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JANUARY 13, 2011 2:44PM

Tunis Rising: Why We Should Be Watching

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It is perhaps unsurprising that the American media has largely ignored growing unrest in Tunisia.  North Africa has rarely inspired widespread US coverage, but what’s happening there could mark a paradigm shift.

Widespread protests were catalyzed by the mid-December suicide attempt of Mohammed Bouazizi.  Bouazizi, a twenty six year old college graduate, immolated himself in response to rampant unemployment and poor treatment by Tunisian police.  He has since succumbed to third degree burns.  His action sparked a series of protests throughout Tunisia.  While the protests may have begun in response to social and economic conditions, they have now become a full-fledged political uprising. 

Thirty five people have reportedly been killed in the clashes between police and protestors.  The initial government response of police repression has not squelched the protests, if anything they are growing.  President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s hold on power is becoming more tenuous; he has fired the Interior Minister (who controlled the police) and promised to hold inquiries into violent police repression.  In a further effort to appease protestors, he pledged to create 300,000 new jobs. The Tunisian stock market has plummeted in the past week.  The Tunisian government has imposed a dusk to dawn curfew, which rioters continue to defy.  Tunisia seems to be on the brink.  It is not alone; protestors have also taken to the streets in neighboring Algeria over the rising cost of food and unemployment. 

Tunisia is a democracy in name only.  Since its independence in 1956, it has been ruled by the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party, a repressive, autocratic regime.  The Tunisian style of rule is not unfamiliar in the Middle East.  Autocratic Arab regimes have long relied on political repression and media control to maintain their hold on the so called “Arab street” and any democratic forces.  Shifting economic realities, a burgeoning young populace, and wider access to independent media may mean that these tactics will no longer be sufficient to retain power.  President Ben Ali’s unconvincing moves toward conciliation may not be enough to tamp down the unrest in Tunisia.  The Tunisian regime may have to allow for real democratic participation, or face a revolution.  And Tunisia may not be alone.  Arab leaders are sure to be warily watching North Africa.   

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You got my support. Post more of this.
Thanks Mission!

To Rwoo5g--Yes, Europe is definitely a continued influence! And the social and economic claims bring to mind French strikes. But Tunisia does have real demographic, institutional and economic similarities to the Middle East.

An update:
Events are unfolding quickly. Today the Tunisian parliament has asked for a nationwide deployment of the military. President Ben Ali has stated that he will not run for reelection in 2014; he has offered to lift all bans on the media and to cut food prices.

According to AlArabiya, President Ben Ali tried foist the blame on others, saying, “I have been deceived, they deceived me. I am not the sun which shines over everything.I understand the Tunisians, I understand their demands. I am sad about what is happening now after 50 years of service to the country, military service, all the different posts, 23 years of the presidency."
Thans for the update B.Mc. Rioting is something I keep tabs on.
"According to AlArabiya, President Ben Ali tried foist the blame on others"

Sound familiar on the right side of the aisle in DC?
If this takes hold in Tunis the repercussions throughout the Arab world is going to be very unsettling for autocratic leaderships who have western educated young. They thrive on an uneducated and poor population to sustain their power. Even now in most Arab countries there is festering unrest against their governments. Internet suppression has been their greatest tool and it is slowly eroding. Good post these people are tired and pissed. o/e r}
the usa is a democracy in name only too. it's economy is gutted, and will not recover. what money it has it wastes on foolish wars and pandering to the mismanagement of the rich.

why watch tunisia? the beltway is strangling america and is about equally uncontrollable.
The American media is asleep.
Thanks. This was very informative, and as you pointed out, unknown to most of us. An educated, unemployed, twenty-something population is a powder keg if there is sense of optimism. R
good try and good reading.....but first the it was a bit more prosaic as the people were revolting for lack a basic staples, such as bread, and the associated high prices; after that it also became political and, just the other day ben ali escaped to paris with a treasure of gold ingots.....
a new government has been hastily put together but it still has three of ali's cronies in it, thus keeping the uncertainty social and political at a high pressure level....
europe and usa should indeed be on a very high alert just to try and avoid islamic fundamentalism coming so close to the southern shores (check the massacres of copti people in egypt)