Revolution: Tunisian dictator flees country after weeks of public protests

posted at 5:13 pm on January 14, 2011 by Allahpundit

This is a terrifying story for a blogger to write about because it’s (a) potentially hugely significant and yet (b) about a nation that’s almost completely obscure to most Americans, and by “most Americans” I of course mean “me.” Per the first point, though, I want to put it on your radar screen in case tremors from this earthquake start registering elsewhere.

Mother Jones has a useful bullet-point primer of how things came to a head, but there’s an easy way to get a quick handle on the basic narrative: In a word, “Ceausescu.” The president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, took power in 1987 and turned the country into a police state via the familiar routes — repression and torture of political opponents, an overweening cult of personality, and appalling kleptocratic corruption. Sounds like every other Islamic autocracy on record, no? But wait. Tunisia might surprise you:

Tunisia is far different from most of its neighboring Arab countries. There is little Islamist fervor in the country. It has a large middle class, and under Mr. Ben Ali, it has invested heavily in education. Not only are women not required to cover their heads, they enjoy a spectrum of civil rights, including free contraception, that is well beyond that in most countries in the region…

Some demonstrators said they hoped that other Arab countries would follow their example despite the many differences between their country and many of those nations, where popular discontent is often expressed in the language of Islam.

The trade-off for the past 23 years, in other words, was absolute power for Ben Ali in exchange for a better quality of life than most other majority-Muslim states enjoy. And that’s how things went until this past year, when unemployment soared (the official rate is 14 percent, the unofficial one surely much higher) and suddenly that quality of life wasn’t quite as good as it had been. The catalyzing moment came in December, in an episode recounted just before New Year’s by the Guardian:

Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

On Friday, rioters in Menzel Bouzaiene set fire to police cars, a railway locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling party and a police station. After being attacked with Molotov cocktails, the police shot back, killing a teenage protester.

That’s how it started — with Bouazizi as a Tunisian Neda and resulting protests over the economic despair that drove him to self-immolation. But as the demonstrations and riots dragged on into this month, they started to turn political and Ben Ami began to get nervous. There were anecdotal reports, and dramatic photos, suggesting that the army was siding with the demonstrators. He tried to cool things down yesterday by announcing a series of political reforms, including more freedom to demonstrate and elections within six months, but that only encouraged them: Tens of thousands flooded into the streets of the capital this morning, according to the Times, and by this afternoon Ben Ali was gone — the very first time that popular protests have toppled an Arab dictator.

For the moment, the prime minister’s in charge:

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said late Friday in a televised address that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has surrendered power and left Tunis…

Al Arabiya said a six-member leadership council would be formed to rule the country until elections. The council will be led by the head of Parliament and will include the defense minister.

Ben Ali had reportedly fled to Malta and was traveling under Libyan protection, Reuters reported…

The shakeup was certain to have repercussions in the Arab world and beyond — as a sign that massive public outrage could bring down a leader as entrenched and powerful as Ben Ali.

The Times piece linked above is worth reading in full for the details about how protesters used Facebook and Twitter to coordinate — a feature of the “Green Revolution” uprising in Iran in 2009 too, as you may recall. The hope here, of course, just as it was during the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon in 2005, is that the people will not only win a democracy for themselves but will inspire other oppressed populations in the Middle East to confront the strongmen in their midst. Which, if it happens, could be great news or not so great news, depending upon how liberal/radical the population is vis-a-vis their particular strongman. Given the state of the Cedar Revolution these days, I’m not optimistic; and given how shattered Tunisian politics has been by 23 years of having Ben Ami’s boot on its throat, there’s no telling who or what is going to come out of this to govern that country. For the moment, though, at least there’s some hope. Long, long time coming.


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Hey, can we say revolution now?

Tennman on January 14, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Has Obama been briefed? Does Obama care?

Skandia Recluse on January 14, 2011 at 5:17 PM

The president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, took power in 1987 and turned the country into a police state via the familiar routes — repression and torture of political opponents, an overweening cult of personality, and appalling kleptocratic corruption.

Boy I’m glad there is nothing like in the American political landscape…

Inanemergencydial on January 14, 2011 at 5:20 PM

Hillary said relax, there are no extremists there.

JammieWearingFool on January 14, 2011 at 5:21 PM

For not knowing much about the Tunisian stuff, you did yourself proud AP!

Knucklehead on January 14, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Let me impress you with my almost total ignorance of tunisia.

Best Jazz song ever.

Shtetl G on January 14, 2011 at 5:24 PM

“Exit, stage left!”
– Snagglepuss

mojo on January 14, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Rioters. hmmmm. You must mean youths. Totally spontaneous.

faraway on January 14, 2011 at 5:27 PM

For not knowing much about the Tunisian stuff, you did yourself proud AP!

Knucklehead on January 14, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Much better I bet than the way news of our past week has been covered in Muslim countries.

fourdeucer on January 14, 2011 at 5:27 PM

When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

On Wednesday, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

On Friday, rioters in Menzel Bouzaiene set fire to police cars, a railway locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling party and a police station. After being attacked with Molotov cocktails, the police shot back, killing a teenage protester.

Uh, this isn’t normal behavior or protests. Maybe, they need a strong dictator? Anyway, who is the opposition? Fundamentalist muslims? I’ll support the strong dictator, then.

Blake on January 14, 2011 at 5:28 PM

If we were Tunisia, we would still have people calling for “restraint” in dealing with our overlords.

http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/isittimeyet.html

SirGawain on January 14, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

The shakeup was certain to have repercussions in the Arab world and beyond — as a sign that massive public outrage could bring down a leader as entrenched and powerful as Ben Ali.

You get people hungry enough and all bets are off. No surprise the Archduke Ferdinand moment here resulted from the state hassling a guy who was just trying to make a little money. I understand our President is about to spend a billion dollars trying to get reelected. If Opec is serious about not increasing oil production with crude now trading at nearly $100 per barrel, Obama may as well flush that billion down the toilet. Especially if Palin, the former head of the Alaskan Oil and Gas Commission, is his opponent.

Kataklysmic on January 14, 2011 at 5:28 PM

- When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

- another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

What? They fight by committing suicide? Is this a gene spiceable into liberals?

darwin on January 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

spiceable into liberals

spliceable

darwin on January 14, 2011 at 5:30 PM

The Mother Jones piece is solid reporting.

John the Libertarian on January 14, 2011 at 5:33 PM

That’s how it started — with Bouazizi as a Tunisian Neda and resulting protests over the economic despair that drove him to self-immolation.

Except that Neda was shot, while this idiot set himself on fire.

Disturb the Universe on January 14, 2011 at 5:33 PM

If this is a move toward political liberalization for Tunisia, I applaud it. I just hope the Islamists don’t take over.

Sekhmet on January 14, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Are we all Tunisians now?

misterpeasea on January 14, 2011 at 5:35 PM

What’s that you say? 14% unemployment with little hope for improvement

a capella on January 14, 2011 at 5:36 PM

What? They fight by committing suicide? Is this a gene spiceable into liberals?

darwin on January 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

++

angryed on January 14, 2011 at 5:36 PM

You don’t flee from rock throwing students. Much more here than meets the eye (or the MSM).

Limerick on January 14, 2011 at 5:37 PM

What? They fight by committing suicide? Is this a gene spiceable into liberals?

darwin on January 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

I was thinking the same thing…

Seven Percent Solution on January 14, 2011 at 5:38 PM

Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

That’s one whacky way to protest.

Disturb the Universe on January 14, 2011 at 5:40 PM

Except that Neda was shot, while this idiot set himself on fire.

Disturb the Universe on January 14, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of flowery writing.

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 5:41 PM

Something stinks in Carthage.

Limerick on January 14, 2011 at 5:42 PM

$100 bbl oil and I care about Tunisia why?

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 5:46 PM

and when our worlds they fall apart
when the walls come tumbling in
though we may deserve it
it will be worth it.

moonbatkiller on January 14, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Let’s hope the President doesn’t side with the ousted leader like he did with Honduras.

itsnotaboutme on January 14, 2011 at 5:48 PM

Something stinks in Carthage.

Limerick on January 14, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Such as?
Are you thinking about radical Muslim involvement?

a capella on January 14, 2011 at 5:48 PM

I will fight for my Freedom, I will die for my Freedom, I will not Kill myself for my Freedom.

IowaWoman on January 14, 2011 at 5:50 PM

The hope here, of course, just as it was during the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon in 2005, is that the people will not only win a democracy for themselves but will inspire other oppressed populations in the Middle East to confront the strongmen in their midst.

I thought this dictator had parlayed Tunisia into the paradise of Islamic sh*tholes? And I believe it is only the “corrupt” dictators of the rest of the sh*tholes that keep them from becoming mullah led sh*tholes. There is no cadre of honest true blue moderate Muslims waiting in the wings for the chance to implement fair government. Islam does not breed such people.

BL@KBIRD on January 14, 2011 at 5:51 PM

This is a terrifying story for a blogger to write about because it’s (a) potentially hugely significant and yet (b) about a nation that’s almost completely obscure to most Americans, and by “most Americans” I of course mean “me.”

Relax, AP. Just remember: Tunisia is actually Tatooine.

Which means Zine el Abidine Ben Ali is really Jabba the Hutt. But Jabba’s escape isn’t the real story. The real story is about this farm boy that lives near Anchorhead…

See, it’s much easier to understand now, isn’t it?

ZenDraken on January 14, 2011 at 5:54 PM

Fundamentalist muslims? I’ll support the strong dictator, then.

Blake on January 14, 2011 at 5:28 PM

yep

Greed on January 14, 2011 at 5:54 PM

There is no cadre of honest true blue moderate Muslims waiting in the wings for the chance to implement fair government. Islam does not breed such people.

BL@KBIRD on January 14, 2011 at 5:51 PM

Techicalities

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Does Obama care?

Skandia Recluse on January 14, 2011 at 5:17 PM

I thought you guys were repealing Obama care…

factoid on January 14, 2011 at 5:55 PM

$100 bbl oil and I care about Tunisia why?

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Read it and weep.
The heads of oil giant BP and state-run Russian firm Rosneft announced a deal Friday to work together to exploit the resources of the Arctic and to swap shares so Rosneft will hold five percent of BP.

Knucklehead on January 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Haven’t we learned anything from the Tucson murders? This sort of violent rhetoric has to stop! “Revolution”? Sweet Mama Cass man, are you crazy?? Don’t you realize you may motivate some nutball in Cuba, N. Korea or Venezuela to do something drastic?

You, sir, will have the stain of freedom on your hands if you keep this sort of behavior up!

Hurricanes on January 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Knucklehead on January 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM

We are beyond hosed…

Inanemergencydial on January 14, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Knucklehead on January 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM

I’ve been doing both but it compare with NFL news.

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 6:04 PM

I blame the violent rhetoric coming from the right wing. Does Tunisia get Fox News and Rush Limbaugh?

malclave on January 14, 2011 at 6:06 PM

The only thing I know about Tunisia is that it was the setting for Tattoine in Star Wars.

vcferlita on January 14, 2011 at 6:06 PM

Air pollution, revolution, gun control,
Sound of soul
Shootin’ rockets to the moon
Kids growin’ up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will
Solve everything

And the band played on
So round ‘n’ round ‘n’ round we go
Where the world’s headed, nobody knows
Just a Ball of Confusion
Oh yea, that’s what the world is today

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 6:14 PM

I think you can’t use “bullet points” anymore… too violent.

Yeah my first thought was, “Great, another country I have barely heard of and now will probably effect the rest of my life enormously…”

Middle East? Africa? Map someone?

My niece was apparently in Egypt during the bus thing…

petunia on January 14, 2011 at 6:35 PM

The only thing I know about Tunisia is that it was the setting for Tattoine in Star Wars.

vcferlita on January 14, 2011 at 6:06 PM

OH! So they have sandpeople and really strange bars? Or is that another place? Do they buy spaceship thingies?

petunia on January 14, 2011 at 6:37 PM

Look for Islamic strongmen to insinuate themselves into power by promising “order“.

Worked in every other formerly “secular” Muslim country.

Beware of promises from Mohammedans, it is usually the “order” of a gulag you get.

profitsbeard on January 14, 2011 at 7:00 PM

This is going to have an impact in Egypt.

lexhamfox on January 14, 2011 at 7:03 PM

The Zero Hedge financial web site credits Ben Bernanke for deposing this head of state, by creating too much global liquidity, which was more inflationary for food prices than the Tunisians could bear.

The really odd thing is how much that Tunisian dictator, Ali, looks like Alan Grayson.

Emperor Norton on January 14, 2011 at 7:10 PM

I somewhat like Ben Ali. Radical muslims went to his prisons and seemed to have lost interest in living. Unlike Amnesty International, I do not support a right to impose sharia.

thuja on January 14, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Who cares about this, Gabrielle Giffords sneezed today!

/damn near everybody…

das411 on January 14, 2011 at 8:10 PM

Maybe if Hillary wasn’t talking about mentally ill killers as ‘extremists’ she might have seen this coming and warned us about it.

eaglewingz08 on January 14, 2011 at 11:13 PM

The hinge upon which all success turns in these events, is the allegiance of the Army. Given the technological sophistication of modern internal security functions, it’s the security apparatus that surrounds the centralized power that determines whether or not a coup succeeds or fails. Sooner or later all centralized power inevitably comes to the same point, where it becomes completely dependent upon its Praetorian Guard for its survival.
The reason why Tunisia is worth our consideration is because it is our future, unless we stand up and do something peacefully about the power concentrated at the top of our own pyramid. Remember, a free society works from the bottom up, or it doesn’t work at all!

Lew on January 15, 2011 at 9:20 AM

Test

Dire Straits on January 16, 2011 at 8:56 PM