Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tunisia Crisis: A Call for Change in the Middle East

Tunisia Crisis: A Call for Change in the Middle East
Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 15, 2011 
Students of comparative politics should be interested in finding out the reasons behind two different outcomes in two apparently similar socio-political crises in two more or less comparable countries: Iran and Tunisia. In fact, events that led to the downfall of the incumbent Tunisian President in January 14, 2011, was in a way less turbulent than that happened after the much disputed presidential elections in Iran in 2010.
While in both events people as a whole assumed a decisive role in taking their protests to the streets of the capital cities and targeted their slogans directly at the highest officials asking for their resignation, Iran was able to survive the uproar whereas Tunisia succumbed to the demands of protesters.
What are the fundamental differences between the two crises in form and in substance? What exactly happened in Tunisia? Was that a revolution such as that occurred in Iran in 1979 with deep structural changes? Or it was just a temporary social turmoil which will fade out after a reshuffling of the government? What are the long-run consequences of similar crises in the greater Middle East?
Some people suggest that Tunisia was one of the fist victims of Wiki leaks disclosure on the widespread corruption of the Tunisian president’s family and the awful condition of the people engulfed in unemployment, inflation and inequality. In fact, the initial spark of the crisis in Tunisia was set off by Wiki leaks.
Here are the chronologic events that ended into a real crisis situation which caused the  toppling of  the incumbent regime in Tunisia on January 14, 2011:  
·         17 Dec: An unemployed graduate Tunisian citizen ( Mohammed Bouazizi ) sets himself on fire in protest at lack of job opportunities in Sidi Bouzid, leading to protests;
·         24 Dec: Another protester (Mohamed Ammari) shot dead in central Tunisia;
·         28 Dec: Protests spread to the capital Tunis, demanding the president  Ben Ali to step down;
·         5 Jan:  Mohammed Bouazizi died and ignited mass street protests by furious citizens ;
·         8-10 Jan: ‎ ‎A state of emergency was declared after which police fire rounds and tear gas at anti-government protesters. Dozens citizens reported killed in the streets of the capital;
·         12 Jan: Interior minister sacked.
·         13 Jan: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali promises to step down in 2014 in TV address
·         14 Jan: President dissolves government and parliament, declares state of emergency, and then steps down .Tension grips Tunisia's capital after leader flees to Saudi-Arabia.

      As we can see from the above sequences, the crisis gradually escalated from an isolated protest in December and reached its climax by the dissolution of the government and parliament and finally the resignation and fleeing of the president on January 14.
   Ben Ali’s long tenure to the office (23 years) and his  systematic repression of political opposition over the  past two decades has  created a situation in which no potent alternative could assume state’s responsibility and power in the immediate future. Furthermore, his failure to quell the demonstrations despite a huge security presence on the streets could have a large impact on the region, where similar regimes have ruled for decades.
Elsewhere in the neighboring Algeria too, demonstrations over high food prices have taken place during the past weeks. Other states with similar economic and social conditions, which have to make structural changes to their inefficient economy, seem to be the next candidates for unwanted political changes.
Interestingly, an international TV broadcast (Press TV) related to the Islamic republic, said in an interview on January 15 that” Tunisia crisis, [was] a 'wake-up call' for Arabs.” The answer of the interviewer (Clovis Maksoud) was very clever and to the point:
“Yes, not only a wakeup call but I think it's going to be infectious in several other areas in a manner that might not necessarily lead to bloodshed but a weakening of the authority and when they are vulnerable many of those who authoritarian regimes have excluded the population and in the policy making process .
He furthermore added: “And therefore there will be now a response on the part of many governments to try to accommodate some of the legitimate demands to the extent that they might in the process weaken their own authority and in that respect there might be a more readiness on the part of many Arab governments at this moment seriously accommodating the requirements of human rights, civil societies and sustainable development on all levels in terms of attacking unemployment. Do not forget the Arab world is a rich nation of poor people.
Whereas, one may argue that crises do happen anywhere the criteria mentioned above and does not recognize creeds, ethnicity or national border. Countries lagging behind the forced measures of globalization and democratic standards, as defined by the international environment, are suitable targets for change.
Iran has been able so far to make a safe passage in the initial phase of its economic reform plan. But, given the bitter memories of the post-elections events, it seems that people are not prepared to follow suit the Tunisian experience. Besides that, despite a number of similarities in forms, there are a variety of differences in substance between the two cases that make an intelligent guess about it very difficult.
We shall discuss more on other aspects of the crisis in our future comments./

‎* Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and -International Relations in Tehran-Iran. Students, researchers, academic institutions, media or any party interested in using all or parts ‎of this article are welcomed to do so with the condition of giving full attribution to the author and ‎Strategic Discourse. ©All Copy Rights Reserved.‎

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