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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid