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Posts tagged ‘Tunisia’

Sparking the Arab Spring

From Read My Lips in The Globalist
28 December, 2011

Throughout 2011, protests in rich and poor countries alike have dominated the headlines — and shaped the political landscape. In this Read My Lips, we present economist Hernando de Soto’s recounting of the fate of Mohamed Bouazizi, the humble Tunisian fruit vendor who unleashed a tide of protest throughout the Arab world.

1. How did the revolution begin?

“It began when the 26-year-old Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in front of the governor’s offices in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, after his merchandise was confiscated.”

2. What exactly happened?

“Bouazizi flicked his lighter on at 11:30am on December 17, 2010, one hour after a policewoman, backed by two municipal officers, had expropriated his two crates of pears ($15), a crate of bananas ($9), three crates of apples ($22) and an electronic weight scale ($179, second hand).”

3. Why did Bouazizi respond by immolating himself?

“While a total of $225 might not appear to justify suicide, the fact is that, as a businessman, Bouazizi had been summarily wiped out.”

4. How so?

“Without those goods, Bouazizi would not be able to feed his family for more than the next month. Since his merchandise had been bought on credit and he couldn’t sell it to pay his creditors back, he was now bankrupt. Because his working tools were confiscated, he had lost his capital.”

5. What happened next?

“Before a few weeks passed, many of the 180 million Arabs who work in and around the informal markets in the Middle East and North Africa were identifying with his disempowerment and sending their shouts to heaven.”

6. Why did his story resonate?

“Like 50% of all working Arabs, he was an entrepreneur, albeit on the margins of the law. He died trying to gain the right to hold property and do business without being hassled by corrupt authorities.”

7. In other words, what really triggered the Arab Spring?

“Not enough credit has been given to the mighty consensus that triggered the uprising — the desire of a vast underclass of people to work in a legal market economy.”

8. What lesson does Bouazizi’s story hold?

“The powerless can crystallize into a revolutionary class when they become conscious that they share a common suffering — and especially when a martyr embodies that suffering.”

9. What lesson should the region’s political leaders take to heart?

“Political leaders must realize that, since Bouazizi went up in flames and his peers rose in protest, poor Arabs are no longer outside but inside, in the market, right next to them.”

10. And finally, what happens if reforms fail?

“If the agenda does not include tackling the nitty-gritty institutional deficiencies that make most Arabs poor, they will eventually open the doors to the anti-democrats and enemies of modernity who fight democracy and modernity in their name.”

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn from Mr. de Soto’s November 8, 2011 op-ed in the Financial Times.

Read more at The Globalist.

Tunisia’s Revolution

From Nation of Change by Mary Elizabeth King
15 December 2011

One Year On, The Roots of Success for Tunisia’s Revolution

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

Tunisia’s uprising has been in the making since at least 2008, when protests began in the mining basin of Gafsa. The country’s hounded civil society was able to unite nearly the entire society in pressing for fair elections. Mohamed Bouazizi—the unemployed fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, triggering their nonviolent revolution—was not the first aggrieved Tunisian to commit suicide by fire. Two other young people, one in coastal Monastir, on March 3, 2010, and the other in Metlaoui to the southwest, on November 20, 2010, had self-immolated themselves. French journalist Olivier Piot writes that as early as 1998 the burns unit of a major Tunis hospital did a study showing that an estimated 15.1 percent of its admissions were “suicide by fire.” The study’s authors considered these acts “extraordinarily” violent but viewed them as “a response by our country’s youth to another type of violence.” (I am indebted to Piot for sharing with me his book and English-translated article on the revolution.)

With 40 percent of the population under 25, unemployed college graduates were the first to activate themselves after Bouazizi’s death. Their efforts galvanized towns such as Thala, Sbeitla, Sidi Bouzid, Regueb, Douz and Kairouan—located in the neglected interior, as opposed to the coastal areas that had been endowed with monies to support tourism and development. With little hope for employment and no delusions, they led the revolt.

Indignation then turned into social upheaval and spread throughout the central and western regions. A 31-year old man self-immolated himself in Metlaoui on January 5, the day that 5,000 attended the interment of Bouazizi. In this mining town of 50,000, the local branch of the main union, the Tunisian General Union of Labor, well knew that 40 percent of the active population was unemployed and 75 percent of employees had been laid off in the previous 25 years. As Metlaoui heated up, the neighboring towns of Kasserine and Thala did too. Workers and Tunisia’s educated young were now in alliance. The parents and grandparents of the young soon joined them.

Early in the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, political activists began watching the extent of his clan’s corruption. As the family took over national enterprises during its 1995–2005 privatization schemes, their corruption became common knowledge. Beside unemployment, ending a culture of endemic, systemic corruption and impunity became a priority for Tunisians.

After a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, young online organizers set up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. Organizers in Egypt and Tunisia began exchanging views over Facebook. According to Piot, one in three Tunisians use the Internet. Egyptians were persuaded that Tunisians faced a more severe police state than their own because of Tunisia’s strict controls on blogging and press freedoms, but they perceived Tunisian labor unions as more powerful and independent. To Egyptians, Tunisia’s revolt was more “modern” and politically mature, because its discourse was that of educated, literate classes, who spoke the language of human rights, liberty, citizenship and democracy.

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Police repression against young demonstrators from poor areas swelled and recoiled, causing a second detonation on January 7 and 8, 2011. Tunisians burst with simmering resentment against the 150,000-strong police forces, long recognized for their arrogance, corruption and contemptuous behavior.

During Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, Tunisia’s civil-society organizations suffered severe, stifling repression. Yet they now emerged as politically important with their large networks of associations, radio stations, musical bands, clubs and human rights groups. Some claimed an apolitical identity, including Amnesty International. Others expressly came into being to oppose the Habib Bourguiba regime (1956‒1987), and then that of Ben Ali. Among these is the Tunisian League for Human Rights; founded in 1976, it is the oldest advocacy group of its kind in the Arab world.

With all political organizations dubbed the “illegal opposition” in Tunisia, the student movement—avidly organized during the 1970s and 1980s in the General Union of Tunisian Students—had gone underground years earlier. Yet the UGTT’s web of trade unions meant that local leaders were in place. These dispersed power centers, if mobilized, could represent a diverse opposition against the regime.

Ben Ali’s closing of all educational establishments on January 10 finally provoked the UGTT labor unions to react. They gave the go-ahead to locals in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike for January 11 and 12, and in Tunis on January 14. Workers may have sparked the uprising, but as it spread to the middle classes, the nation’s academicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers became engaged. This reach matched the geographic spread of the protests. Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Gabès and Bizerte—the largest cities—rose up in turn, especially after the successful January 12 general strike in Sfax.

Professionals, traders, merchants and financiers came on board, many of them allied with the Bourguiba regime and with Ben Ali in his early years. The ranks grew of those who felt embittered about being pushed aside by Ben Ali’s networks, especially the Trabelsi clan of his second wife Leila.

In Sousse, a city favored by tourists, workers from the Farhat Hached hospital organized a massive protest march. They were soon joined by hotel employees. The upheaval expanded to the upper crust as, on January 8, a delegation of business executives from Sousse, Ben Ali’s base, called on the presidential palace in Carthage to ask the president to step down. On January 14, Ben Ali left Tunisia.

Even if subdued, the free-standing civil-society networks with independent leadership provided Tunisia with what Gene Sharp calls the capacity for “corporate resistance and defiance.” As I have previously written, a clear link exists between the cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition during the years prior to a democratic transition and the depth of its self-governance in the outcome.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Democracy in Tunisia

Excerpt from The New York Times

Moderate Islamist Party Heads Toward Victory in Tunisia

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: October 24, 2011

TUNIS — Tunisia’s moderate Islamist political party emerged Monday as the acknowledged leader in elections for a constitutional assembly and began talks to form a unity government with a coalition of liberals in a rare alliance that party leaders hailed as an inclusive model for countries emerging from the tumult of the Arab Spring.

By Monday afternoon, Tunisian liberal parties said they were entering discussions to form a government led by their Islamist rival, Ennahda, after it swept to a plurality of about 40 percent in preliminary vote tallies. The acceptance of the results by rivals signaled the beginning of a partnership seldom seen in the Arab world, where Islamists’ few opportunities for victories at the voting booth have sometimes led to harsh crackdown or civil war.

In neighboring Algeria, an electoral victory by Islamists 20 years ago set off a military coup and a decade of bloodshed, and in the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza.

Tunisia’s was the first election of the Arab Spring, held to form an assembly that will govern while it writes a constitution, 10 months after the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big victories in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition.

“This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “We are as democratic as any country.”

In Tunisia and elsewhere some are wary of the Islamists’ surge, arguing that party leaders sound moderate now but harbor a conservative religious agenda. Tunisia, arguably closer to Europe than the other states swept up in the political upheaval of the past year, is widely viewed as having the best chance of establishing a genuinely pluralistic model of government.

Leaders of Ennahda noted that their party championed a greater commitment to the principles of Western-style liberal democracy than any other Islamist party in the region, and they said they hoped their example would help lead other Islamists in a similar liberal direction.

“We are the most progressive Islamic party in the region,” said Soumaya Ghannoushi, a British newspaper columnist and a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the daughter of Ennahda’s founder and acts as a party spokeswoman.

“Accepting each other, accepting pluralism, accepting diversity and trying to work together — this is the lesson Ennahda can give to other Islamic political movements,” she said.

In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth — groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder. But in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state.

Those already inclined to follow the Ennahda example “are not the most important players right now in the Islamist movement in Egypt,” argued Prof. Samer Shehata, a scholar of the region at Georgetown University. As a result, he said, Egypt’s secular liberals are likely to view the strong showing of Tunisia’s Islamists with “great concern.”

The final margin of victory for Ennahda remained to be seen Monday as Tunisian authorities continued to tabulate results. In the interest of transparency, officials counted the votes in the presence of observers in each polling place after closing Sunday night and posted the tally on the door, enabling political parties to compile their own rough estimates by Monday afternoon. Though reliable statistics were unavailable, observers said turnout had exceeded expectations. Some voters waited in line for as many as six hours.

In a news conference to announce its success, an Ennahda spokesman said the party had confirmed winning a plurality of more than 30 percent of the vote and the largest share in every district. A top party official, Ali Larayedh, said in an interview that Ennahda expected that the final result would be closer to 50 percent.

Read Complete Article at: NEW YORK TIMES

Is Obama to Blame?

Is Obama to blame or praise, as perhaps being the catalyst to many of the changes taking place across Africa and the Middle East with millions of people saying “Enough!” and wanting real change and democracy?

It was just 2 years ago that Barack Obama did what many said was impossible and became the president of the United States. He stood (and still stands) for possibility and putting hope into action. He was one of the first U.S. presidents to go to Africa and speak before thousands in Egypt and other countries about democracy, human rights and fair elections. I wonder if his energy and deep intentions may have been the tipping point that, conscious or not, lit some hearts and minds in people across the world who were dying for change for decades?

Yes, there are many other factors that have influenced and are driving Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyan’s Jordanian’s, Lebanese and others and there movements are each coming organically from their own experience, situation and need. Yes, the U.S. has often propped up, supported and turned a blind eye to dictators and governments that we felt were useful for some other purpose (or perceived advantage). And… I believe there are great changes afoot throughout the world and great opportunity to actually practice what we preach.

President Obama has not acted in a vacuum, but perhaps his message of having the audacity to hope has reached farther and deeper than we either give him credit for or realize.

Proud to be an Egyptian

One of the largest non-violent revolutions in history, in the most populist state in the Arab world and the biggest country in Africa, is transpiring before our eyes! The people of Egypt have provided an example of determination, unity, honor and courage that has opened the eyes of the world to what is possible and what must be.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, People Power in the Philippines, the revolution in Romania, the revolts in the Czech Republic and thousands in Iran and Tunisia, the Egyptian people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religious orientations and economic circumstances) have lit a path for freedom that can not and should not ever be taken for granted or dismissed.

The coming days, weeks, months and years will provide an opportunity for the army of Egypt (which is supposed to be a force for THE PEOPLE) to stay true to their word and be a stabilizing influence for real democratic change and the installation of democratic institutions. If they don’t, there is no doubt that Egyptians will arise in mass once more (despite the cost) and demand their hard fought for revolution be implemented and respected.

Many Egyptians are once again saying they are proud to be Egyptian. In fact, what they have done makes us all proud to be human. Now is the time to support the people of Egypt and similar democratic movements throughout the world, with our actions and not just give lip service as we (our government) has done in the past.

This will be the beginning of a worldwide change that will see authoritarian dictatorships around the globe either make drastic changes in how they treat their citizens or see similar mass civil disobedience and change regardless of their personal wishes for power or control. Countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and China may see Egypt as a wake up call. Let us hope they wake up to allow peaceful democratic freedom and rights for their people and not to clamp down and impose further restrictions, violence and tyranny.

Thank you Egypt. You are one of the cradles of civilization. Perhaps you have now become the cradle of a new world order of peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

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