Yesterday the small Arab nation Tunisia overthrew its dictator of twenty-three years. The excessive, luxurious lives of the ruling family led to growing unrest, when protestors finally took to the streets and raided the opulent residences of the President’s close allies. In a last grasp for power, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali announced the lifting of the tight censorship laws governing the North African country. This was not sufficient for the ten thousand protestors who demanded Ben Ali’s immediate resignation, which, in turn, came late last night. In response, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi assumed control in what some call a “bloodless coup,” the last of which occurred in 1987 when Ben Ali first declared himself President. But Ghannouchi’s power grab was short lived, as less than twenty-four hours later protestors forced the close ally of the ex-President out, opting for the constitutionally mandated ruler, the Speaker of Parliament. Free elections will be held within six months.
The ruling family’s excesses were recently brought into public discussions thanks to the highly controversial WikiLeaks cables. The US Ambassador to Tunisia described a new wave of extravagant self-indulgence; OKed by the fact that Tunisia pledges its allegiance to “fighting terrorists.” While many pundits criticized WikiLeaks’ reckless release of classified documents, citing future mistrust and providing information to enemies, the Tunisia uprising is a sign of the positive effects of exposing state secrets. After their country was blatantly robbed dry, citizens have the right to know why their populations suffer from crippling unemployment. Transparency breeds the end of corruption, especially in small states.
The majority of Tunisian industry is dominated by friends and family of Ben Ali – opening the door for inept directors of the private sector, thus less economic growth and job creation. “Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage,” the US Amassador wrote in his WikiLeaked cable. “And many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage.”
Tunisia’s protestors were by and far middle class, filled with angry doctors, lawyers, and other educated professionals. The monumental middle class uprising highlights a brewing trend in the Arab world: well-informed populations are infuriated by the lack of political participation, upward mobility, and media censorship of police states. Protests similar in ideology, but smaller in size, have already taken place in Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan, but Tunisia is the first Arab nation to force its ruling party out via a popular street demonstrations. And like Iran’s unrest after disputed elections in 2009, Tunisians organized largely utilizing the social media sites Facebook and Twitter. Expect more uprisings like these in the Arab world.
While the US loses an ally in the War on Terror, leaders should take note on a Machiavellian scale: educated populations in dejected nations transform their anger toward actively seizing fair participation in their own political-economic systems; poorly educated populations in disgruntled nations, on the other hand, adopt extremist mentors and turn to religious fundamentalism. They direct their anger to unfocused fights against loosely defined, but populist thirst quenching, “oppressors.” The US State Department should strongly considering preemptively fighting wars with education and aid rather than ineffective guns.
When President Ben Ali finally fled Tunisia, he reportedly sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. Many of his family members fled to a Disneyland Hotel. Apparently, even a revolution can’t stop the Ben Ali fiesta. At least Tunisia is now free of the family’s excesses.
Articles on the Tunisia protests, President Ben Ali's departure, and the transition from Prime Minister to Speaker of Parliament to free elections.