Feature

A revolution in Tunisia

Tunisians have become the first Arab people to overthrow a dictator in a popular uprising.

Tunisians poured into the streets demanding democracy this week after becoming the first Arab people to overthrow a dictator in a popular uprising. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled the North African country for 23 years, fled after a month of demonstrations triggered by unemployment, reports of government corruption, and an unemployed university graduate’s self-immolation. The political elite quickly formed a unity government, but the Jasmine Revolution, named after the state flower, may not be over. Protesters demanded that members of Ben Ali’s inner circle be banned from government. Riot police sprayed crowds with tear gas. The unrest threatened to spread to other Arab nations as a dozen protesters in Egypt and Algeria set themselves on fire.

“The Arab people have reached a boiling point,” said Adla Massoud in HuffingtonPost.com. From North Africa to the Middle East, a “staggering” 25 percent of young people are unemployed. They want jobs, yet their despotic leaders wish only to cling to power. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is entering his 30th year in office. In Libya, Muammar al-Qadaffi has been in power since 1969, while in Syria, the Assads have ruled since 1970. All are ripe for revolution.

No, Tunisia stands alone, said Josef Joffe in The New Republic. With its relatively advanced economy and educated, urbanized populace, Tunisia “sticks out like a bloody thumb from the rest of the Arab world.” History shows that “rising wealth spells falling tyrants,” and the average Tunisian is just rich enough and educated enough to revolt. Other Arab countries are either much poorer, like Morocco, Egypt, and Syria, or so rich, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that their citizens have no particular spur to demand democracy. So don’t count on Tunisia “to set the rest of the Arab world aflame.”

The Jasmine Revolution could still collapse, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. A “new strongman” could emerge or Islamists could take over. “The Obama administration can help fend this off by granting all possible assistance for the staging of free and fair elections.” For too long, the U.S. supported Ben Ali as an ally in the war on terror. It should now aid Tunisia’s nascent democracy.

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