News / Middle East

    Tunisia: Life Without Ben Ali

    Protestors run away from tear gas during a demonstration against former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the center of Tunis, 17 Jan 2011
    Protestors run away from tear gas during a demonstration against former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the center of Tunis, 17 Jan 2011

    Multimedia

    Audio
    • University of South Carolina Tunisia Scholar Kenneth Perkins

    David Byrd

    Many observers are wondering what will happen next for Tunisians. Recently, the country’s longtime leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, left the country as civilian protestors demanded a new government.

    Some are asking whether Tunisia’s long-standing ties to the West will continue, whether Islamists will play some part in a future Tunisian government, and will Tunisia’s economy, considered by many to be among the most stable in the region, remain strong.

    VOA's David Byrd speaks with University of South Carolina Tunisia Scholar Kenneth Perkins:

    Tunisia scholar Kenneth Perkins, professor of history at the University of South Carolina, says “it is true that Tunisia’s economy appeared to be prosperous, but while some people benefitted, many outside Tunis, in remote areas, did not see the results of Tunisia’s prosperity.”

    Author of A History of Modern Tunisia, Tunisia: Crossroads of the Islamic and European Worlds and Historical Dictionary of Tunisia, Perkins says one example is students who completed university degrees but often found it difficult to obtain employment commensurate with their skills unless they were willing to go to Europe.

    One area of Tunisian society that will be closely examined is the middle class, reputed to be larger than other countries in the region.  One question to be answered is what will happen to this segment of society as the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" takes hold.

    “It has the potential to benefit the Tunisian middle class because this has been more of a middle class movement than normally occurs during civilian upheavals,” said Perkins.

    The University of South Carolina historian also says the Tunisian middle class has not only been concerned about economic matters, but is interested in political freedom and the ability to openly express themselves without threat of retaliation.

    Kenneth Perkins, Tunisia scholar and University of South Carolina professor of history
    Kenneth Perkins, Tunisia scholar and University of South Carolina professor of history

    “Zine El Abidine Ben Ali held the country very tightly. He led an autocratic regime in which the ability to express dissent in a meaningful way was limited,” noted Perkins.

    He sees the restrictions of the Ben Ali government on the Tunisian people as a “powerful factor” in the recent events that led to a change in the country’s leadership.

    Another question that will be answered in the coming years is if other countries in the region were affected by the revolution.

    Perkins says the nature of Ben Ali’s regime was comparable to the leadership of other countries such as Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak allowed “small political openings, but not producing meaningful political participation” or democratization.

    “I think in Egypt, in Algeria, in countries particularly throughout the western Arab world where ties with Tunisia are strong they may be looking at the revolution as an inspiration,” contends Perkins.

    Key players in Tunisia

    Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

    Ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for more than two decades. He fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14.

    Mohamed Ghannouchi

    Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi is a close ally of the ousted president. He announced a new unity government this week.

    Fouad Mebazaa

    Fouad Mebazaa was sworn in as Tunisia's interim president last week. H previously served as the speaker of parliament.

    Najib Chebbi

    Najib Chebbi is the founder of the largest and most credible opposition group, the Progressive Democratic Party.

    Moncek Marzouki

    Moncek Marzouki is the head of the small Congress for the Republic party. The formerly exiled political activist and opposition leader returned to the country Tuesday.

    Rachid Ghannouchi

    Rachid Ghannouchi is the exiled leader of the outlawed Ennahdha Islamic fundamentalist movement. In 1992, a Tunisian military court sentenced him to life in prison on a conviction of plotting to overthrow the government. He has been living in Britain but has indicated he may now return to Tunisia. He is no relation to the prime minister by the same last name.

    He says the people conducting the Tunisian revolution have relied heavily upon social media to communicate with one another, the region and the rest of the world.

    “People in neighboring countries are well aware of what has been going on in Tunisia and many would like to see something similar happen in their own countries,” said Perkins.

    Whether Islamists have a place in any future Tunisian government and if there is any similarity between the Iranian revolution, which began more than 30 years ago, and what is happening in Tunisia is another area that Perkins intends to examine.

    “There was an Islamist movement in Tunisia in the 1980s and 1990s that was thoroughly crushed by the Ben Ali government,” said Perkins. “This happened at a time when Algeria was going through difficulties which were tied to Islamist movements. In order to prevent those currents from carrying over into Tunisia, the [Ben Ali] government took repressive actions against Tunisian Islamists even though they were more progressive than Islamists in other countries.”

    Perkins believes current conditions in Tunisia could allow for a reemergence of the Islamists.

    “There are lots of critiques of the current government and the Islamists may be in a position to take advantage of that, but large numbers of Tunisians, especially those in the middle class, do not find the Islamist movement speaks to their interest, hopes and desires,” he said.

    Perkins says the U.S. should continue to support democracy and civil society in countries like Tunisia.

    “From a security point of view Tunisia was perceived by the U.S. as an ally and I don’t think that will change even if the current government were to be replaced. Tunisia’s ties to many of the values of the western world are very strong,” he added.

    Perkins says that Tunisia is a secular state which places a lot of emphasis on education, women’s rights and other liberal ideals and he doesn’t “see those things changing.”

     

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

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

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

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora