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Tunisia has first satirical paper

18 October 2011, 09:51

Tunis - Tunisia's first satirical weekly "El-Gatous" is in the spotlight as the north African country holds a historic vote this weekend after ousting a seemingly entrenched dictator in January.

The founder of the paper, which translates as "cat" in local dialect, is veteran journalist Slim Boukhdir, who was often arrested and jailed during the 23-year regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali but never let up his criticism.

"We use humour to reflect the current situation in Tunisia, to try and laugh or smile for more serious things. It's our weapon against fear," he said.

Boukhdir, who likes to call himself el-Gatous, said the paper would "serve as a claw against a return to repression".

"It's true that I and my colleagues were not in a position to oust Ben Ali but at least we gave him a few sleepless nights by unveiling his role in repression and general corruption," he said.

Boukhdir launched the paper eight months after Ben Ali and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia into exile in mid-January after weeks of popular protests against his autocratic North African regime.

Salem, a newspaper seller in central Tunis said the "first three editions were snapped up, saying: "We have never seen anything like this."


The paper costs 500 millimes and Boukhdir, who also has a blog and writes for  several internet sites, says he will boost circulation from the current 10 000 level.

The latest issue has fugitive Libyan former strongman Muammar Gaddafi and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad making calls to Tunis to be judged here because as Boukhdir says, "there are no real trials here for thieves and criminals".

Ben Ali, once backed by the West for his supposed role as a rampart against Islamisation, fled to Saudi Arabia a month into the leaderless uprising by Tunisians driven to the streets by social injustice, poverty and corruption. The revolt set off the "Arab Spring" of region-wide revolts that since have toppled the leaders in Cairo and Tripoli, and still threaten others.

Now, after a short transition period marked by protest against the pace of change and sporadic fits of violence, Tunisians will on Sunday have a chance to take charge of their destiny in the Arab world's first post-revolution vote.

The satirical weekly targets former Ben Ali regime figures including Beji Caid Essebsi, the current head of state, and Boukhdir is unfazed if they sue.

"I will never appear in court if any of these people file a suit," he said.

Taoufik Ben Brik, a journalist and another veteran critic of Ben Ali, said the weekly was "different from other papers which only speak to themselves.

"Slim Boukhdir is the last errant dog in the city and I could not but be his companion", he added.


Ben Brik said he had got permission to publish a newspaper entitled "Against Power".

Media freedom has been under scrutiny in Tunisia after attacks and demonstrations against a television network for airing a film deemed offensive by some Muslims.

On Saturday, the Islamist party Ennahda, tipped to dominate the elections, condemned an attack on the home of the head of Nessma television the day before and denied any role in the violence.

But Ennahda party chief Rached Ghannouchi also accused the station of "provocation" for having aired the animated film.

The globally acclaimed film on Iran's 1979 revolution offended many Muslims because it depicts an image of God as an old, bearded man. Islam forbids any depictions of God.

On Friday, shortly after the attack on station chief Nabil Karoui's home, the station accused some imams of having incited the violence, alleging that Ennahda, though nominally moderate, had tacitly encouraged it.



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