoulya who will present the OpenData and OpenGov projects.

Tunisian activists have in fact started campaigning for 7hell (ouvre-open), a movement which regroups bloggers, techies, artists, politicians and who ever is interested in pushing openness and transparency. The OpenGov and OpenData campaign promoted by 7hell activists is the sign that Tunisia is moving in a very interesting direction, towards building a direct link between citizenship and institutions. It is the sign that Tunisian revolution was not an “anti”movement only; it is indeed an ongoing revolution and a pro-active movement trying to achieve a real change in civil society and institutions, not only a regime change.