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Lisa Mullins: The protests that have spread to parts of the Arab world began in Tunisia. Weeks of unrest in the North African country swept out the autocratic president last month. Now a caretaker government is running Tunisia. Presidential elections are set to be held there in the next six to seven months. But the dust hasn't settled, not by any means. This past weekend there were more violent protests in Tunisia. Tunisian leaders are trying to tamp down the tensions. Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for WAMU in Washington, D.C. He's just back from Tunisia. Sabri, I wonder what's changed in Tunisia since the president fled and if the people in Tunisia got the revolution that they were looking for.
Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, you know, I'd say they're getting it. They're getting it. Right now, there's basically a monumental, national operation to put the country back together. So, everywhere from press freedom, liberty, internet freedom, investigations into unfathomably vast corruption that happened in the previous regime. Everyone's sort of getting in on the project. Now, today, for example, the parliament voted to give the president decree powers, basically to make elections happen in a timely fashion. The RCD, that's the former ruling party, was suspended. So, this big massive machine that was the arms, eyes and ears of the president before is, ostensibly, not going to be able to function. Fears of that, of course, still keep people a little bit worried, but, you know, that's the idea. So, they're getting it, I think is the answer.
Mullins: OK. And the caretaker government that is in operation right now, does it include of his political party, Ben Ali's political party?
Ben-Achour: No, the only one who does have an affiliation is the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi. Everyone else has been brought in from the outside. From everywhere. I mean, some from Europe, from every which place. It's sort of like the greatest hits of Tunisian technocrats abroad.
Mullins: Now I understand there is one particular new member of the government we want to focus on. This is a blogger who was jailed during the protests last month. He was released and he now has a new job in the government. He's got a very interesting story. Why don't you tell us?
Ben-Achour: Yeah, Slim Amamou. He's technically the minister for youth and sports and he runs a computer company. But he's very well-known for his free speech and freedom of the internet blogging. He tried to organize a protest last spring after the government cracked down on a number of websites. So, he was arrested. He was imprisoned over his online efforts to sort of promote free speech and freedom of information. Just at that time, after having been in prison a few days, that he was called to serve in this ministerial position. He describes his role as giving a view into what's happening inside of government. So, he'll directly tweet what's going on. [xx] actually recently asked him to stop tweeting live, because they were reading what he was tweeting, while he was, you know, he was in the meeting with them.
Mullins: [laughs] Busted.
Ben-Achour: So, yeah.
Mullins: Was itÃ¢â?¬ ¦ By the way, was he being critical of the government he had just joined when he was tweeting in these meetings?
Ben-Achour: I think he's just being transparent, you know, saying, you know, this is what happened. He's very much a person, you know, when you follow him on Twitter, he's very much a person that will have throw-in opinions from all over. Even if they're critical of him, for example. So, you know, he has strong differences of opinion on whether or not any particular action is the best one to be taken. Or, people criticize him for even having joined in the first place. Some people call him a sell-out, but he will include those opinions. And he includes everything.
Mullins: Can you hold him up as an example of one of, of perhaps the new faces of Tunisian government, even in transition? Because on the other hand it sounds like it would impossible at this point to completely shed any of the practices or influences of the old president, who's now out, Ben Ali.
Ben-Achour: When you look at this new government, it's kind of extraordinary. You know, these people are technocrats, and extremely educated. Many have taken paycuts to do this work. But, like you said, there are remnants in the government of the former regime. And I think, for example in freedom of the press. Yes, the press is largely free right now, but, you know, someone, a little while back, ordered the arrest and closure of one of the national TV stations, right? We still don't know where that came from.
Mullins: And how about on the other hand? Where do you see the freedom that wasn't there before?
Ben-Achour: The freedom is everywhere. I mean if you just walk down the street, people are talking. They just non-stop talking politics, anybody. People are chatting, and this is unheard of. Before you would have to look over your shoulder if you said the word Ben Ali, you know? So, that's hugely different. The press can report on whatever it wants, which has never really been the case, and they're doing that. The internet, you can access websites. You can go to Youtube or Dailymotion, or pretty much nothing is blocked except for porn and terrorist-related websites.
Mullins: And you couldn't do any of that before?
Ben-Achour: No. No, I mean, to give you an example, the police would go and look at people's mobile phones to see if certain banned videos had been downloaded on to them.
Interviewer: Sabri, as you well know, people in Egypt were watching what's happening in Tunisia. Are Tunisians now watching what's happening in Egypt?
Ben-Achour: They are, they are. I mean, and to a certain extent they're extremely proud that they, you know, were able to launch this massive thing we're seeing around the Middle East. And they're also sort of looking with a little humor in that up until recently, it's been a sort of copy and paste, as they say, operation between Tunisia and Egypt. Right down to the speech that Mubarak gave was very, very similar to one that Ben Ali gave. So, they're watching and I think they're very proud that they've set an example.
Mullins: Sabri Ben-Achour, just back from Tunisia, he's a reporter for WAMU in Washington. Thank you very much, Sabri.
Ben-Achour: You're very welcome.