By Shahzad (BytesForAll, Pakistan) Tunis, Tunisia, 12 November 2005
Maxigas — a friend from Hungary — and myself had the opportunity to go to the Tunis City Centre last afternoon, just to have a feel of the city and get to know a little more about Tunis. The atmosphere seemed quite festive, and preparations for the WSIS are in full swing. Green plants are being transported in numbers and transplanted on roadsides and important squares, large pictures of the Tunisian President are installed everywhere, and even most of the banners also carry his pictures welcoming the WSIS delegates ;) But questions remain….
The city is getting flooded with people from all nationalities, from all over the world. However, the common Tunisian people, don\‘t seem to be much associated with the event. It is a huge UN conference, and Tunisia is the host country… The question that remains is what and how (if it has to) will this process bring in the form of some good for Tunisians?
There is no second opinion that Tunisians indeed are an extremely friendly people. But being a foreigner and first-time visitor in this country, one is quite concerned about few things.
Security around the venue and in the city is very intense. Guards everywhere — who only speak Arabic or French — are staring at you all the time. Communication, for people like myself is indeed problematic, as not many speak English here.
While one can understand that, in an increasingly hostile world, such a huge international event is prone to terrorist attacks and strict security measures are necessary, but suspecting everybody without any reason is something that makes me very uncomfortable.
Maxigas had to register and collect his badge from the WSIS registration centre. I accompanied him to the centre and then thought of taking some pictures of the registration area to share with folks@bytesforall.
Looking at our cameras, when we still had to take a picture, this security person came to us and warned us to refrain from taking pictures. Then, he asked for our passports and started questioning as to why we want to take pictures.
We informed him that we plan to share these on various blogs and websites, to which he responded that only accredited journalists are allowed to take pictures. He also went through all the snapshots available in our digital camera.
In the meantime, the lady translator was apologizing again and again for this. We were detained and questioned for about 15 minutes and allowed to go. We did request them though to place some notices and signs to let other delegates know that photography is forbidden in the WSIS area.
For me, it is very interesting, since almost every delegate is carrying this weapon and surely would want to photograph their event, exhibition area, friends etc. and, in doing so, could seriously fall into trouble.
There are also reports about the internet being censored. We need to confirm this but knowing the atmosphere here, it seems quite possible. Was just thinking to interview a group of local Tunisian about their views on WSIS, but then suddenly realized that I am not an accredited journalist and these security people wouldn\‘t know about blogging and postings on websites, and I may get arrested. So, forget it!
Civil society delegates seem very charged, vocal and up to do their best for all conflict resolution to help the governments arrive at the decisions and agreements in the best interest of all in the world.
There is an age old tradition that civil society holds parallel events, alongside UN Summits to raise their voices on the relevant issues. But at the WSIS Tunis, the planned Citizen\‘s Summit for Information Society is still without a venue.
A confirmed venue was refused a few days ago, on a funny reason. There is a meeting of civil society representatives in the evening today with the EU delegation in Tunis, where they plan to raise this issue as well and request them to intervene.
Tunis by night… (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)