Tunisia sends a message to the Arab world

The BBC reports:

A state of emergency has been declared in Tunisia amid protests over corruption, unemployment and inflation.

The decree bans more than three people from gathering together in the open, and imposes a night-time curfew.

Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has dismissed his government and dissolved parliament, and called new elections within six months.

Thousands have gathered in the capital Tunis, urging the president to quit.

Hashem Ahelbarra writes:

Those who watched President Ben Ali delivering his most recent speech noticed a man with a trembling voice saying the opposite of what he stood for.

He said that he was sorry, that he’s been duped by his entourage, that now he got the message and that he will leave power in 2014.

Was he genuine or just buying time.? He is definitely in damage control mode, and while we don’t know for sure what his next move will be, it’s pretty much obvious that the glass ceiling of fear has been for ever shattered in Tunisia and that the police state that Ben Ali created in 1987 when he came to power in a coup seems to be disintegrating.

Simon Tisdall writes:

The trouble started last month when Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, an unemployed graduate, set himself on fire outside a government building in protest at police harassment. Bouazizi’s despairing act – he died of his injuries last week – quickly became a rallying cause for Tunisia’s disaffected legions of unemployed students, impoverished workers, trade unionists, lawyers and human rights activists.

The ensuing demonstrations produced a torrent of bloodshed at the weekend when security forces, claiming self-defence, said they killed 14 people. Independent sources say at least 50 died and many more were wounded in clashes in the provincial cities of Thala, Kasserine and Regueb. The latest reports spoke of continuing clashes in El-Kef and Gafsa.

Despite Ben Ali’s assertions, there is no evidence so far of outside meddling or Islamist pot-stirring. What is abundantly plain is that many Tunisians are fed up to the back teeth with chronic unemployment, especially affecting young people; endemic poverty in rural areas that receive no benefits from tourism; rising food prices; insufficient public investment; official corruption; and a pseudo-democratic, authoritarian political system that gave Ben Ali, 74, a fifth consecutive term in 2009 with an absurd 89.6% of the vote.

In this daunting context, Ben Ali’s emergency job creation plan, announced this week, looks to be too little, too late.

If this long tally of woes sounds familiar, that’s because it’s more or less ubiquitous. Across the Arab world, with limited exceptions in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, similar problems obtain to a greater or lesser degree.

Gideon Rachman, currently in Dubai, writes:

In the wake of 9/11, the Americans decided that the Saudi autocracy was thoroughly corrupt and was stoking up radicalism in the Middle East. In 2005 Condi Rice, then Secretary of State, made a famous speech in Cairo calling for democratic reforms in the region. But the election of Hamas in Gaza demonstrated to the Americans that Islamists were quite likely to win free elections. The House of Saud and Hosni Mubarak suddenly looked like quite good bets, again.

Now the Americans seem to be tentatively re-embracing the cause of reform in the Middle East. Perhaps, they have been spooked by events in Tunisia. In any case, Hillary Clinton has just made a big speech down the coast in Qatar, calling for social and political reforms. The Americans seem to be trying to get ahead of events. But I suspect events will get ahead of them.

As the principal backer of autocratic rulers across the region, the only useful thing the US government can do is stand out of the way.

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4 thoughts on “Tunisia sends a message to the Arab world

  1. sprechblase

    Dear American Goverment,

    please don’t feel the urge to fill in an (to you) assumable vacuum. Stay at home and don’t touch the upcoming process wich only would be to your own interrest and not for the Tunisian people….


  2. Norman

    At least it’s relatively Peaceful, up to this point, anyway. Looking at the mix of ages that we can see, it seems everyone is participating, though I didn’t see any youth.

  3. Lorne Marr

    The president has been forced to flee the country so he doesn’t have to keep his empty promises that evidently came very late. I just don’t understand how come the leaders of another country allow him to stay there. He should be held responsible for the situation in Tunisia.

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