News / Middle East

    Tunisia Offers Lessons to Repressive Arab Leaders and Citizens

    A woman holds a picture of Tunisia's deposed leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, reading 'Wanted', during a demonstration showing solidarity with Tunisians, in Marseilles,  France , Jan. 15, 2011
    A woman holds a picture of Tunisia's deposed leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, reading 'Wanted', during a demonstration showing solidarity with Tunisians, in Marseilles, France , Jan. 15, 2011

    Multimedia

    Audio

    The Arab world, in particular North Africa, has been riveted by the events in Tunisia, and many in the region see parallels to the stifling conditions they endure.  But conditions vary greatly among the countries and could play a major role in how disgruntled citizens react. 

    Among those closely following events in Tunisia is Nadia, who works in tourism in Cairo and is well aware of the riches the region has to offer.  But she adds Arab countries also have many other, unfortunate things in common.

    "For instance, political tension," Nadia said. "There is a high rate of unemployment, absence of freedom of expression as people live under dictatorship for long years.  We have in Egypt, for example, a large number of people [who] live below [the] poverty guideline, and for the first time we hear about this young man burning himself in front of the parliament."  

    That act of self-immolation in Cairo, an echo of  Mohamed Bouazizi’s protest-suicide that began the revolution in Tunisia, has also been repeated in Mauretania and Algeria.  

    The translation of despair to action and the resulting fall of the Tunisian president, has provoked other public protests, so far relatively small, across the region.  

    American University in Cairo Professor Said Sadek says the events can only embolden the opposition in all Arab countries.

    "The importance of giving hope, that they can lead the change and cause the change, is very important," Sadek said. "But it would not have to be in the same scenario, in the same details.  History does not repeat itself with the same details."  

    Tunisia is in many ways an exception in the Arab world, with a solid middle class fueled by an economy not tied to oil-production, a high level of education, and more equal rights between men and women.  
    Amr Hamzawi, of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, says even the corruption of Tunisia’s former president differed in scale and in nature from other leaders in the region, with it mainly confined to the president’s family.

    "In Egypt, of course there is corruption, but this corruption benefits a wide segment of the population, it is not only six or seven people, it is maybe six, seven or maybe 10 percent of the population.  And the same goes for Morocco and Algeria," Hamawi said.

    Among those who enjoy the spoils of the regimes are often the security forces.  Hamzawi says that was not the case in Tunisia, where the army was largely outside the political sphere and balked at putting down the popular uprising.  

    Even so, the  military-backed regimes appear to be taking notice.  
    AUC’s Sadek points out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who he calls the “doyen of the Arab tyrants” was the first to reject what happened there. 

    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took a different tack Wednesday at an economic summit of Arab leaders, calling for investment in the region’s youth, who he pointedly called the “most precious of all our resources.”

    He said that employment is a major priority, as is education, economic growth and social and human development.

    Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa addressed the issue head on, warning those gathered in Sharm el Sheikh that “the Arab soul is broken” adding, “the Tunisian revolution is not far from us.”
    Said Sadek.

    "The regimes in the Middle East are trying to learn the mistakes and trying to cool the tense situation by avoiding any more provocations like human-rights violations, like rising prices, you know things like that. And so that might be a way to postpone the upcoming or the inevitable social, economic or political revolution, but cannot abort it," Sadek said.

    Sadek says the only way to truly avoid upheaval is to start political reform, something lacking in virtually every country in the region where rulers have stayed in power long after any vision they might once have had for their countries died out.

    The Carnegie Center’s Amr Hamzawi says, in the broadest sense, the events in Tunisia unfolded much as they did in other parts of the world, from Eastern Europe, to Latin America and several Asian nations.   The Arab world, he says, is not immune to democracy.   

    "It is a confirmation that we are not an exception to humanity," Hamzawi said. "Arabs wish to see accountable governments, wish to see better power distribution, wish to see checks and balances.  They do not like authoritarianism, and they acted in that spirit in Tunisia."

    Hamzawi says each country has a tipping point, but when it would be, and how it would play out, is anyone’s guess.

    You May Like

    Video Twists and Turns Aplenty in US Presidential Race

    Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest

    Iran Orders Social Media Sites to Store Data Inside Country

    New requirements are expected to affect the instant messaging app Telegram, which has more than 20 million users inside Iran

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    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 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.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora