The weaving of esparto: when tradition mixes with passion

The craftswomen with Golden Hands

The passion for weaving esparto was born a very long time ago amongst women in Hergla, the small picturesque village located twenty kilometers away from the city of Sousse.

Known primarily for its natural, robust and hardy appearance, esparto, or Halfa in Arabic, is a perennial herbaceous grass native to the arid steppe regions of southern and southwestern Tunisia.

A tradition of weaving esparto has seen light in Hergla by the women of the city who inherited this work from their ancestors; for decades now, this manual work has been passed down from mother to daughter, and sometimes but less often, from father to son.

Aged 58, widow and mother to 4 children, Faouzia has been braiding esparto for twenty-five years now. This ancestral manual tradition that requires learning a few weeks: it was with her parents-in-law that Faouzia has learnt it, and has since passed on the work to her two daughters, Amel and Nesrine. Since their childhood, the two girls have always tried to imitate their mother and began to make scourtins especially during their holidays.

In Hergla, the weaving of esparto is a daily ritual.

First, Faouzia buys, like all the other women in the village, halfa from vendors or wholesalers who regularly frequent the city, in tight stocks at about 3 dinars: the plant delivered is always stiff and dry. Then the women go out, daily, draped in their bright red Takhlila, with halfa stocks on their heads, from the village to the sea, to soften the fibers by plunging them into the sea all night long.

As for Faouzia, often soaks the halfa in large basins for a whole night, ensuring a similar effect: because Faouzia who can not swim, is afraid of losing her halfa by going to the rocky coast of Hergla

When the halfa becomes supple and easier to handle, she settles with her daughters in the “skifa”, in this large Mosque square, around a cafe, where they begin to weave the stems of esparto, with the same passion and energy, under the burning summer sun or icy sea wind during winter.

At the beginning, Faouzia only learned to braid mats and scourtins. These were mainly used in traditional oil mills that used to grind wheels and scourtins to extract oil from olives. But this mode of extraction has given way to industrialization in the production of olive oil in Tunisia, which is one of the world’s top leaders in the production of olive oil.

Over the years, and thanks to the help and creativity of her daughters, they have diversified and let their inspiration guide them to produce both authentic and trendy items that meet different needs: baskets, bags, mats, tables with a more artisanal side, with purely decorative objects, such as keychains or lucky fish in halfa.

This evolution, however, did not undermine the principle of making creations that are both ecological, sustainable and supportive.

These revisited items modernized with various patterns or bright colors – but developed with natural hues – are always exposed in front of their small house located at the top of the city, in Echorfa.

It’s in this corner of the city, that we meet the different artisanal productions combining authenticity, modernity and innovation, all made by these Hergla women with golden hands, who all share the same passion for this activity.

The fruits of the sweat and passion of these “artists” have fascinated the visitors of this small paradise village, and appeal to Tunisian customers as well as foreigners. There are those who are content with a simple souvenir, a keychain or a small traditional basket. But there are also those who order dozens or hundreds of pieces, which will be resold everywhere in Tunisia and abroad.

However for Faouzia, the making and selling of these products can not guarantee to support her family. Sometimes, they spend days without selling anything, and at the end of the day, the halfa trade brings them only a very limited and uncertain income.

Faouzia has succeeded in passing on this ancestral craftsmanship in basketry and esparto to her two daughters, who today modernize this activity and market their own “revisited” products.

On the other hand, the majority of young people in the city are mostly reluctant to take over their elders, as long as the work of esparto is not considered a source of fixed money, stable and to live decently.


« VoterFly effect » : 3D et Réalité Virtuelle pour encourager les jeunes à voter !

C’est via la recherche d’un sujet de PFE (Projet de fin d’études) que toute cette aventure commence : Raed Ghanja, étudiant à l’Institut supérieur des arts et de multimédia (ISAMM) de  La Manouba, devait en effet trouver un sujet relatif à sa spécialisation – 3D …. Parce qu’il avait déjà collaboré avec Democracy International (DI), organisation américaine basée à Tunis depuis 2012, et que DI recherchait des activités nouvelles en vue de la campagne de sensibilisation pour les élections municipales de 2018 : « bingo » !. En effet, depuis des mois, l’idée de recréer en 3D un Bureau de Vote taraudait l’équipe de DI, tant à Tunis qu’à Washington. Le thème du projet était donc tout trouvé !

Et maintenant ?

L’idée et la thématique du court métrage devaient être travaillées afin de répondre aux besoins universitaires de sa formation, mais aussi aux intérêts de DI. De là est venue l’idée du projet final : créer un court-métrage ayant pour objectif de sensibiliser les jeunes en les incitant à accomplir leur devoir citoyen lors des élections municipales de mai 2018. C’est sur cette base là que l’esprit aussi novateur qu’artistique de Raed a opéré pour donner naissance à ce projet à vocation pédagogique tout d’abord, mais bien au-delà : sortir des frontières de l’université pour devenir un élément phare d’une campagne de sensibilisation des jeunes, en Tunisie, en ayant recours à des technologies jamais utilisées dans ce domaine ni dans le pays !

Voterfly effect … un court métrage

Ce court-métrage se différencie totalement des autres campagnes de sensibilisation déployées par un grand nombre d’organisations, nationales comme internationales, dont l’impact sur les jeunes de nos jours semble limité : le design comme le message ont souvent eu un goût de « history repeating », déconnecté de « l’air du temps ».

Raed a tout d’abord pensé autrement et a su exploiter un élément aussi évident que fondamental : écrire, créer, penser et transmettre en tant que jeune tunisien lui-même ! Il a donc opté pour une idée qui lui ressemble, qui lui parle, en utilisant les codes les plus actuels de visualisation, de science-fiction, et en prenant comme personnage principal un jeune homme qui .. pourrait être lui ? Il a donc créé un personnage à qui les jeunes tunisiens d’aujourd’hui peuvent facilement s’identifier, un jeune avec un look moderne, toujours avec son smartphone à la main, qui ne s’intéresse pas du à la politique nationale et encore moins aux élections !

Lorsque le court-métrage débute, le héros passe devant l’école qui sert de centre de vote : ses expressions reflètent très clairement sa totale indifférence, face à la longueur de la file d’attente des électeurs. Il poursuit tranquille son chemin en fixant son regard sur son téléphone, bien plus important pour lui !

Voterfly effect, le scénario.

Indifférent face aux électeurs présents dans la cour du Centre de vote, le personnage décide donc de filer vers ses occupations. Mais une autre réalité, toute en science-fiction, surgit alors pour briser le cours normal des choses : un éclair tombe, et la foudre frappe le téléphone du héros. La luminosité devient étourdissante et il est alors téléporté dans un futur sombre et hostile : tout l’environnement autour de lui est détruit, la cité entière est en ruine, les déchets sont partout.

Notre héros trouve alors un journal par terre, daté de 2024 : on y évoque les activités d’un régime politique autoritaire, de son leader-dictateur, et tout autour, l’univers est désolé et abandonné. Affolé, notre héros tente de s’extraire de ce « voyage vers le futur » en forme de cauchemar,  frappe son téléphone sans fin jusqu’à ce qu’il arrive à inverser le processus et revenir au temps présent.

Notre héros comprend alors toute l’importance de ce qui lui semblait il y a quelques secondes encore, complètement inutile : VOTER. Alors, tout s’accélère, et il rebrousse chemin et court vers  le centre de vote et suit toutes les étapes du vote, jusqu’à un « happy ending » ?

Le titre du projet fait référence au « Butterfly effect »,  « l’effet papillon » : le battement d’ailes d’un papillon peut changer la face du monde. Le « Voterfly effect » – « le vote », quant à lui, peut aussi changer la face du monde, de la démocratie et des libertés !

A vous de visualiser ici le film complet

Du court-métrage au Bureau de Vote Virtuel & l’expérience VR

« Voterfly effect », ce projet de fin d’études était encadré par DI, dont les activités en Tunisie  depuis 2012, ont toujours été axées autour de projets utilisant des nouvelles technologies et de nouvelles approches dans des campagnes d’éducation civique et de mobilisation des électeurs.

Mais le court métrage « Voterfly Effect » n’était que la première étape d’un projet plus global, qui s’est concrétisé par la suite : créer un Bureau de Vote virtuel, issu du film 3D de Raed. Après l’achat d’un casque de VR par DI, Raed a ainsi travaillé à reconstituer tout l’environnement du Bureau de vote et de permettre à tous les participants, lors des animations et activités de sensibilisation au vote, de chausser le casque VR et de pouvoir vivre l’expérience fantastique d’immersion totale dans l’espace 3D du centre de vote, mais aussi, d’une manière révolutionnaire, de pouvoir suivre les différentes étapes du vote jusqu’à devenir Citoyen électeur virtuel. Un citoyen virtuel mais un enseignement bel et bien réel : l’importance pour tout citoyen d’aller voter pour son avenir, son futur.

En vertu du « Voterfly Effect », du virtuel au réel, il n’y a donc qu’un pas ? : celui de se rendre aux urnes et aller voter pour les prochaines échéances électorales essentielles pour l’avenir de la Tunisie !

Khouloud Kechiche


Le tressage de l’alfa : Quand la tradition se conjugue avec la passion..

Les artisanes aux mains d’or

Une passion pour le tressage d’alfa a vu le jour il y a plusieurs années chez les femmes d’Hergla, petit village pittoresque -devenu ville -, situé à une vingtaine de kilomètres au nord de Sousse.

Connu surtout pour son aspect naturel, robuste et rustique, l’alfa – de l’arabe Halfa -, est une graminée herbacée pérenne, originaire des régions arides des steppes du sud et du sud-ouest de la Tunisie. Il s’est alors créé à Hergla une tradition du tissage de l’alfa, par les femmes de la ville qui ont hérité ce savoir-faire de leurs ancêtres : depuis des décennies, désormais, ce travail manuel se transmet de mère en filles, et parfois même, mais moins souvent, de père en fils.

Âgée de 58 ans, veuve et mère à 4 enfants, Faouzia tresse depuis vingt-cinq ans l’alfa. Cette tradition manuelle ancestrale qui nécessite un apprentissage de quelques semaines : c’est avec ses beaux-parents que Faouzia l’a appris, et l’a depuis, transmis à son tour à ses deux filles, Amel et Nesrine. Depuis leur enfance, les deux fillettes ont toujours essayé d’imiter leur mère et ont commencé à fabriquer des scourtins surtout durant leurs vacances.
À Hergla, le tressage de l’alfa est un mode de vie quotidienne, avec ses rituels propres.
Dans un premier temps, Faouzia achète, comme toutes les autres femmes du village, l’alfa chez les vendeurs/grossistes qui fréquentent régulièrement la ville, en bottes serrées à environ 3 dinars : la plante livrée est toujours raide et sèche. Alors, les femmes se dirigent, chaque jour, drapées dans leurs Takhlila rouge vif, avec les bottes d’Alfa sur la tête, du village vers la mer, pour assouplir les fibres en les plongeant dans la mer durant toute la nuit. Quant à Faouzia, elle se contente le plus souvent de tremper l’alfa dans de grandes bassines pendant toute une nuit, garantissant un effet similaire : et en plus, Faouzia qui ne sait pas nager, a peur de perdre ses bottes en allant sur la côte rocheuse de Hergla faire tremper l’alfa.

Quand l’alfa devient souple et plus facile à manipuler, elle s’installe avec ses filles dans la « skifa », sur cette grande place de la mosquée, autour d’un café, où elles commencent à tresser les tiges d’alfa, avec la même passion et énergie : sous le lourd soleil d’été ou quand le vent marin se fait glacial en hiver.
Au début, Faouzia n’a appris qu’à tresser des nattes et des scourtins. Ces derniers étaient principalement utilisés dans les moulins à huile traditionnels qui utilisaient les meules et les presses à scourtins afin d’extraire l’huile des olives. Mais ce mode d’extraction a laissé place à l’industrialisation dans la production d’huile d’olive en Tunisie, l’un des leaders mondiaux pour la production d’huile d’olive.

Au fil des années, et grâce à l’aide et la créativité de ses filles, elles se sont donc diversifiées et ont laissé leur inspiration les guider pour produire des articles à la fois authentiques et « trendy », qui répondent à différents besoins : des corbeilles, couffins et paniers, des sacs à charbon et légumes secs, des paillassons, poufs ou tables, mais aussi tout un volet plus artisanal, avec des objets purement décoratifs, comme des porte-clés ou des poissons « porte bonheur » en Alfa.

Cette évolution n’a cependant pas entamé le principe d’une confection de créations à la fois écologiques, durables et solidaires.

Ces articles revisités et remis aux goûts du jour avec des motifs divers ou des couleurs vives – mais développés avec des teintes naturelles -, sont toujours exposés devant leur petite maison située en haut de la ville, à Echorfa. C’est dans ce coin de la ville, que l’on rencontre les différentes productions artisanales combinant l’authenticité, la modernité et l’innovation, toutes confectionnées par ces femmes hergliennes aux mains d’or, qui partagent toutes la même passion pour cette activité.

Les fruits de la sueur et de la passion de ces « artistes » ont fasciné les visiteurs de ce petit village paradisiaque, et séduit la clientèle aussi bien qu’en Tunisie qu’à l’étranger. Il y a ceux qui se contentent d’un simple souvenir, une porte clé ou un petit couffin tradi-moderne, mais il y a également ceux qui commandent par dizaines ou centaines de pièces, qui seront revendues partout en tunisie, et bien au-delà, à l’étranger.

Cependant, pour Faouzia, la confection et la vente de ces produits ne peuvent pas garantir de faire vivre une famille. Parfois, elles peuvent passer des jours et des jours sans rien vendre : le commerce de l’Alfa ne lui apporte qu’un complément de revenus.

Faouzia a réussi à transmettre son savoir-faire ancestral en vannerie et en sparterie à ses deux filles, qui aujourd’hui modernisent cette activité et commercialisent leurs produits « revisités ». En revanche, la majorité des jeunes de la ville rebutent le plus souvent à prendre la relève de leurs aînés, tant que le travail de l’Alfa n’est pas considéré comme une source d’argent fixe, stable et permettant de vivre décemment..


Dance Performance "El Korsi" Meets Projection Mappping: JID Aftermovie

A live performance by the dance crew Natural Mystic featuring a projection mapping produced by Democracy International IT Team for
the International Day of Democracy, 15 September 2017.

Projection Mapping Team: Alouane Mahdi, Hbecha Mohamed, Haj Gacem Raed, Jerbi Ahmed, Karabiben Mahdi, and Belhaj Abdallah Amir.

Dance Crew: Rzig Ridha, Manai Bilel, Gasmi Montasser, and Bhiri Maher

Shot by: Mohsen Bchir

Location: Institut Français de Tunis.


Tunisian Miniature City: 3D Projection Mapping

Produced for the International Day of Democracy, 15 September 2017.

Location: Auditorium, Institut Français de Tunis.

The animation gives a short overview of some highlights of the Tunisian democracy's history and shows numbers and stats about the upcoming local (municipal) elections.

Projection mapping (spatial augmented reality), is a projection technology used to turn object and buldings, into a display surface for video projection. This technique is used by artists and advertisers to add extra dimensions, optical illusions, and notions of movement onto previously static objects. The video is commonly combined with, or triggered by, audio to create an audio-visual immersive experience.

We started this project from scratch, making the physical structure out of recycled cardboard boxes. The cubes were next conditionned, paintend and rearranged to form a city shape (1.6 x 3m) including famous tunisian monuments such as "Habib Borguiba Clock" and "Africa Hotel". The next steps were building the 3D model in CAD softwares then designing and animating it to create an animation mixing art, history and recent election data.

The Miniature City is a movable tool to be exposed anywhere (streets, events, concerts,schools..etc)  to engage passengers in discussions about democracy, registering to vote and their role as active citizens.

Projection Mapping Team: Alouane Mahdi - Hbecha Mohamed - Haj Gacem Raed - Jerbi Ahmed - Karabiben Mahdi
Shot by: Mohsen Bchir

Completure: A Crowdsourcing Tool for Better Elections

Guest Post by Mark Malkoun, CEO & Co-Founder of Completure

Living in Lebanon, a country where most media outlets are politicized, my friend Emile Khattar and I wanted an unbiased and unfiltered way to get the news that was affecting our daily lives. So in early 2012, we started developing Completure, an app that enables citizens to report news as it happens directly from their own communities to the rest of the world.

 

Completure allows users to take photos of an incident, write a caption, and post it for public consumption. The “mini-story”, as we call it, is time-stamped and geo-tagged, so app users can see exactly when and where a story occurred. Other Completure users can then vote up or down the “newsworthiness” of a story through a geographically segmented system, which gives citizens the power to determine what is the “top news” in their community.

To prevent would-be spoilers from spreading misinformation, we developed an automatic verification system that scans photo metadata to determine whether a photo has been doctored (we can proudly say that 99% of the stories on Completure are genuine). To reach the wider audience beyond the Completure app, we also included functionality that enables users to hashtag a story with a keyword and share it via Facebook and Twitter.

Emile and I developed Completure because we wanted a way to receive and share news, but we soon found that others were very interested in – and very supportive of - what we were doing. We obtained seed funding from Berytech, a top venture capital firm in Lebanon; we presented – and won an award - at Arabnet, the biggest tech conference in the Arab world; and our work was featured in Mashable, The Next Web, and Wall Street Journal.

 

In late 2012, I received a phone call from Michael Baldassaro, Middle East & North Africa Program Director at Democracy International (DI). Michael said he was using Completure and thought, with a few minor modifications and the release of an Android version of the app (we had only released an iOS version at that time), it could be a very useful tool for empowering civil society and citizens to promote more credible and transparent elections.

Emile and I were intrigued by Michael’s vision for how Completure could be used to contribute to better elections. I jumped at the opportunity to present Completure at an event that DI was organizing in Tunis in early 2013, aimed at bridging the gap between civil society and technology developers in the Arab world. There I met dozens of inspiring activists dedicated to strengthening democracy, including representatives of two organizations with whom I would soon be partnering: Social Media Exchange (SMEX) and Lamba Labs.

In April 2013, Emile and I began working with SMEX and Lamba Labs on a project to empower citizens to hold election officials, political parties and candidates accountable during the upcoming Lebanon parliamentary elections. DI provided us with a grant to develop an Android version of Completure and an application programming interface (API) so that reports sent via Completure, Facebook and Twitter could be aggregated on a single reporting platform.

 

We worked closely with SMEX, which trained civil society organizations throughout Lebanon to empower citizens to develop community priorities for observation during the elections and crowdsource citizen reports via Completure social media. We worked with Lamba Labs, which developed a dynamic platform for aggregating, curating, and publicizing crowdsourced reports sent via Completure and social media. Unfortunately, the parliamentary elections were postponed in May 2013 and have not yet been rescheduled.

On the positive side, due to the postponement of the elections, were able to modify Completure to integrate Arabic-language functionality, maximizing accessibility for citizens in the region; improve the user interface and experience to streamline app performance; and publish a top-quality Android version of Completure, opening Completure’s doors to hundreds of millions of users worldwide. So, when parliamentary elections are held, we are ready!

For now we look forward for seeing Completure in action across the Middle East and beyond. We would love to see social improvements thanks to our technology. We want people to express themselves, show what’s right or wrong in their communities, and collectively decide what issues are pressing.

And what’s more important than elections? Citizens need to be able to know and share what’s happening in their countries during important events like elections, and that’s particularly true when they cannot rely on the mainstream media.


Nouwweb: Opening Government to Empower Citizens in Lebanon

Guest post by Marc Farra, Director & Co-founder of Lamba Labs and OpenLeb

In March of 2013, Democracy International (DI) and Lamba Labs, Beirut’s local hackerspace, joined forces to work on new tools to aid election observation in Lebanon. Social Media Exchange (SMEX), an organization that advocates for a free and open, diverse and dynamic Arab internet, proposed to work with Lamba Labs to create tools exposing publicly available data related to Lebanese Legislators in a project called Nouwweb.

An important decision that Lamba Labs and SMEX made was to publish all the team’s work under permissive open licenses. As Lebanon’s technology sector is still in its infancy with respect to collaboration and resource sharing, Open Election Technology (see Lebanon Election Data, a DI-supported project we conducted in partnership with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections [LADE]) would be our model for reproducible research and analysis.

Contact Your Legislator!
Nouwweb organizes and displays information pertaining to the current Lebanese parliament (elected in 2009) including district, sect, party affiliation, phone numbers, email and presence on social media (Twitter and Facebook). The data itself is gathered from multiple websites, but all are publicly available.

screenshot of the website

Nouwweb presents the data in a searchable, user-friendly phone directory format. You can filter by confession, district or party and immediately get results. The purpose of the tool is to allow citizens to communicate their concerns with their elected representatives. If you are a disgruntled citizen, contact your MP!

Dive into the Machine
We really want to have a conversation with developers, journalists and data enthusiasts. One way to engage the community directly is by building an Application Programming Interface (API), an interface that enables one software program application to communicate with another (hence the name). The Nouwweb API is essentially a program that you can query for information. For example, if you (or another application) want to answer the question 'Who are the parliament members of Jbeil t!hat have a twitter account?' all you need to do is access the URL...:

http://api.openleb.io/search?district=Jbeil&twitter=true

...to get the answer:

[
{
"first_name": "Simon",
"first_name_ar": "سيمون",
"last_name": "Abi Ramia",
"last_name_ar": "أبي رميا",
"gender": "Male",
"gender_ar" : "ذكر" ,
"phone": "",
"fax": "",
"mobile": "03-035902",
"email": "",
"district": "Jbeil",
"facebook": "",
"twitter": "https://twitter.com/SimonAbiramia",
"deputies_terms": "2009",
"party": "Free Patriotic Movement",
"party_ar": "التيار الوطني الحر",
"sect": "Maronite",
"born_day": "6",
"born_month": "3",
"born_year": "1965",
"website": "http://www.simonabiramia.com/Home.aspx",
"other_notes": ""
}
]

While not immediately useful to non-programmers, this type of structured data is valuable to developers building their own applications on top of an API. For example, why not build a web application that shows the twitter network of the Lebanese Parliament? Or combine the data with electoral data to visualize the political reach of each parliament member? If you're looking for inspiration, look at the Clear Congress Project or the Sunlight Foundation's Open Congress data.

The Nouwweb website itself queries the API to create the contact list. It uses the structured data as seen above to build filters by which a user can pinpoint the representative he would like to communicate with. This is a simple application of the Nouwweb interface, but the possibilities provided by publishing an open data API are endless! We can't wait to see how developers might use these tools. The code to build the API is also open source and free to view, modify and share and we are always open to contributions.

Importance of Open Election Technology
Open Election Technology uses open data (i.e, data with permissive use licenses) to disrupt and improve society by disseminating data that can be used for technological innovation, supporting efficiency in election observation efforts, promoting data-driven decision-making, and measuring progress.

Useful data in Lebanon is marked by its scarcity and/or lack of permissive usage licenses. In our talks with entities in the private sector, we find that public domain data whose rights rightfully belong to citizens is usually obtained through less than legal means. It is often resold for profit, and in some cases, back to the government. Entire businesses are built on top of concealed data. If these datasets were rendered public, it would prove a boon to innovation in the private sector and stimulate widespread economic growth.

Published data is important for accountability of public officials. By being opaque about its performance over the years, the government effectively disarms the general public from the tools needed to make a decision at election time. The lack of transparency in government reporting of the news has led journalistic integrity to be disregarded on an almost daily basis, as the media devolves into purely speculative articles. Without accurate open data, organisations attempting to tackle underlying civic problems are practically handicapped.

There is a real need for open data in Lebanon published from government bodies, NGOs as well as private entities. Lamba Labs and SMEX was able to scrape sites for information about the parliament. The alternative would have been for the Lebanese government to provide this information to citizens directly - which would be ideal.

Moving Forward
Lamba Labs and SMEX jointly established OpenLeb as a loose umbrella initiative for open data projects. Members can communicate via the mailing list and contribute to 'data challenges', answering problems in civic society through data. In turn, the team is hopeful that this initiative will spur innovation and be a model for data developers and data projects in Lebanon.

Join us and contribute to a growing open data community!


Mapping Mourakiboun's Parallel Vote Tabulation Simulation

The Mourakiboun network, in a first step to prepare for its observation mission of Tunisia’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections, conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) simulation on June 15, 2014. This simulation is a proving ground for what will be Mourakiboun’s first PVT (supported by the National Democratic Institute), offering independent verification of election results based on a representative sample of polling centers across Tunisia.

On June 15th, Mourakiboun’s 640 volunteers deployed in all 264 delegations and covered 520 polling centers - about 10 percent of Tunisia’s centers The selection of these centers was made possible by Mourakiboun’s innovative polling center mapping project, an ongoing effort to geolocate Tunisia’s 4,800+ centers. With over 85 percent of the centers mapped, volunteers were able to travel to geolocated polling centers in both rural and urban areas for a more realistic simulation of the upcoming E-days.

Volunteers sent SMSs to Mourakiboun’s operation room that included a code for each geolocated polling center. This allowed Mourakiboun not only to receive real time data, but also to know the source and exact coordinates of each observer, adding accuracy and transparency to the eventual observation mission’s findings.

The dynamic polling center map is useful not only for the PVT but a range of purposes, including:

• Providing election officials with a valuable tool to help them allocate human and financial resources more efficiently in administering future elections;

• Offering political parties, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders with a resource to facilitate strategic planning and outreach efforts; and

• Facilitating the visualization of data from the polling center level to promote greater transparency, accountability, and understanding of the electoral process.

A complete dynamic map that has the GPS data collected for all 4,833 polling centers used during the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections will be displayed on Tunisia Election Data website within the next month and it will be available for the public to use and repurpose, as is all the data on the platform.


Lebanon's elections on the map

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) has launched Lebanese Elections Data, the country’s first open data platform that uses open source tools to map elections results. The platform visualizes voter registration and turnout data from 2005 to the most recent voter register of 2014, and the information can be directly downloaded from the platform for any user to review and repurpose. All of the data is sourced from the public domain - originally published by the Ministry of the Interior and Municipalities (MoIM), the Directorate General of Personal Services (DGPS), and www.elections.gov.lb.

The project, supported by Democracy International (DI), aims to create visualizations that foster evidence-based discussions and data-driven debate on election laws, policies, and reforms. The four initial maps correlate to LADE’s proposed electoral reforms: the voter registration and turnout map with a gender breakdown to advocate for greater women’s quota in parliament; the invalid ballots map to demonstrate the importance of a pre-printed ballot; the discrepancies between electoral districts’ eligible voters and their representation in parliament to encourage a proportional representation system; and a map of registered voters by confession to visualize the changing amount and distribution of each sect since 2005.

For example, the platform’s Voters by Gender map shows that, in more than 75 percent of Lebanon’s electoral districts, more women than men turned out to vote in the 2009 parliamentary elections. In more than half of these districts dominated by women voters, they outnumbered men at the polls by 5 to 10 percent. In 6 of the 26 districts where more men voted than women, it was by an average of only 1.3 percent. This map illustrates that women constitute more than half of the voters in over 75 percent of Lebanon’s 2009 elections, and yet women have 2 percent representation in parliament.

Within the last two weeks, the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM) made great strides in their own efforts to provide better access to election-related information. For the first time, the government’s official elections website offers an interactive map using open source mapping software for the public to explore voter registration totals per district for 2013 and 2014. In addition, users can download the results in an excel file and an infographic of the both registers’ gender breakdown. This is a significant step forward for the MoIM, for Lebanon’s nascent open data movement, and citizens’ access to critical election-related information.

The election data platform’s first four maps will be followed by visualizations of Lebanon’s next parliamentary elections, and possibly maps of proposed changes to Lebanon’s electoral law. Read more about LADE’s June 12th launch of the platform, and about Lebanon’s new open data movement for elections results.


Parliament for the People: Lebanon's first open data directory of legislators

On May 31st, Lamba Labs and SMEX - both leaders in Lebanon’s digital advocacy community - launched an open data tool that provides public information about Lebanon’s members of parliament. The tool Nouwweb*, made possible with support from Democracy International, is a directory for all 128 Lebanese legislators that users can sort according to each deputy’s district, religious sect, political party, official phone numbers (where available), and social media accounts. As SMEX says, “the tool aims to encourage more frequent and open exchange between MPs and the people they represent.”

But Nouwweb is more than a public directory or an opportunity to contact representatives; because it is an open API (application programming interface), Nouwweb serves as a foundation for web developers and other tech-savvy users to create visualizations that further explain the workings of parliament. SMEX hopes that “ultimately, civil society representatives, bloggers, journalists, developers, students and educators like you will use these tools and data to support your own initiatives.” As the Sunlight Foundation demonstrates, via a similar API for US Congress data, interactive displays can reveal a range of interesting facts and correlations about representatives – using age, net worth, education, gender and more. While an API’s selection of data relies on what information is publicly accessible (all of Nouwweb is collected from publicly available sources), this provides an incentive for Nouwweb’s users to grow its database so that future visualizations and locally grown initiatives are possible.

 

And that’s where community comes in. The launch of Nouwweb coincides with the start of OpenLeb, a portal where developers and tech enthusiasts can share and collaborate on open data projects. The content and outcomes of OpenLeb depend on the people who use it; to get started and learn more, join the OpenLeb Google Group and keep an eye out for SMEX’s upcoming open data challenges - an opportunity to build community around the benefits of open data in Lebanon.

For more about open data in Lebanon, see SMEX’s Nouwweb announcement and follow #openLeb on Twitter.

*"Nouwweb" is a creative play on words, a combination of the Arabic “nuweb” for parliamentarians and the ubiquitous web.