Wikileaks played a minor part in the revolution in Tunisia that ended last week with dictator Ben Ali fleeing the country—the information posted on Wikileaks merely confirmed what Tunisians had known all along. The credit has to go to the Tunisian people themselves. The most important factor was the help they got from Anonymous – a group of like-minded individuals who put together a well orchestrated online campaign they called Operation Tunisia.
When Tunisian dictator Ben Ali shut down the open Internet, jailed free bloggers, and closed down Wikileaks in Tunisia, people started to take to the streets. Anonymous, through coordinated DDoS attacks, took down government sites, servers and state-run media channels. The government’s home page was replaced with a picture of a pirate ship under the words “Payback is a Bitch, Isn’t It?” Ben Ali could not communicate with the people of Tunisia.
At the same time, Anonymous opened up the lines of communication for Tunisians on Twitter, IRC, Flicker and YouTube. Operation Tunisia posted videos of support on YouTube. One of the videos described the motives of Anonymous: “No media is able to describe the situation in Tunisia: The (Tunisian) government has jailed the free bloggers and prevented local and international media from getting factual information out of the country. Anonymous is collecting videos and testimonies directly from Tunisian citizens on the streets and on the Internet. Because Anonymous thinks YOU NEED TO KNOW, Anonymous will fight against those who are trying to prevent you from knowing the truth. Anonymous will fight against those who want to steal from Tunisians their right to free expression. . . .”
Anonymous advertises for volunteers
Another Anonymous video on YouTube encouraged Tunisians to, “Join us on the IRC – irc.anonops.ru #opTunisia. If you live in Tunisia – come out on the streets this January 6 and let your voice be heard!
A Reuters article, by journalists Marius Bosch and Georgina Prodhan states, “ Thousands of Anons from around the world took it upon themselves to fight for the people of Tunisia and even discouraged locals from taking part due to the danger of government persecution. ‘If you are Tunisian, do not participate in the DDoS attack,’ One Anon warned on a communications channel. ‘Chances are that you will get traced and arrested. Unless you have means to conceal your IP and know what you are doing, do NOT attack.’”
After victory, Tunisians posted a video on YouTube in German. This is a translation: “On behalf of all Tunisians, I want to thank Anonymous. Anonymous were the only ones to help us. Anonymous has blocked all governmental websites because the government has blocked our internet access so we may not get information. Thank you Anonymous! We want to let you know that you have found new allies and that there are many more people living in oppression.”
Indeed on January 20, Anonymous launched Operation Algeria in response to escalating protests in that country (see below).
Why Tunisia? For Anons the highest ideal is freedom of information—they are radically opposed to censorship. On Jan 21 2010, reporting on the cyber-attacks on Google and computers of Chinese dissidents by the Chinese government, the BBC said that Hilary Clinton said that “China along with Tunisia and Uzbekistan had boosted censorship”. Among Arab countries, Tunisia had the most political prisoners and jailed journalists.
Compare how Anonymous defeated a dictator in Tunisia (bloodless, nonviolent) to how the US government “brought democracy” to Iraq and Afganistan—a ten year quagmire of destruction of the countries’ infrastructure and massive military and civilian deaths that continue to this day.
The dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, at the Whitehouse in 2004
The Obama administration has been, at best, ambivalent about Tunisia and, at worst, compliant (by their silence) in the human rights abuses. Just recently, the Bush Administration was increasing links between the US and Tunisia and downplaying human rights concerns. In December 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “Our bilateral relationship is very, very strong. . . . We are great admirers of Tunisia and the progress that has been achieved under President Ben Ali’s leadership.”
Despite the fact that freedoms of the press, association, and expression were extremely restricted in Tunisia, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a visit to Tunisia in 2006, called the country a “democracy” saying, “We have a very long relationship with Tunisia. . . . Tunisia is a moderate Muslim nation that has been and is today providing very constructive leadership in the world.” (Associated Press)
In their own words, Anonymous says that it is “just an idea – an internet meme – that can be appropriated by anyone, anytime, to rally for a common cause that’s in the benefit of human kind. This means anyone can launch a new ideological message or campaign under the banner of Anonymous. Anyone can take up a leading role in spreading the Anon-consciousness.” While Anonymous began as a group of teenage computer hackers, it no longer is, Anonymous is open to all people. It now represents average people who want to get involved.
Anonymous is growing in numbers: after the jailing of Wikileaks’ Assange in December and Anon attacks on sites that tried to block Wikileaks—Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, a Swiss bank, etc.—many citizens joined them and they now have 10 000 members.
In their Reuter’s article Bosch and Prodhan say, “Global chaos is not Anonymous’ aim. . . . As the WikiLeaks and Tunisia cases show, the group targets specific institutions and its attacks are designed to temporarily delay more than destroy. . . . ‘This time last week, ex-Tunisian Ben Ali president didn’t think he’d be running for the hills, with Anonymous activists on his heels,’ Jon Newton of P2Pnet writes. ‘There’s no doubt about it. The bastions of corporate and government dominance are being battered down by People to People Power.’”