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

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

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