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Meanwhile, Back in Tunisia, They're Drafting a Constitution on PiratePad

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, March 9 2011

Well, not exactly. But we keep seeing hints and signs that the revolutionary spirit of Tunisia is heavily influenced by open source culture, or what BoingBoing might call "happy mutant" thinking. To wit, on March 4th, Tunisia's new Minister of Youth and Sports Slim Amamou, who is better known as an activist blogger who has been deeply involved in the democracy movement there, tweeted: "Modifions collaborativement la constitution. On va voir ce que ça donne" or "Let's collaboratively change the Constitution. We'll see what happens" with a link to a PiratePad page, an open collaborative editing tool.

Judging from the chat thread that emerged on that Piratepad, one very tough issue emerged--whether a new Constitution for Tunisia could exclude references to Islam as the religion of the country, or to God. And that was with a relatively small number of people actively commenting.

Obviously, proposing to revise a country's Constitution on an open editing platform can't be more than a symbolic act--especially when most people in Tunisia lack internet access and the tools themselves aren't designed to scale up to handle the contributions of more than a few dozen people. But it would be interesting ifwhatever official constitution drafting committee that may come into existence did do its work out in the open, on a tool like PiratePad. It could be a giant civic consciousness-raising exercise, in fact.

I'm just grasping at straws right now, but as I work on curating this June's PdF conference and soak up information about the uprisings roiling the Maghreb, I keep noticing how open source culture pops up in surprising and refreshing ways: Wael Ghonim and colleagues posting the notes of their not-so-secret meeting with the Egyptian military on their Facebook page, so everyone can see and hold them accountable...the crowdsourcing of the reading of secret files liberated from Egypt's torture centers...the networked public sphere of Tahrir Square, which resembled a tech-enabled Paris Commune at its height and which is now battling to sustain itself...

Do you agree? If so, email me your thoughts at msifry-at-gmail-dot-com, or just comment below.

Coda: Juan Cole, an American academic who is an expert on the Middle East, argues that with the abolition of its secret police on Monday and the abolition of state censorship, Tunisia is now a freer democracy than the United States. Considering that our private emails are read by government bodies and national security letters can compel secret taps and searches, he has a point. But whatever you think of the situation here, there's certainly something new in the water in Tunisia.