Saturday, August 27, 2011
A political cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak facing the Tunisian knock-on domino effect
A political cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting the revolutionary Che Guevara in his Guerrillero Heroicopose (a popular global symbol of rebellion), but with the Tunisian flagon his beret instead of his usual red star.
MEDIA REPORTING AND REPERCUSSION ANALYSIS
The first person I know who referred to the revolt in Tunisia as possibly having a "domino effect" was Jeff Morley's Facebook post.
I began my RevolutionaryProgram.blogspot.com on February 15, 2011 - two days before it spread to Libya.
The first media report that I can find on the Arab Revolutions is this December 19, 2010 Reuters report:
Witnesses report rioting in Tunisian town
Sun Dec 19, 2010 2:59pm GMT
TUNIS (Reuters) - Police in a provincial city in Tunisia used tear gas late on Saturday to disperse hundreds of youths who smashed shop windows and damaged cars, witnesses told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from officials on the disturbances. Riots are extremely rare for Tunisia, a north African country of about 10 million people which is one of the most prosperous and stable in the region.
Witnesses said several hundred youths gathered in the city of Sidi Bouzid, about 200 km (125 miles) south-west of the capital Tunis, late on Saturday.
They were angered by an incident where a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, had set fire to himself in protest after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from a street stall, the witnesses said.
"The violent clashes ended with the arrest of scores of people," a witness, who requested anonymity, told Reuters. "(There was) breaking of shop windows and smashing of cars, while police fired tear gas."
Another witness, a relative of the man who set fire to himself, said outbreaks of rioting had continued into Sunday.
"People are angry at the case of Mohamed and the deterioration of unemployment in the region," said Mahdi Said Horchani. "Regional authorities have promised to intervene."
He said Bouazizi was in a critical condition and had been transferred to a hospital in Tunis.
Footage posted on the Facebook social network site showed several hundred protesters outside the regional government headquarters, with lines of police blocking them from getting closer to the building. It did not show any violence.
Witnesses said hundreds of extra security forces had been brought into Sidi Bouzid on Sunday and had established a heavy presence on the streets.
Calls placed by Reuters seeking comment from Tunisian officials went unanswered on Sunday.
Sidi Bouzid and Mohamed Bouazizi
Twenty-six year old Mohamed Bouazizi had been the sole income earner in his extended family of eight. He operated a purportedly unlicensed vegetable cart for seven years in Sidi Bouzid 190 miles (300 km) south of Tunis. On 17 December 2010 a policewoman confiscated his cart and produce. Bouazizi, who had such an event happen to him before, tried to pay the 10-dinar fine (a day's wages, equivalent to 7USD). In response the policewoman slapped him, spat in his face, and insulted his deceased father. A humiliated Bouazizi then went to the provincial headquarters in an attempt to complain to local municipality officials. He was refused an audience. Without alerting his family, at 11:30 am and within an hour of the initial confrontation, Bouazizi returned to the headquarters, doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself on fire. Public outrage quickly grew over the incident, leading to protests.This immolation and the subsequent heavy-handed response by the police to peaceful marchers caused riots the next day in Sidi Bouzid that went largely unnoticed, although social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube featured images of police dispersing youths who attacked shop windows and damaged cars. Bouazizi was subsequently transferred to a hospital near Tunis. In an attempt to quell the unrest President Zine el Abidine Ben Alivisited Bouazizi in hospital on 28 December 2010. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011.
There were reports of police obstructing demonstrators and using tear gas on hundreds of young protesters in Sidi Bouzid in mid-December 2010. The protesters had gathered outside regional government headquarters to demonstrate against the treatment of Mohamed Bouazizi. Coverage of events was limited by Tunisian media. On 19 December, extra police were present on the streets of the city.
The lack of coverage in the domestic state-controlled media was criticised. Writer/activist Jillian York alleged that the mainstream media, particularly in the Western world, was providing less coverage and less sympathetic coverage to the Tunisia protests relative to Iranian protests and the Green movement and China's censorship. York alleged the "US government—which intervened heavily in Iran, approving circumvention technology for export and famously asking Twitter to halt updates during a critical time period—has not made any public overtures toward Tunisia at this time."
Despite criticism about the "sparse" level of coverage and "little interest" given to the demonstrations by the international media, the protests have been hailed by some commentators as "momentous events" in Tunisian history. Brian Whitaker, writing in The Guardian, suggested on 28 December 2010, that the protests would be enough to bring an end to Ben Ali's presidency and noted similarities with the protests that led to the end ofNicolae Ceauşescu's reign in Romania in 1989, although Steven Cook, writing for the Council of Foreign Relations, notes that a tipping point is only obvious after the fact, and points to the counter-example of the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests. Ben Ali's governing strategy was nevertheless regarded to be in serious trouble, and Elliot Abrams noted both that demonstrators were able for the first time at the end of 2010 to defy the security forces and that the regime had no obvious successors outside of Ben Ali's own family.
The French management of the crisis came under severe criticism with notable silence in the mainstream media in the run-up to the crisis in its former colony.
Al Jazeera read the ousting of the president as the "glass ceiling of fear has been for ever shattered in Tunisia and that the police state that Ben Ali created in 1987 when he came to power in a coup seems to be disintegrating." Though it added that Ben Ali's resignation following his statement that he had been "duped by his entourage" may not entirely be sincere just yet. Le Monde criticised French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Union's "Silence over the Tragedy" when the unrest broke.The Christian Science Monitor suggested that mobile telecommunicationsplayed an influential role in the "revolution."
The revolt in Tunisia began speculation that the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" would lead to protests against the multiple other autocratic regimes across the Arab world. This was most famously captured in the phrase asking whether "Tunisia is the Arab Gdańsk?. The allusion refers to the Polish Solidarity movement and Gdańsk's role as the birthplace of the movement that ousted Communism in Eastern Europe. The phrase appeared in outlets such as the BBC, as well as editorials by well known columnists Rami Khouri and Roger Cohen.
Larbi Sadiki suggested that despite "conventional wisdom has it that 'terror' in the Arab world is monopolised by al-Qaeda in its various incarnations" there was also the practice of "regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria [that] have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden [they] were [also] caught unawares by the 'bin Laden within': the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population. The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west – the Maghreb – threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death." A similar op-ed in Al Jazeera by Lamis Ardoni said that the protests had "brought down the walls of fear, erected by repression and marginalisation, thus restoring the Arab peoples' faith in their ability to demand social justice and end tyranny." He also said that the protests that succeeded in toppling the leadership should serve as a "warning to all leaders, whether supported by international or regional powers, that they are no longer immune to popular outcries of fury" even though Tunisia's ostensible change "could still be contained or confiscated by the country's ruling elite, which is desperately clinging to power."
He called the protests the "Tunisianintifada"[disambiguation needed] which had "placed the Arab world at a crossroads." He further added that if the change was ultimately successful in Tunisia it could "push the door wide open to freedom in Arab word. If it suffers a setback we shall witness unprecedented repression by rulers struggling to maintain their absolute grip on power. Either way, a system that combined a starkly unequal distribution of wealth with the denial of freedoms has collapsed."
Similarly, Mark LeVine noted that the events in Tunisia could spiral into the rest of the Arab world as the movement was "inspiring people...to take to the streets and warn their own sclerotic and autocratic leaders that they could soon face a similar fate." He then cited solidarity protests in Egypt where protesters chanted "Kefaya" and "We are next, we are next, Ben Ali tell Mubarak he is next;" and that Arab bloggers were supporting the movement in Tunisia as "the African revolution commencing...the global anti-capitalist revolution." He pointed to an article in al-Nahar that talked of an "inhuman globalisation" that had been imposed on the Arab world, however a "human" nationalism had not taken place. LeVine then accused the Obama administration in the United States of double standards when Clinton was in the region meeting with political and civil society leaders, however she responded to a question about the protests saying "We can't take sides," which was read as a failure to seize the "reigns of history" and "usher in a new era" to "defeat the forces of extremism" without the violent conflict in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
Pointing out Clinton's remarks about regimes whose "foundations are sinking into the sand" and needed "reform", LeVine argued that US foreign policy in the Middle East and the Muslim world was "equally in danger of sinking into the sands if the President and his senior officials are not willing to get ahead of history's suddenly accelerating curve." He added, "It is the US and Europe, as much as the leaders of the region, who in Clinton's words are in need of 'a real vision for that future.'" Finally he said there were two scenarios that could play out: "a greater democratic opening across the Arab world," or a similar situation to Algeria in the early 1990s when the democratic election was annulled and the Algeria went into acivil war.
Robert Fisk asked if this was "The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world?" and partly answered the question in saying that Arab leaders would be "shaking in their boots." He also pointed out that the "despot" Ben Ali sought refuge in the same place as the ousted Idi Amin of Uganda and that "the French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a 'friend' of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists." He notably pointed at the "demographic explosion of youth" of the Maghreb, though he said that the change brought about in Tunisia may not last as: "For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia – but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties? Then when it looked like the Islamists might win the second round of voting, we supported its military-backed government in suspending elections and crushing the Islamists and initiating a civil war in which 150,000 died.
No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and stability." He added that "If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it?"
Blake Hounshell wrote on Foreign Policy.com that the Tunisian precedent raised the prospect of a "new trend. There is something horrifying and, in a way, moving about these suicide attempts. It's a shocking, desperate tactic that instantly attracts attention, revulsion, but also sympathy."
Impact of the internet
Further information: Human impact of Internet use#Internet and political revolutions
The use of communication technologies, and the Internet in particular, has been widely credited as contributor to the mobilisation of protests. A blog associated with Wired described the intricate efforts of the Tunisian authorities to control such online media as Twitter and Facebook. Other regional regimes were also on higher alert to contain spillover effects that may ensue.
On 11 March 2011, Reporters Without Borders gave its annual award for online media freedom to the Tunisian blogging group Nawaat.org. Founded in 2004, it played an important role rallying anti-government protesters by reporting on the protests which the national media ignored.
An economic analyst also suggested instability could spread to Libya and Saudi Arabia. An analyst on Al Jazeera added Algeria as well and cited Western concerns as their intelligence bureaus base large parts of their Arab networks in Tunisia. However, a financial analyst in Dubai suggested that "the spillover effect of the political turbulence to the large countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council is non-existent as there are no similar driver."
After the beginning of the uprising in Tunisia, similar protests took place in almost all Arab countries from Morocco to Iraq, as well as in other states, ranging from Gabon to Albania, Iran, Kazakhstan, and China. Following weeks of protests, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February. Major protests against longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi broke out on 17 February and quickly deteriorated into civil war. Despite widespread use of force by Gaddafi's government, the opposition has taken over control of large parts of the country and has received military backing from many NATO and non-NATO countries. In addition, Yemen, Bahrain, and Algeria saw major protests.