Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The "Mass" Upheaval

There are some stages which are common to any revolution - first oppression, then realization, followed by demonstration, acts of repression, evolution of strong leaders, vociferous self proclamation and finally liberation. Major events in history i.e. the French Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Indian independence etc all mostly fall under this category, with regional and local variations.

However, there are not many revolutions in the modern world, which without a proper leader, fully ripe conditions or foreign intervention/help have managed to create a deep impact. Strangely, the "Jasmine Revolution" is one of them. It was unexpected, unplanned and sudden – in fact, it has left Presidents and kings of more than 5 nations, shaking in their thrones.

From Washington to Manila, leaders are asking themselves how did they not see the coming of the "Jasmine Revolution". The awakening of the Tunisians has mesmerized the entire Middle East, especially because Revolution is rare in the Arab world, which has for the most part remained mostly untouched by democratic movements and economic change. It’s surprising as to how a tiny North African nation could steal so much of attention of the world media.  The Revolution has been nicknamed "Jasmine" as it is the national flower of Tunisia and will add to the existing list of colour revolutions.

The spark

It all started in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit seller was subjected to petty bureaucratic tyranny. A policewoman ordered him to give away his scales. On refusing, Bouazizi was slapped and his scales/produce was taken away. Publically humiliated, he went to the local municipality building and demanded to a meeting with an official. With no official willing to hear his grievances, the young man set himself on fire.

With his death, millions of angry young Tunisians had a martyr. Their frustration with youth unemployment, inflation and the 23 year old corrupt regime of Zine Abedine Ben Ali had been mounting in recent years. Bouazizi's suicide "was the drop of water which made the whole cup overflow".

Violence and Aftermath

Violence later increased and the protests had reached the capital Tunis on 27 December with about 1,000 citizens expressing solidarity with residents of Sidi Bouzid and calling for jobs. Momentum appeared to continue with the protests on 31 December and further demonstrations and public gatherings by lawyers in Tunis and other cities. At a demonstration of 250 people, mostly students, in support of the protesters in Sidi Bouzid, police fired tear gas; one canister landed in a local mosque. In response, the protesters were reported to have set fire to tyres and attacked the office of Constitutional Democratic Rally [RCD].

In response to Tunisian protests, Ben Ali declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government on January 14, 2011, and promised new legislative elections within six months. But on that same day Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power in Tunisia. Unconfirmed news reports, citing unidentified government sources in Tunisia, said that the President had left the country. 

It was soon confirmed that Ben Ali had indeed fled, allegedly taking 1.5 tons of the country's gold with him. On January 26, 2011, INTERPOL confirmed that its National Central Bureau (NCB) in Tunis has issued a global alert via INTERPOL's international network to seek the location and arrest of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and six of his relatives.

Ben Ali and US/France

Tunisia achieved independence from France in 1957 led by Habib Bourguiba, who later became the first Tunisian President. In November 1987, doctors declared Bourguiba unfit to rule and, in a bloodless coup d'├ętat, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed the presidency. He and his family subsequently were accused of corruption and plundering the country's money.

The US and France were in love with Ben Ali. They were impressed with his persecution of the Islamists, his economic agenda was touted as a brilliant model that could be replicated in North Africa. and he proved to be a staunch US ally actively involved in the controversial rendition programme. For these reasons, the US tolerated Ben Ali's long record on human rights abuses. and when young people were killed in the recent protests, Washington and Paris chose to stand by their ally.


With high population levels, low educational standards and diminishing economic opportunities, the Arab world is frustrated and is thus trying to come out of its "long silence". Influenced by the Jasmine revolution, winds of change have swept across Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan etc. 

After nine days of protests, President Hosni Mubarak announced that he will not stand for re-election. King Abdullah in Jordan ordered new Prime Minister to carry out Political reforms. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 3 decades said he will stand down when his current term expires in 2013. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claims the country is undergoing process of political reforms.
Wings of Fire in the Arab World
There is no doubt that the common people have popularized their struggle through Twitter and Face book but a major role in awakening the masses has been played by Al Jazeera which has been fearlessly reporting the true picture of the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world, despite political and monarchical pressure.

The push for change in Tunisia is being led by a large population of young, educated people who no longer accept the trade-off of economic stability in exchange for political repression — they want prosperity as well as democracy and liberty. This is something Western nations need to realize. The way to help democracy blossom is to stop viewing the only alternatives for government in Arab nations as either repressive regimes or Islamist extremists. There's a middle democratic road, and Tunisia may now be on it.


How long can a change be averted ? Was there any other option left for Tunisia ? Indira Mukherjee is in search of these answers. You can join her by writing at 

1 comment:

  1. An emotive the name of the revolution suggests, this is a wonderful chance for the Arab world for a politico-economical refashioning. A well researched article.