The Open Source Advocate Who Became Minister
Slim Amamou is one of the main figures of the Tunisian Open Source community, first arrested for his activism against the Tunisian regime during the last revolution, later appointed as Minister of Youth after the Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s fall. Issa Mahasneh asks in this blog post: "Should the Arab World need revolutions to have Open-Source-friendly ministers?".
Hard-core Open Source advocate, member of the Pirate Party, anti-regime blogger and long-time cyber-dissident are surely not the best requisites to become a minister in an Arabic country. But the exception to the rule just came out from the post-revolution Tunisia, when the 33-year old Slim Amamou was appointed Secretary of State (Minister) for Youth and Sport.
(CC-NC-SA by Jillian York)
I first met Slim last year in Cairo, we went discussing the whole state of Open Source in the Arab World. I have to admit that my knowledge of Tunisia's politics at that time was deeply scarce, Slim kindly opened my eyes in front of the Tunisian status quo and another awful Arabic reality, giving me a terrible overview of what Tunisians dealing with the web had to face every day; mainstream websites like Youtube were blocked, blogs and sites with 'sensible' information for the regime closed and open web activists like Slim, who constantly worked for an accessible and open net, were persecuted and arrested by regime's henchmen.
"How can we have an Open Source industry in a situation like this?", he asked me. Totally agreed with him, adding the fact, unluckily common to the Arab World, that a corrupted political system like the Tunisian one does not put Open Source as a priority, on the contrary, it seems there is a 'secret' factor between political corruption and adoption of closed-source and proprietary software.
Slim proved that, as Tunisia created a "Ministry of Information Technology, Internet and Open Source" just for political and funding reasons and later shut it down, the Open Source plans (if any) were finally pushed to an end as Steve Ballmer visited Tunisia and met with the former president.
Things started to be even worse when the web became controlled and closed by the government, and the open web happened to be the state's darkest nightmare and biggest enemy. Slim knows that very well, he works for net neutrality and free/open Internet, he has spread the news about Tunisian goverment hacking different Facebook accounts, stealing passwords and deleting anti-regime pages, but after that he was accused of trying to 'destroy' and hacking government's sites and he was finally imprisoned in the last days of Ben Ali's regime. Handcuffed to a chair in one of the interrogation rooms of the interior ministry and psychologically tortured by the dictator’s men, led him to believe that the screams he was hearing from neighbouring rooms was his family members being tortured.
But Friday 14th revealed to be a different day for millions of Tunisians like Slim. After 4 weeks of demonstrations, the revolution finally gave its fruits. Ben Ali's regime ended with the former president flying away to Saudi Arabia, a new -temporary- government was formed and Slim Amamou was appointed as Minister of Youth.
But, should we believe that a revolution is the only way for an Open Source advocate to become a minister in the Arab World? Maybe, ministers of ICT in this part of the world are not getting the whole picture behind Open Source; the social, economical and ethical factors belonging to it are often minimized or faced with doubt. Corruption is there and difficult to deny, censorship is applied and a popular demand like the adoption of Open Source is not heard. Probably we will not need a bloody political revolution like the one in Tunisia, but a technological one that would be able to change, innovate and open our governments' way of thinking.