Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Tunisian Unrest Stirs Arab World
By Emad Mekay
IPS News, January 3, 2011
As Western countries were busy celebrating Christmas and dealing with air
traffic holiday delays because of snow blizzards, the tranquil North African
country of Tunisia was going through events that would have been thought
unthinkable just three weeks ago - public unrest that saw thousands
demonstrate against the regime of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
While the media and policy makers went heads over heals in the United States
and Europe during similar protests against the disputed presidential
elections in Iran in 2009, the unexpected events went largely ignored in the
Western media. Tunisian bloggers and twitter posts are now the main source
for minute by minute development of the unrest.
Arabs across the
Middle East Watched in awe as online video posts and sporadic coverage on
Al-Jazeera TV station showed Tunisians, with a reputation of passivity, rise
up in unprecedented street protests and sits-in against the police state of
President Ben Ali.
The Ben Ali regime exemplifies the "moderate"
pro-Western Arab regimes that boast strict control of their population while
toeing the line of Western powers in the Middle East.
The spark of
the unrest, now about to end its second week, came when a 26- year-old
unemployed university graduate, Mohammed Buazizi, set himself ablaze in the
central town Sidi Buzeid to protest the confiscation of his fruits and
Buaziz’s suicide attempt was copied by at least two
other young university graduates in protest against poor economic conditions
in the Arab country.
Similar to previous unrests in many
Western-backed Arab countries, the police responded with overwhelming force.
There were reports of use of live ammunition, house-to-house raids to chase
activists, mass arrests and torture of prisoners.
initially crushed the demonstrations in Sidi Buzeid after cutting all
communication and roads to the town, only to be faced with more
demonstrations in several neighboring towns.
Egypt had followed the
same tactics against unrest by factory workers in the industrial city Al-Mahal
El Kobra on April 16, 2007, and killed the unrest in just four days after
the regime managed to control media reports from inside the town, and major
Western media outlets either ignored the events or belittled them as
But unlike the unrest in Egypt, there are reports of
demonstrations and clashes spreading in Tunisia to the towns Gandouba, Qabes
and Genyana among others.
The Ben Ali regime blamed "radical
elements", "chaos mongers" and "a minority of mercenaries" for incitement,
all typical accusations by Arab rulers in face of signs of fidgeting among
their oppressed publics.
So far, according to press reports and Web
posts, at least two protestors have died, with many injured in the protests.
On Thursday, human rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni
reported a third death and said that police was conducting house-to-house
raids to chase activists (http://twitter.com/benmhennilina). The report has
not been independently verified.
The Tunisian Journalists’ Syndicate
issued a statement last week decrying official attempts "to hinder media
coverage and stop reporters from doing their job."
communications minister has banned the showing of Al-Jazeera channel in
Tunisian coffee shops or any public viewing, according to another web post
by an unidentified Tunisian man.
A blogger wrote: "They are clamping
down on the Internet too, blocking some sites and Facebook accounts. I might
not be able to post any longer. If I disappear suddenly, please pray for
Comments from across the Arab countries followed in support.
"Thank Allah the peoples of the region are finally waking up and are
protesting against the tyrants who spread injustice and corruption all over
the face of the earth," a post from Dubai said.
"The end of the Arab
regimes looks so near," another post from Egypt said.
are seeing the demonstration as an inspiration. In chat forums and social
media, Arabs were applauding the protestors, often calling them "heroes".
The Egyptian opposition leader Hamadeen Sabahi called for a
demonstration on Sunday in solidarity with the "Tunisian Intifadah".
The fear of similar spillover into Arab countries pushed at least one
Arab ruler to rush to aid Ben Ali. Libya’s maverick leader Muammar Qaddaif
said he was immediately dropping all restrictions on the entry of Tunisian
labour into Libya. Tunisians were free to travel to his oil-rich country for
work, he said.
Opposition says the unrest was prompted by high
prices and unemployment but now has turned political with some demonstrators
calling on President Ben Ali to step down.
Tunisia, like other
non-oil producing Arab countries has implemented a Western-inspired
privatization programme and gradual cut to state subsidies to staple goods
without offering alternative sources of income.
Yet as the Tunisians
waited impatiently, the fruits of the alleged economic reforms never came.
Pictures and video on social media showed protestors holding bread loaves, a
sign of hunger and poverty.
Tunisia’s protests caught the region by
surprise as the Ben Ali regime, like other rulers, had often trumpeted his
country as an oasis of stability.
Trying to absorb the shock, Ben
Ali announced a small cabinet reshuffle but left the interior ministry
intact. He vowed a clampdown on the protestors.