News / Africa

Could A Tunisian-Style Revolt Happen Elsewhere?

A police officer faces protesters during a demonstration against the Constitutional Democratic Rally - RCD, the party of deposed President Ben Ali, in the center of Tunis, 18 Jan 2011
A police officer faces protesters during a demonstration against the Constitutional Democratic Rally - RCD, the party of deposed President Ben Ali, in the center of Tunis, 18 Jan 2011


  • Nabil Fahmy, Dean, American University in Cairo, School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

Cecily Hilleary

Years of anger and dissatisfaction in Tunisia over corruption, joblessness and other economic woes have erupted recently. What was unimaginable two months ago has taken place—Tunisia’s government shattered. Now, analysts are looking at other regimes in the region for signs of similar unrest. They do not have to look far. There have been self-immolations by protestors in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania. Jordanians have demonstrated against high food prices. At an economic summit in Egypt, Arab League Chief Amr Moussa warned Wednesday that “the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and the general recession.”

Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S.
Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S.

Nabil Fahmy, Dean of the American University in Cairo’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and a former Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, speaks with VOA's Cecily Hilleary.

Hilleary: Ambassador Fahmy, a third man has set himself on fire in Egypt.  Are we seeing the beginning of a Tunisian style revolt in your country?

Fahmy: No, I don’t think so. I think what you’re seeing is a reflection of the region as a whole following what happened in Tunisia with tremendous interest. They were also quite surprised by how it unfolded in terms of the violence that occurred, the very large number of casualties and then by how quickly the Tunisian president left the country.

VOA's Cecily Hilleary speaks with Amb. Nabil Fahmy of American University in Cairo:

There’s also a bit of a “copycat” effect. In other words, people feel frustration—and obviously the people have emulated the process because of their frustrations and fears, concerns, feeling that this was the way to attract attention. I think it is a bit superficial to say what happens here can happen similarly in other countries.

Having said all that, it is alarming, yes. It is alarming to see what happened in Tunisia in terms of the violence between the government and the people. It is alarming to see people anywhere, even in my own country, feel obliged to put themselves on fire.  That reflects that some people feel very frustrated.

Now, again, whether this is simply a “copycat” situation or a reflection of a greater problem, I think it’s too early to say.  But I don’t really believe that this is something that will be repeated in a rapid fashion from one country to another.

But I think frankly, if I may say, that the Arab countries generally have to seize this occasion to learn the lessons from what happened in Tunisia, to look at their problems and how quickly and how effectively they are responsive to the concerns of their people. They have to seize the occasion to have a better relationship, a more symbiotic relationship between the executive organs and public opinion. And I say this across the board in the Arab world. I’m not talking about any country in particular.

Hilleary: Are we seeing that kind of examination of conscience in Egypt?

Fahmy: Well, again, my first answer is that it’s too early to tell. You can’t make a judgment on what’s happened over a few days since the Tunisian situation, particularly when you have an Arab summit now in Sharm el Sheikh on economic issues. Everybody’s busy with that.

But let me take you back a step before that. I actually think at the end of last year, we had one election and in the fall of this year we will have another, I think this whole year will be a year in which Egyptians look at themselves by way of the government looking at itself, by way of the people deciding what role they want to play because of the election process.

Hilleary: So what makes Egypt different from Tunisia?

Fahmy: One distinct difference between Egypt and Tunisia, for example, that serves the Egyptian situation is there’s no comparison whatsoever in terms of the freedom of the press in Egypt and what it was in Tunisia. There is an almost absolute free flow of information inside Egypt, and that was not accessible at all in Tunisia.

On the other hand, Tunisia has a much larger middle class and, frankly, the percentage of educated people in Tunisia is statistically much higher than almost any other country in the Arab world. So I mention positives on both sides—and problems on both sides—simply to emphasize that we all need to look at our problems.

But it is, I think, simplistic and superficial to assume that because it happened “here” it will happen “there.” Yes, you will see people saying, “If it happened here, maybe we’ll try doing the same thing in other parts of the Arab world.” And that’s why I don’t think that you’ll find this emulated quickly. I do believe it’s an occasion for all of the Arab world to learn the lessons and to develop a better relationship with the people.

Hilleary: There’s a scheduled demonstration on January 25 in Cairo, I understand, to which Mohamed ElBaradei is invited. Is there a possibility that it could spark something larger than just a peaceful, quiet demonstration?

Fahmy: Let me answer that in the following fashion: First of all, I’m not aware of the details of the demonstration. That being said, demonstrations have been allowed in Egypt over the last two or three years which you would never have seen in Tunisia; by the way, so there is a fundamental difference between the clamp down in Tunisia and the situation here. We’ve had demonstrations in front of Parliament for the last four years, on a regular basis.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs