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The dawn of hope in Tunisia
For 23 years, he ruled Tunisia with an iron fist, brooking no dissent or questioning. But finally, the tide turned against President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. He has been overthrown by a popular revolution, driven by the prosperous Arab country's frustrated youth. It has been hailed as a people's movement without parallel in the region. Rachel Vincent of the Montreal Gazette wrote: "As the world watched the first popular Arab uprising in the modern world unfolding in Tunisia, some looked to Iran's recent Green Revolution for comparisons. If there are any parallels to be drawn, the one that certainly stands out is the key role played by civil society. As we saw in Iran two years ago, ordinary citizens in Tunisia are reclaiming the true definition of democracy - one that derives its power from the people. Indeed, the echoes of Tunisia's 'jasmine revolution' will reverberate for some time to come. "
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post argued, "For many young Tunisians, the turning point was the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, an unemployed university graduate who set himself on fire Dec. 17 in the city of Sidi Bouzid to protest his bleak job prospects...Tunisia was long considered a model country in the region, with high economic growth rates derived largely from tourism, universities hospitals and good infrastructure. But the wealth remained largely in the hands of the elite. By some estimates, 20 percent to 40 percent of the nation's youth are unemployed, mirroring figures in other Arab countries. "
Bloomberg's Caroline Alexander reported that "Tunisia's four-dayold government, weakened by resignations and lingering protests, must quickly battle corruption to bolster its credibility and win public support, said Transparency International's Sion Assidon... Transparency International ranks Tunisia 4. 3 on its 2010 corruption perceptions index, with 1 the most corrupt and 10 the least. The actual level may be much higher because many of those surveyed would have been reluctant to reveal too much, he said. "
NYT editorialised thud: "Tunisia's people have achieved something rare and inspiring. Through a month of grassroots protests, they overthrew a dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. At a crucial moment, the Tunisian Army leader, Gen. Rachid Ammar, ordered his troops not to fire on their own people and then resisted the temptation to seize power for himself. The long-abused citizens of other Arab autocracies have taken heart. But Tunisia's achievement is not yet secure...For too long, Washington uncritically embraced Mr. Ben Ali. The Obama administration has played America's limited cards wisely, applauding the "courage and dignity" of the Tunisian people as the uprising gathered force. The United States needs to follow through with technical support to help organize voter rolls and monitor the election and modest economic help to get Tunisia's economy running again after weeks of disruption. The brave bid from Tunisians for a better, freer life must be nurtured. "
Meanwhile, fears of economic instability as a result of the crisis mount. Financial Times' Robin Wigglesworth and Daniel Dombey reported that "The US Treasury has warned financial institutions of a possible "flow of illicit assets" out of Tunisia, because of the risk of former regime associates seeking to take the proceeds of corruption out of the country. The move came as Tunisia's banking sector emerged as a concern for analysts in the wake of the toppling last week of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, the former president whose extended family played a big role in the country's banks. The Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advised US institutions to take "reasonable steps to guard against the potential flow of illicit assets that may be related to the current political and social unrest in Tunisia and abrupt changes in the government in Tunisia".
Maher Arar, writing in the Globe and Mail, noted, "It was remarkable that despite Western support for Mr. Ben Ali's dictatorship, no anti-Western slogans were heard from the Tunisian protesters. To them and other Middle Easterners, the real enemies are high unemployment, corruption, nepotism and favouritism. Most importantly, they want their voices heard. The United States and France should revaluate their strategies in the region, and contemplate whether the threat of Islamism is real or imagined. Turkey could serve as a positive example: Although it has been ruled by an Islamist party for most of a decade, its relationship with the West has remained close and collegial. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rise to power did not happen in vacuum. Turks people saw honesty and integrity in Mr. Erdogan when he was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s. Most importantly, he delivered the goods. Time will tell whether Washington and Paris have learned any lessons from Tunisia. I have my doubts. " Annabel Symington commented on the role of social media in the revolution in a piece on Huffington Post: "The Tunisian protests didn't get the same breathless exposure that the mainstream media granted the Iran protests in 2009 - but Tunisia's vocal youth did force a regime change and reopened the debate about the power of social media and its role in, and influence on, the mainstream media...Tunisia's online activists operated without much scrutiny from the outside world-Ben Ali's suppression of radical Islam brought him relative immunity from the international community and allowed him to continue repressing his people and suppressing free speech in private. And it is probably that lack of global attention that fostered such a strong cyber network and the momentum it needed to realize the change the Tunisian youth craved. " A stop-gap unity government has ben put in place and a fresh vote has been called for in 60 days. Tunisia might finally get a government that refects it's aspirations and will.
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