A new, globally recognized political entity has found its way to Tunisia before the revolution and went legal just last March. The Tunisian Pirate Party combines cyber-revolution with egalitarian politics, a mix that you will never come across elsewhere in over one hundred classical parties that sprung up lately in Tunisia. I met 26-year-old Sleh Edine Kchouk, the president of the PP, a student activist and an active member of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), originally from and based in Bizerte (60km from the capital, Tunis.)
MD: Why did you choose to found the Pirate Party rather than joining an already established political party?
Growing up as a frustrated Tunisian, not represented either by the ruling party or by an opposition helpless in changing the status quo. I got involved with a youth network who named themselves ‘TAKRIZ’ / ‘balls’ (Tunisian cyber think-tank & street resistance network in Tunisia since 1998). This movement has voiced the dissatisfaction of students, activists, young professionals and marginalized youth who have been struggling online and offline for freedom and human rights since the late 90s. In 2010, the international day of youth, we launched the Pirates Party as a present for Tunisian youth. But it was clearly not one appreciated by the government: we were denied visas and we had to work underground. We wanted to launch this party partly because we were inspired by the Swedish initiative of 2006. We were impressed by the role of technology in creating a society where access to information is widely available and culture and ideas can thrive without the interference of any kind of censorship.
MD: What makes the Tunisian party different from say the European Pirate Parties?
Access to information in Tunisia has always been really difficult especially in Ben Ali‘s era. I remember back in 2000, when I fell in love with the internet which was then a luxury, I would spend hours and hours in front of the screen discovering and reading through articles and documents that literally enlightened me about the real situation in Tunisia, the truth behind the glittering image of the dictator and his clan. But little by little, censorship from the government‘s Ministry of Information mounted an incredible offense that outraged me. This is what pushed me to fight for my right to access to information. I realized that a lot of Tunisian youth share my experience and we have started working together since 2010. We offer support to activists who are working to promote freedom of speech both online and in real life.
Adherents of the Pirate Party come from all walks of life in Tunisia - most of them youth under 30, currently students and higher education diploma holders. People who comprise our party dream of change, a positive one. They want a fairer Tunisia. They feel overlooked, suffocating, struggling to get involved in decision-making and influence the future of their country.
MD: So what do you want to change now? After the revolution?
Frankly speaking, I don’t feel that Tunisia has gone through a revolution. I’d rather call it an uprising since the dictatorship is intact, and people took to the streets asking for job opportunities, freedom and national dignity. Have we got some of these demands? Definitely not. We are still deprived of our freedoms, since we have witnessed many cases of police force abuse of peaceful protests even after the so-called ‘revolution’; and those who killed our martyrs and injured so many young people still go completely unpunished.
I believe that we should topple this government too since it is no more legitimate in representing the aspirations of the people. The ‘troika’ works hand in hand with the remnants of the old regime (RCD) which is a terrible let-down. Corrupt businessmen are still influencing politics in Tunisia and following in the footsteps of the mafia of Ben Ali.
MD: Do you expect that the Pirate Party will do well in the forthcoming elections?
First of all, we boycotted the recent elections and I think we will not stand in the next ones as long as they are being run by the agents of Ben Ali, the media of Ben Ali, the police forces of Ben Ali, the judges of Ben Ali. The recent elections were not transparent and did not usher in a new era in Tunisia since the landscape of the Tunisian politics is still poisoned by the icons of the old regime.
MD: The Tunisian Pirate Party‘s popularity Is growing. What motivates people to join your party rather than other parties?
We speak the same language as young people, and are able to target them in our events and activities. Moreover, we believe in their capacities to rebuild and reconstruct our country. We support them and we are holding training sessions to develop their skills as leaders who will contribute to active citizenship and social change. We have found out that young people feel disillusioned with political parties led by old people with old mentalities and traditional ways of doing things.