Will the Tunisian revolution lead to democracy?

Professor Emma Murphy writes:

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali came to power in 1987 through a constitutional coup and he appears to have been removed from power through a constitutional coup.

The key here on both occasions was not the constitution but the army.

In 1987 the army moved to secure stability as an increasingly senile and paranoid President Bourguiba threatened to bring the country to a political and economic crisis.

Today it has moved to restore that same stability by removing a president whose person and family have become synonymous with corruption, growing wealth disparities, and political repression.

The question now is whether the interim leadership council will be used to move the country towards a democratic future through meaningful political reforms, free and fair elections, a liberalised media and a new inclusive approach to rule, or whether this is a stalling tactic by the army and the regime elite to quell protests and then restore their grip on power.

Patrick Cockburn notes:

Conditions vary across the Arab world but there is plenty in common between the situation in Tunisia and that in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. Economic and political stagnation is decades old. In some states this is made more tolerable by access to oil revenues, but even this is not enough to provide jobs for educated youths who see their path blocked by a corrupt elite.

There are echoes of the Tunisian crisis in other countries. In Jordan the security forces have been battling rioters in Maan, a traditional site of unrest in the past where the government has difficulty coping. In Kuwait there was an attack by security forces in December on academic and members of parliament. Food prices have been going up.

Yet all these regimes that are now in trouble had a carefully cultivated image in the west of being “moderate” and anti-fundamentalist. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, President George Bush and Tony Blair made much of their democratic agenda for the Middle East, but when one of the few democratic elections to take place in the region produced victory for Hamas among the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, the US did everything to thwart the outcome of the poll.

The Middle East still has a reputation for coups but a striking feature of the region since the early 1970s is how few of the regimes have changed. The forces behind the Tunisian events are not radically new but they are all the more potent for being so long suppressed.

Western governments have been caught on the hop because explosions of social and economic frustration have been long predicted but have never happened. The extent of the uprising is yet to be defined and the Tunisian army evidently hopes that the departure of Mr Ben Ali may be enough for the government to restore its authority. The generals could be right, but the shootings over the last month failed to work. There is no particular reason why the same tactics should start to work now.

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One thought on “Will the Tunisian revolution lead to democracy?

  1. Norman

    This shows just how arrogant the West is, thinking they know which way the wind is blowing. Judging the Middle East by Western standards instead of by Middle Eastern ones, is why we always get it wrong. This Government has got to quit relying on the so called think tanks & their so called experts. I also believe that the members of Congress need to step back from their reliance on those elites, both inside & out of the various countries. Considering all the corruption that takes place through all the Governments of the known World, it’s no wonder the U.S. blunders along the way it does.

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