It is a historic event and it is causing upheavals in the Muslim world, where there are Sheikdoms and quasi democracy.
Not only would it affect North Africa, it will have repercussions in the Arab World.
I'm surprised after looking some around here on WAB there seems to be little discussion about the overthrow of the long-time President of Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Who was forced to resign from his office and go into exile after economic problems in the country like unemployment and the general economic atmosphere. Came to a head ,when an unemployed university graduate who was harassed by police for an unlicensed fruit cart he was running, set himself on fire to protest his plight.
The act which eventually caused said university graduate's death stirred up much more attention about lingering economic problems and their social effects, particular amongst younger Tunisians led them to take their anger out on the government, especially their President who was viewed by many as corrupt and ineffective.
Since then however, similar disturbances aimed at ruling governments have occurred neighboring Algeria over food prices, and in Libya over a mixture of food and housing issues in certain regions. These riots and protests in these two countries remain isolated for now, however in Algeria they seem to be gradually increasing in intensity and anger.
So any thoughts on the events in Tunisia, as well as elsewhere in North Africa?
It is a historic event and it is causing upheavals in the Muslim world, where there are Sheikdoms and quasi democracy.
Not only would it affect North Africa, it will have repercussions in the Arab World.
"Some have learnt many Tricks of sly Evasion, Instead of Truth they use Equivocation, And eke it out with mental Reservation, Which is to good Men an Abomination."
I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.
IIRC there were also several riots in Egypt as well
Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.
Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.
Arab Leaders Keep a Wary Eye on Tunisia
By MONA EL-NAGGAR and MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: January 18, 2011
CAIRO — From the crowded, run-down streets of Cairo to the oil-financed halls of power in Kuwait, Arab leaders appear increasingly rattled by the unfolding events in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world, where men continued to set themselves on fire — two more in Egypt on Tuesday, and a third who was stopped.
Though the streets of Cairo, Algiers and other Arab cities around the region were calm, the acts of self-immolation served as a reminder that the core complaints of economic hardship and political repression that led to the Tunisian uprising resonated strongly across the Middle East.
“You have leaders who have been in power for a very long time, one party controlling everything, marginalization of the opposition, no transfer of power, plans for succession, small groups running the business, vast corruption,” said Emad Gad, a political scientist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “All of this makes the overall environment ripe for an explosion at any second.”
But while there is widespread anticipation about a revolutionary contagion, particularly in Egypt and Algeria, where there have been angry and violent protests, political analysts said that each country is different, making such conclusions premature. Egypt lacks the broad and educated middle class of Tunisia, while in Algeria the middle class failed to join the angry young men in rioting, regional experts said.
In Jordan, an Islamist opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, issued a demand that the offices of prime minister and other high officials be made elective instead of appointive, as they are now. But like the other outbursts, it quickly died away.
“For all the sound and fury, it doesn’t look like much political dividend will come out of what happened in Algeria, in the short term,” said Hugh Roberts, an independent scholar and a specialist on North Africa based here. “It looks like it has gone quiet. It was a big blast of angry, hot air, but in an unfocused way, which leaves most things the same.”
So for now, the most pronounced impact from the unexpected Tunisian uprising is a lingering sense of uncertainty. That is itself either unnerving or exhilarating, depending on one’s perspective, in a region sitting on the fault lines of religious strife, political repression and economic uncertainty, experts said.
“We did not expect Tunisia to go the direction it has. Who had Tunisia on the mind a few weeks ago?” said Amr Hamzawy, research director with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The ingredients are partially there for it to happen again, but we just do not know.”
Some Arab leaders have ordered security crackdowns to keep calm in the streets, and offered some symbolic gestures. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad backed off the imposition of austerity measures. In Kuwait, the emir doled out money.
In Egypt, where organizers are calling for a nationwide protest on Jan. 25, officials struggled to project a sense of calm and normalcy, while stepping up talk of economic reform and government accountability. Arab leaders have also said they will focus on combating unemployment when they meet later this week at an economic summit meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik.
Fahmy Howeidy, an Egyptian political expert and newspaper columnist, said that while he did not believe conditions were ripe for a similar uprising in Egypt, the government was keenly aware that “what happened in Tunisia has definitely created a different atmosphere. It convinced people that they can revolt in the streets, and that these regimes are not as strong or as mighty as they appear.”
Before the riots in Tunisia turned into a mass uprising against the rule of the longtime autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it appeared that either Egypt or Algeria stood a greater chance of some kind of mass public revolt. For years, both have suffered from sclerotic political systems led by aging presidents, with support from the military. For years, both have confronted protests over difficult economic conditions and widespread youth unemployment.
But Mr. Hamzawy noted that in Tunisia the middle class and the trade unions joined protests that initially broke out over economic complaints, and helped transform the discontent into calls for political change. In Egypt, where the leadership continues to rely on a decades-old emergency law that allows arrest without charge, there is a lot of room for free and critical speech, offering a safety valve for expression that did not exist in Tunisia, he said.
In Egypt, he said, the array of interests that benefit from corruption is much wider than in Tunisia, where it was restricted to a small circle around the president. That, he said, means there are more people with an interest in preserving the system. And finally, he said, the military in Tunisia was not politicized and did not have any experience in securing city streets, unlike in Egypt, where the military has risen to the government’s defense before, and most likely would again. In addition, Mr. Hamzawy said that the protests that have racked Egypt recently have mostly been by workers for economic reasons, and that the government effectively bought them off with concessions before they began making political demands.
In Algeria, Mr. Roberts said, there are two primary differences with Tunisia that make comparisons imperfect. The first, he said, was that in Tunisia the riots spread all over the country and eventually involved different elements of society all on the same side. “That gave the movement its moral power,” he said.
By comparison, he said, “In Algeria, that never happened. There was no real support from trade unions, in fact none at all as far as one can see, and there was a good deal of middle class hostility to them because of the destruction. The guys rioting were desperate, angry young men with no political perspective at all.”
But more fundamentally, he said, Algeria is not as repressive as Tunisia was. “It is not an autocracy, it is an oligarchy,” he said, explaining that in addition to the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, there are multiple power centers, like the military, the intelligence services and the elite bureaucrats. That, he said, meant that unlike in Tunisia there is no one target of public ire, and no public sense that protests would help to dislodge those at fault.
“Even though Bouteflika is unpopular, people know their problems do not simply come down to him,” he said. “You have a situation where there is a great deal of discontent, including in the middle class, but no one has any prescription for how to deal with it.”
Mona El-Naggar reported from Cairo, and Michael Slackman from Berlin.
It looks like the present Government are not welcome as well.
"A protest march against Tunisia's interim government has reached the capital, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi.
Some 1,000 demonstrators from the rural area where protests against Tunisia's authoritarian rule began had joined the "Caravan of Liberation" to Tunis.
They want the resignation of Mr Ghannouchi, who served under ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and has pledged to quit after elections".
A vote is expected within six months.
not north africa but protests are also occuring in Yemen, although not as widespread
Protests erupt in Yemen, president offers reform | Reuters
Last edited by tantalus; 24 Jan 11, at 19:01.
One Small Revolution
By ROBERT D. KAPLAN
Published: January 22, 2011
THE West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular working- and middle-class Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But before we envision a new Middle East remade in the manner of Europe 1989, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.
Start with a map of classical antiquity, which shows a concentration of settlements where Tunisia is today, juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterizes modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks. Whereas Algeria and Libya were but vague geographical expressions until the coming of European colonial map makers, Tunisia is an age-old cluster of civilization.
Even today, many of the roads in the country, particularly in the north, were originally Roman ones. For 2,000 years, the closer to Carthage (roughly the site of Tunis, the capital, today), the greater the level of development. Because urbanization in Tunisia started two millenniums ago, tribal identity based on nomadism — which, as the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun says, has always disrupted political stability — is correspondingly weak.
After the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal in 202 B.C. outside modern-day Tunis, he dug a demarcation ditch, or fossa regia, that marked the extent of civilized territory. The fossa regia remains relevant. Still visible in places, it runs from Tabarka on Tunisia’s northwestern coast southward, and then turns directly eastward to Sfax, another Mediterranean port. The towns beyond that line have fewer Roman remains, and today tend to be poorer and less developed, with historically higher rates of unemployment.
The town of Sidi Bouzid, where the recent revolt started when a vendor of fruit and vegetables set himself on fire, lies just beyond Scipio’s line. Tunisia is less part of the connective tissue of Arab North Africa than a demographic and cultural island bordered by sea and desert, with upwardly mobile European aspirations.
Tunisia has a relatively large middle class because of something so obvious it goes unremarked upon: it is a real state, with historical and geographical legitimacy, where political arguments are about budgets and food subsidies, not the extremist ideologies that have plagued its neighbors, Algeria and Libya. It is a state not only because of the legacy of Rome and other empires, but because of human agency, in the person of Habib Bourguiba, one of the lesser-known great men of the 20th century.
Bourguiba was the Arab Ataturk, who ruled Tunisia in a fiercely secular style for its first three decades after independence from France in the mid-1950s. Rather than envision grandiose building projects or a mighty army, Bourguiba devoted generous financing to birth control programs, rural women’s literacy and primary-school education. He cracked down on the wearing of the veil, actually tried to do away with Ramadan, and advocated normalizing relations with Israel more than a decade before Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem. Yes, he was an authoritarian, but the result of his rule was that Tunisia, with moderate political tendencies and no serious ethnic or sectarian splits, has been poised since the 1980s for a democratic experiment.
In 1987, while faced by an Islamic rising, Bourguiba became too infirm to rule, and was replaced by his former interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, essentially a security boss with little vision, much like the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Ben Ali’s strategy was to keep order, which largely meant killing and torturing Islamists and other dissidents.
But before we dismiss Mr. Ben Ali entirely, we should keep in mind that for many years he presided over a growing economy and middle class, with progress penetrating to the areas beyond the fossa regia. What happened was classic development theory: rising expectations along with uneven economic growth that led to political upheaval. Unlike Bourguiba, who was always revered as the man who led the country to independence, Mr. Ben Ali had no particular cachet to save him, despite an outrageous personality cult, and his extended family was famously corrupt.
Because Bourguiba insisted that the army remain small and apolitical, it is now the most trusted institution in the country. Indeed, the Tunisian Army is a benign Leviathan that may well ensure public order and thus allow for the tumult of democracy.
Nevertheless, despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia’s path forward is treacherous. As for other benighted countries in the Arab world — the ones that many observers hope will be shaken to the core by Tunisia’s revolt — they are in far worse shape.
Egypt has been effectively governed by military emergency law since 1952, with Islamic militants waiting in the wings for any kind of opportunity, even as the country is rent by tensions between its majority Muslims and Coptic Christian minority. Algeria and Libya have neither the effective institutions nor the venerable tradition of statehood that Tunisia has. Libya, should Muammar el-Qaddafi fall, would likely be much more of a mess than Tunisia post-Ben Ali.
Then there is Lebanon, with its vicious communalisms, and Syria, which has the potential to break up the way Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, given its regionally defined sectarian divisions. Syria held three free elections from 1947 to 1954 that all broke down along sectarian and regional lines, and the military regimes that have followed in Damascus did nothing to prepare their people for another bout of democracy.
As for Iraq, once the dictator was removed, tens of thousands — and perhaps hundreds of thousands — died in sectarian and ethnic violence. Often, the worse the dictator, the worse the mess after he is toppled. There have been many comparisons between Tunisia 2011 and Europe 1989, but the idea that the coming of democracy in the Middle East won’t have far more disruptions than occurred in Eastern Europe following the collapse of Communism seems naïve.
And there are plenty of reasons to think we are not on the cusp of a democratic avalanche. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 began as a revolt against the tyranny of the shah, but ended with a theocratic regime that was even worse. The seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca the same year by Islamic radicals might have brought a tyranny far worse than that of monarchial Saudi Arabia. In any event, it was put down and so remained a localized revolt. The Cedar Revolution in 2005 in Lebanon was stillborn.
There are some promising factors. For one, Arabic-language cable television makes the Middle East a virtual community, so that an event in one part of the region can more easily affect another part. It’s worth hoping that Tunisia’s secular Jasmine Revolution can seed similar uprisings in a restive Middle East that has undergone vast economic and social change, but suffers under the same sterile national security regimes that arose half a century ago.
Still, as the situation evolves in Tunis, and as we watch other Arab capitals expectantly, we would do well to focus less on what unites these places than on what divides them. Just as Tunisia’s circumstances are unique, so are those in all the other countries. The more we focus on the particularities of each place, the less surprised we will be by political developments.
Another thing to keep in mind: in terms of American interests and regional peace, there is plenty of peril in democracy. It was not democrats, but Arab autocrats, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who made peace with Israel. An autocrat firmly in charge can make concessions more easily than can a weak, elected leader — just witness the fragility of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government. And it was democracy that brought the extremists of Hamas to power in Gaza. In fact, do we really want a relatively enlightened leader like King Abdullah in Jordan undermined by widespread street demonstrations? We should be careful what we wish for in the Middle East.
Robert D. Kaplan, the author of “Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia and the Peloponnese,” is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.
Protests are occuring in Egypt and some of them are turining violent according to BBC, centering around similar themes of allleged corruption and abuse of power. This also seems to be turing more serious as both senior US and British diplomatic officals have commented on the events in Egypt.
BBC News - Cairo protest: Clashes on Egypt's 'day of revolt'
Video from 1/14/11:
Video from 1/10/11:
Source: BBC News (Middle East)Tunisia announces major cabinet reshuffle after protest
Tunisian PM Mohammed Ghannouchi has announced a major reshuffle of the interim government.
He has kept his job but many allies of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have left.
Mr Ghannouchi said in a TV address that 12 ministers had been replaced. He insisted the government was "transitional" and would "take the country to democracy".
Protests are continuing, demanding a purge of Mr Ben Ali's allies.
On Wednesday, Tunisia issued an international arrest warrant for Mr Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January.
Mr Ben Ali is accused of illegally acquiring property and assets and transferring funds abroad during his presidency.
Trade union endorsement
Mr Ghannouchi announced the cabinet overhaul late on Thursday, saying he had included very competent people in his new line-up.
Among the key changes was the replacement of the defence, interior and finance ministers, who had all served under Mr Ben Ali.
Continue reading the main story
We reject Ghannouchi totally. We were surprised to see him announce the government”
End Quote Mohammed Fadel Protester in Tunis
Earlier on Thursday, Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane announced his resignation, saying it was in the national interests of the country.
The reshuffle was welcomed by the powerful UGTT trade union, although it said it would not be joining the new government.
The endorsement by the UGTT may go some way towards softening opposition to Mr Ghannouchi among protesters, says the BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi in the capital Tunis.
But our correspondent adds that it is unclear whether the cabinet overhaul will be enough to calm widespread opposition to Mr Ghannouchi himself, who had served as prime minister under Mr Ben Ali for many years.
Anti-government rallies continued on Thursday in Tunis and also in the central town of Sidi Bouzid.
"We reject Ghannouchi totally. We were surprised to see him announce the government," protester Mohammed Fadel in Tunis was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"Since he did not fight corruption under Ben Ali, he is an accomplice."
On Wednesday, police in the capital fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators after they reportedly tried to breach barricades around the prime minister's office.
Mr Ghannouchi has promised to quit "in the shortest possible timeframe", pledging to hold elections within six months.
BBC News - Tunisia announces major cabinet reshuffle after protest
Source: BBC News (Africa section)Could Tunisian opposition groups re-ignite the revolt?
For the first time in 24 years, key Tunisian dissidents - both exiled and local - are coming together in Tunis, raising two important questions - has Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi done enough to quell the popular uprising, and will the presence of all these opposition figures potentially reignite stage two of the revolt?
Indeed, Mr Ghannouchi has executed his single most important decision in 11 years by unveiling not only a prudent interim cabinet, but also a possible political face of Tunisia after its "people power" uprising.
However, he might not have done enough to divide the opposition through his selective inclusion and exclusion.
His own fate, and that of the whole of Tunisia, will depend on what happens next - when the country's most prominent leaders share a common platform unhindered by the heavy-handed policing of deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Thus far, Mr Ghannouchi's "rainbow" government is a blend of new and old, establishment and anti-establishment figures, as well as technocrats and politicians.
This will make the transitional period fraught with disagreements - and in a country where difference is not yet championed due to 54 years of authoritarian rule - trial, error and reverses can be expected.
Eleven of the 23 ministers are new faces, including leftist and liberal dissidents. Of the 11 portfolios, two are allocated to women, including the new Minister for Culture, Moufida Tlatli, who directed the international prize-winning film, Silence of the Palaces.
The key portfolios such as defence, finance, foreign affairs, trade and industry are maintained by ministers well-known to Prime Minister Ghannouchi, who like him, represent the soft and fairly "clean" technocrats from President Ben Ali's ruling RCD party.
Despite arguments against their inclusion, they may be needed in the transitional period to facilitate continuity in governance and a modicum of stability.
The whole country is still coming to grips with newly-found freedoms, and as a result, there may be an absence of clarity for some time.
Moncef Markouzi is welcomed by supporters in Tunis, 18 Jan Moncef Marzouki received a warm welcome at Tunis airport
However, with the return to Tunis of Moncef Marzouki - a rights activist and founder of the Congress for the Republic - events over the next few days and weeks may get more complicated.
Also, the imminent return from London of the Islamist leader of the al-Nahda Party, Rachid Ghannouchi (no relation to the PM), can be expected to further stir the boiling crucible of Tunisian politics.
The other prominent player and human rights activist left out of the interim government is Hamma Hammami, leader of the Tunisian Workers' Communist Party.
He opposed the idea of the interim government, seeing it as an instrument to kill the uprising.
Should these opposition figures put forward joint demands - for instance, calling on the prime minister and other remnants of the old regime to vacate their seats after free and fair elections - it has the potential to re-ignite the popular uprising.
While Prime Minister Ghannouchi has accommodated and banked on the left in order to steer the ship of government, he has for now left out the Islamists”
The power of the country's dissident elite will also depend on what support - if any - they get from opposition leaders who now find themselves with ministerial portfolios in the new interim government, such as leftist Najib Chebbi, Mustafa ben Jaafar and Ahmed Ibrahim.
There is the possibility that Mr Marzouki and Rachid Ghannouchi could try to persuade them that a historical opportunity presents itself to administer a knockout blow to the authoritarian structure bequeathed by President Ben Ali.
How Mr Chebbi, a veteran dissident and pragmatic lawyer, and his Progressive Democratic Party decide to respond could determine whether power is still up for grabs in Tunisia.
The same goes for the once powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), which in the early 1980s grew into a political heavyweight and threatened then President Habib Bourguiba's rule.
The popular revolt gave it a platform to once again find its voice and it played a far more active role in the uprising than any other single political entity.
The UGTT has the largest powerbase in the country and its entry into government was reluctant. Its rank-and-file largely favours continuation of the revolt.
Tunisian protesters hold placards reading "RCD go to hell" in Tunis, 18 January Islamist supporters have called on Mr Chebbi to resign from the interim government
While Prime Minister Ghannouchi has accommodated and banked on the left in order to steer the ship of government, he has for now left out the Islamists.
But he has granted an audience to leading Islamist figure Hammadi Jebali, who seems to be encouraged by pledges of inclusion in the transition ahead.
The Islamists have not thus far displayed coherence over the dizzyingly fast and unfolding events since Mr Ben Ali was ousted late on Friday, 14 January.
Their initial response criticised the interim government for retaining ministers who served under Mr Ben Ali, and even called for a continuation of the uprising.
Exiled for a long time and without any role in the popular revolt, they have quickly adjusted their language, signalling willingness to participate in the interim government, if given the opportunity.
What happens next will of course depend on the national army and its hero, Gen Rachid Ammar, whose own act of disobedience provided the tipping-point that gave the Tunisia popular revolt its victory against Mr Ben Ali.
BBC News - Could Tunisian opposition groups re-ignite the revolt?
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