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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid