And so it has happened. The ‘Arab street’ has awoken. It has been a very long time coming, but it appears that, for the first time, the Arab World has seen the removal of a dictatorial leader by a mass uprising of the people. What started a month ago, with the tragic sight of Mohamed Bouazizi burning himself in protest at the government; erupted into a mass movement, appearing in every city, and sending President Zine el-Abadein Ben Ali fleeing from the country. At this moment in time it appears that he is still on his plane, with no country willing to grant him asylum. It seems his friends over the last 23 years have forgotten him. [Edit: It seems Saudi Arabia have taken him in, you could not make it up.]
The wave of protest, initially expected to peter out, instead carried on and on, with all segments of Tunisian society represented. The staple of the Arab protest, the Palestinian flag, was present, but so were posters of Che.
Protests were banned; the people came out onto the streets. The army was called in; the people came out onto the streets. Curfews were announced; the people came out onto the streets.
Peaceful protesters were killed; the people came out onto the streets.
And it is these ‘martyrs of Tunisia’ who will be remembered. Estimates of around 90 dead could be conservative, and there could still be more to come, especially with the current absence of law and order.
Tunisia appears to have entered an alternate reality. The giant billboards of Ben Ali, omnipresent around Tunisia for longer than anyone can remember, are being taken down by the army. The army itself is split between various factions, there have been those shooting the protesters, whereas others have been pictured saluting and embracing them. State television employees have appeared live on television denouncing the government, and apologising for the coverage of the protests.
The question is; what now? A Ben Ali crony, former Prime Minister Mohamed al-Ghannouchi, has taken over. The protests have in no way called for more of the same, and it appears there is more street action to come. There is the hope that the security services, previously the defenders of the regime, will now defend the Tunisian citizens.
This revolution, as it should be called, has stirred the rest of the Arab World. There is blanket coverage on al-Jazeera, and congratulations are pouring in from Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf. Mona el-Tahawy, an Egyptian columnist and social commentator, tweeted that “every Arab leader is watching Tunisia in fear, every Arab citizen is watching Tunisia in hope and solidarity.” The dream is that this uprising will inspire other Arab subjects to overthrow their own leaders. Mubarak, Bouteflika, Gaddafi, Saleh, Assad, and the petty monarchs, will be looking on with interest, and fear.
The dream is that the words of the famous North African chant will come true, ‘Mabrouk ‘aleina, hathi al-bidaya, mazal, mazal,’ – ‘Congratulations, this is the start, more is to come.’
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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