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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Zied Mhirsi

Interviewed December 10, 2023

My name is Zied Mhirsi. I´m a 34-year-old physician. I live in Tunisia. I work in global health. But since the revolution I´m also a media entrepreneur, and I started the Tunisian News Website. The first one of its kind. I got a Fulbright scholarship to go study in the U.S. at the University of Washington. I ended up being on its faculty for two years. Then I moved back to Tunisia with my American wife, who is a singer/songwriter.

I started blogging in 2004. My blog´s name is Zizou From Djerba. Zizou because my name is Zied. And also because people always say that I look like Zinedine Zidane, who used to be a famous soccer player. I´m bald, just like him. So Zizou from Djerba, that´s the island where I come from. It´s an island that´s famous in the Mediterranean. It has 3,000 years of history. But then slowly I started contributing to the debate of the Tunisian blogosphere.

Debating issues related to different policies of the Tunisian government, either in education or agriculture, or environment. It was quite difficult to talk about these subjects at that time. Because we were fearing the censorship of blogs. So we were trying somehow to have that debate without really mentioning the names so we don´t get caught by the key words we use. So that allowed the blogosphere to thrive. And my blog, like other blogs, became a platform where a lot of people discuss ideas.

And I think that´s the first opportunity we´ve got as Tunisians to talk about issues without really being spotted by the political police of [Former Tunisian President Zine el Abidine] Ben Ali. I was the first experience of debates. And I think that was a great learning experience. Because what we´ve seen recently after the revolution, in terms of discussions, it´s discussions we already had in the blogosphere. So I can tell that we were ahead of everyone.

I think we started as a small community of bloggers who then meet in real life as well. And discuss issues in real life. And that was the added value. But also in the same time, made it kind of impenetrable to those who were not part of also the real-life meetings. So I think the blogosphere was somehow a mini secret society to a certain extent, which allowed it to be underground during the Ben Ali era.