Tunisia is burning…
On Saturday morning, 100 people gathered outside the Tunisian embassy in London. The blustering wind could not dampen their spirit; a revolution had happened. A girl standing next to me introduces herself as Kaouther Ferjani; she says that her father was a political opponent of President Ben Ali, and she has been unable to visit her family in Tunisia for many years. “Yesterday, he had three phones and Skype on the computer,” she says, “when he heard what had happened, he was kissing the phones and the computer screen!”
Many of us may have only heard the news in the last couple of days, but the Tunisian people have been rising up against the Ben Ali dictatorship for almost a month now. Revolutions always need a spark, and in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi was that spark. A young vegetable seller from the province of Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi set fire to himself outside the city hall after the police confiscated his stall and thus, his only form of income.
“Ben Ali, out out!”, protestors shouted as they marched through the streets of Tunis, the capital. On Friday, their wish was granted, with Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia, the nearest oppressive regime willing to take him in. Even France, former colonial ruler and a long-time ally of the Tunisian dictatorship, seemed keen to avoid providing refuge for the fallen President. Perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy feared a rush of French Arab masses to the streets; I’m sure Sarkozy would rather not see a repeat of the banlieues riots of 2005. Ethnic minorities in France have made their voices heard; provoke us, and we will fight back.
The EU’s support for Ben Ali’s regime goes a long way to explaining the initial media silence as over a hundred Tunisian demonstrators were killed in the streets by police over the last few weeks, but with the Internet now available, news quickly spread. But we must ask, where was the twenty-four coverage of streets on fire, as we saw of the Green Movement in Iran last year? As usual, the utter hypocrisy of the Western media is plain for all to see.
At a meeting for Haiti last week, I heard Oscar Guardiola-Rivera saying that the only way to fight oppression abroad is by challenging our own government at home. For Tunisia, the same principle applies. We must take our inspiration from the brave Tunisian people who have fought, and are still fighting against the Ben Ali regime. The Tunisians who have lived in a police state for decades, but still had the tenacity to rise up with such explosive force.
As Dyab Abou Jahjah noted in his excellent analysis of the situation in Tunisia, Ben Ali’s attempts to blame protests on foreign aggressors are rather bizarre, considering Ben Ali has few enemies aside from his own people. This was a popular, spontaneous uprising, born out of years of police repression, mass unemployment, poverty and marginalisation. Despite Ben Ali’s corruption being well-known to the EU, they have remained friends over the years because, as Abou Jahjah comments, “Democracy would involve some kind of implementation of a people’s agenda that is not sufficiently pro-Western for Europe or the USA to live with.” This may come as a bit of a surprise to those who had thought our governments had a shred of credibility left, but it will come as no surprise to people living in Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, or Kuwait, or Egypt, all ruled by puppet Presidents propped up with American dollars.
We can only hope that what has happened in Tunisia can evolve into something far greater. On Friday, reports began to emerge of thousands of Jordanians demonstrating against mass unemployment and rising food prices. Ben Ali was the first casualty, but many more should be watching their backs.
Today, the Arab people live in hope, but the Arab leaders live in fear.
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