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 Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora