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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Parents of Disaster Ferry Passengers Lash Out at Authorities

Twenty-nine bodies recovered from water but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

US congressional delegation initiates $84 million Agent Orange cleanup project More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid