News / Africa

Tunisia Marks First Anniversary of Uprising

European Union representative Adrianus Koetsenruijter (C) poses with Manoubia Bouazizi (L), mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old who set himself alight on Dec. 17, 2010 - he is seen on a poster behind - and Leila, sister of Mohamed, outside Tunis, No
European Union representative Adrianus Koetsenruijter (C) poses with Manoubia Bouazizi (L), mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old who set himself alight on Dec. 17, 2010 - he is seen on a poster behind - and Leila, sister of Mohamed, outside Tunis, No
Lisa Bryant

Tunisia marks the year anniversary on Saturday, December 17 of the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, whose act of protest triggered a revolution in the North African country - and the wider popular uprising now known as the "Arab Spring." While Tunisia appears to be heading toward a largely positive future, the outlook for other countries in the region appears less bright.

It was a singular act of defiance by an impoverished, 26-year-old vegetable vendor living in Tunisia's economically depressed heartland. Bouazizi's self-immolation last year on the 17th of December - to express his despair and anger at local authorities - triggered a national uprising that brought down dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali a month later.

The protests crossed Tunisia's borders. From Algeria to Yemen, angry people began setting themselves on fire, and the popular revolt we now call the Arab Spring was born. Besides Ben Ali, the leaders of Egypt and Libya have fallen in much bloodier uprisings - and Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down.

Today, Tunisia is fundamentally - and most believe irreversibly - changed. In October, widely praised elections ushered in a new coalition government, with the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party the dominant power.

Retired US diplomat William Jordan, a North Africa expert, gives Tunisia a largely upbeat assessment.

"I think that overall, the trend is positive. Tunisia's new institutions are proving to be much more durable and much more responsive to Tunisians' desire for a more democratic, more open political system - and a decisive break from the Ben Ali regime," said Jordan.

Human Rights Watch's deputy regional director Eric Goldstein also praises Tunisia's evolution over the past year.

"People are free to go out and protest. New newspapers have been created. There's an atmosphere there that's completely different from the state of fear that Ben Ali enforced," said Goldstein.

While Tunisia's revolution was largely peaceful, it has not been painless. The country's key tourism industry and foreign investment plummeted. The uprising in neighboring Libya sent thousands of refugees across the border - and drove Tunisians working there back home. Tunisian immigrants piled up on Europe's shores, desperate for jobs.

Rebooting the economy is one of the biggest challenges facing the new government. Azza Turki, a political journalist for the Tunis-based weekly Realites, said, "Really now, what changes between last year and this year is that the Tunisian citizen is impatient today. He doesn't accept anymore to wait to have a job. He considers he made the revolution to have a better situation, an economic situation, a social situation and he just cannot wait anymore."

The country also faces political problems. The new coalition government already is squabbling. Critics fear the growing power of Ennahdha - and a rollback of women's considerable rights.

Earlier this month, thousands of hardline Islamists and secular activists staged opposing demonstrations in the capital Tunis, underscoring a growing standoff about the role of political Islam in once-secular Tunisia. The Islamists have occupied university campuses, demanding gender segregation and other restrictions - acts Ennahdha has condemned. Human Rights Watch's Eric Goldstein.

"What women are concerned about now, among other things, is this new climate of intolerance that we see in evidence in these protests on campus and other places where women gather to demonstrate in support of their rights, and they're surrounded by men who are insulting them, menacing them and in some cases physically attacking them," said Goldstein.

Journalist Turki is worried about Tunisia's future.

"The situation isn't clear. We don't know how to go, where to go. This government, I don't know what its plan is," he said.

But Mansouria Mokhefi, head of Middle East and North Africa programs at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, is more sanguine.

Mokhefi predicts the West and Arab Gulf nations, in particular, are determined to make Tunisia's democratic experiment a success - and will offer the economic backing to do so.

Mokhefi also believes the rise of political Islam in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world marks a shift toward a new identity, away from western-style democracy to a Muslim one, even if its future shape is a work in progress.

More worrying, commentators say, is what is happening elsewhere in the Arab world. Former diplomat Jordan recalls another anti-government uprising - in Algeria, where he was last posted - which unleashed a bloodbath in the 1990s that killed roughly 150,000 people.

"Tunisia [is] crucial as proof that you can make a difference, you can break through the door of oppression and you can affect change. But Egypt and Syria will probably be over the longer term, the true test cases… of whether you can make change successfully or whether you run the risk of provoking a more violent, longer-term chaos," said Jordan.

So far, Jordan and other analysts say, Tunisia remains the only Arab Spring success story. Whether Mohammed Bouazizi's desperate act will lead to others remains to be seen.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid