Tunisian Pirates Rule the Waves – An Interview with Slim Amamou

Tunisian Pirates Rule the Waves – An Interview with Slim Amamou

On 17 January 2011, Slim Amamou was appointed as the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports – essentially a deputy minister – in a caretaker Tunisian cabinet. The caretaker cabinet had been formed after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been the brutal dictator of Tunisia since a coup d’etat in 1987, had fled the country. This was the result of weeks of protests and campaigns to overthrow the Ben Ali regime.

Slim Amamou himself was a noted ‘dissident’ blogger in the country. He had been arrested for organising a protest against censorship on 22 May 2010, and was arrested again during the height of the protests on 6 January 2011. He spent five days under interrogation at the Ministry of the Interior, and a further three in prison, before being released. He later described this experience to French radio station Public Senat:

“It was psychologically very hard, we were deprived of sleep we were handcuffed seated on a chair for five days. They make you believe lots of things: that they’re torturing your friends and family. You hear voices, people being tortured in the next room and you think it’s your family. But it wasn’t true.”

He resigned from his government post in May 2011, after the return of internet censorship. In September 2011, he was awarded the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Human Rights Prize jointly with Khaled Saeed, who was beaten to death by Egyptian police officers on 6 June 2010. Since then, Amamou has had a greater involvement with the Tunisian Pirate Party, leading to it being officially legalized in 2012. He has also become heavily involved in the campaign to legalize cannabis in Tunisia, during the next elections (in 2017) the Pirate Party plans to use a marijuana leaf as their party symbol on the ballots. We decided to ask him a few questions about his recent work, and about his experiences in government back in 2011.

Pirate Times: Are you still involved in the Tunisian Pirate Party, and would you consider standing in the next election?

Slim: Yes, I’m active in the Pirate Party since I founded it in 2012. I’m not standing in next elections – which will be local elections in March 2017 – but I’m managing the campaign strategy.

Pirate Times: Back in 2011, I understand you were expelled from one Tunisian Pirate Party, and then joined another. Could you enlighten us as to what exactly happened?

Slim: I was not expelled from the Pirate Party. When I joined the transitional government, I had to abandon temporarily my partisanship, as agreed with other members of the government, and stopped the project of legalizing the party. Then there is this guy who decided to found another Pirate Party so he declared publicly that he expelled me although I never met him before, and he has never been part of the group that founded the original party in 2010. In the end his Pirate Party was officially recognized in 2012 and ours was too. The situation now is that we have a good relationship with this guy, and we are more inclined to consider the fact there are two Pirate Parties as a feature, not as a bug.

Pirate Times: Do you feel that you made some important achievements whilst in government, and, looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Slim: I hardly made any achievements that could be traced back to me in the four months before I resigned. Most people remember me for driving a funny car and for taking position for legalizing cannabis and generally for the tone and contrast I set up with politicians they were used to. I think I participated in making the government more humane and vulnerable… which I consider an achievement.

Pirate Times: In Iceland it looks as if the Pirate Party might be forming the next government following their election this year. Would you have any advice for them, as the only Pirate Party member to have held office in a national government?

Slim: I don’t think I’m in a position to give advice to such smart guys and gals. But one thing I took from my experience, is that too much attention tends to reshape your social network. The logical consequence is disconnection from (previous) reality. So beware of social network reshaping attacks.

Pirate Times: For a long time, you have supported the legalization of cannabis. Has any progress been made on this in Tunisia, and do you really think this is a possibility?

Slim: Yes. We made a huge achievement with our last campaign. A new draft law has been proposed by the government to the parliament and is waiting for a vote. This new law has the merit of removing the one year jail mandatory sentencing that is the current law. We have around 1700 people going to jail every year for smoking pot. The new law is not good either, but it is a huge improvement.

Pirate Times: You have been described as the “symbolic figure of the democracy movement in Tunisia.” How far do you agree with this view?

Slim: It felt this way for a year or two after the revolution. Not any more now. Now I’m the symbol of legalization of cannabis. Things evolve fast over here.

Pirate Times: In certain areas of the world, internet censorship is still a massive issue – what do you think can be done to combat this?

Slim: I think research should be done about censorship to determine exactly when it should be used or to assert in a definitive way it should never be used. Some philosophers and sociologists should be put to work on this. Because right now it’s arbitrary. Some areas of the world censor the internet on the basis of intellectual property, some other areas based on political views… and nobody is in a position to patronize others.

Pirate Times: And, finally, what do you see as the biggest issues facing Pirates and all internet users in today’s world – and what would you advise us to watch out for?

Slim: I think the biggest issue is the personalized world view distortion. We’re more and more relying on the internet for our world view. And that world view could be manipulated on an individual basis. That is to say your world view and your opinions could be managed. Of course, the world view of every internet user could be managed automatically with more granularity than mass media, but that’s not the scariest part: imagine the world view of a head of a state managed by a small team in another part of the world.

Pirate Times: Thank you to Slim for your frank words about your situation and the situation of the Pirate Party in Tunisia. We wish him the best of luck in his current campaigns and in his future ones.

Featured image by Pirátská Strana, CC-BY-SA 2.0.

edit 24/5: Clarification that PPTN will use Marijuana leaves in elections 2017