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TUNISIA TURNS January 17, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Middle East, North Africa.
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The significance of recent events in Tunisia awaits the appraisal of time. Some have said it was a revolution but it may be simply a dictator has been turned out.

For one thing the dictator left town and the country and headed for refuge in Saudi Arabia. The Independent reports:

Buildings burned, army snipers fired from rooftops, other gunfire sounded sporadically across the capital, and at least 42 were killed when a prison was torched, as Tunisia yesterday teetered between continued violent chaos and the first faltering steps towards a possible new start. Other regimes in North Africa and the Arab world looked on with some trepidation lest, as many predict, Tunisia’s unrest should help foment a similar end to their lengthy and undemocratic rule.

The unseating by popular uprising of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule and pocket-filling is virtually unprecedented in a region where democracy is a concept rather than a reality, economic hopelessness is widespread, and militant Islam a potent force. Yesterday, in the wake of Mr Ben Ali’s sudden departure, Arab activists celebrated, thousands of messages congratulating the Tunisian people flooded the internet on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and many people replaced their profile pictures with red Tunisian flags.

One Egyptian human rights activist, Hossam Bahgat, said he hoped that his countrymen could do the same some day. “I feel like we are a giant step closer to our own liberation. What’s significant about Tunisia is that literally days ago the regime seemed unshakable, and then eventually democracy prevailed without a single Western state lifting a finger.” On Friday, activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade regime in Cairo chanted a reference to the Tunisian’s president’s airborne exile: “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him, too.”

Analysts certainly saw Tunisia as potentially a trigger for uprising in other countries in the region. Jean-Paul Pigat, of Business Monitor International, said yesterday: “Looking at the conditions that are necessary for unrest, it becomes clear that Egypt certainly ticks many of the boxes. Food-price inflation in Egypt is among the highest in the entire region, and the impact of food-price inflation on possible unrest should never be downplayed.”

At this point it is difficult to know how successful the Tunisian uprising has been, to what extent it was nonviolent, and to what extent it was spontaneous rather than led. The dictators in other Arab countries, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, may have reason for concern. American foreign policy seems to have been wrong footed since the program is to support dictatorship and “economic liberalism” rather than democracy.

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