Monday, January 17, 2011

Tunisia Crisis Turned into a Revolution

Tunisia Crisis Turned into a Revolution

Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 17, 2011

As we promised in our first comment about the crisis in Tunisia on 15 January, 2011, here is a follow-up of the questions we addressed and left them to be clarified by the development of future events.
As expected, the crisis that was provoked by an isolated unfortunate event regarding an unemployed graduate who set himself on fire and died a few days later, turned into a full-scale revolution in Tunisia. This ignited people protests that finally caused the collapse of the government and resignation of the president.
Upon his downfall, the Tunisian President left for the destination of France, where he was refused entry. He then headed towards Saudi-Arabia, just like the Shah of Iran who was not accepted by his longtime allies and was finally received by Egypt.
The demise of Ben Ali did not end people protests and cities fell into widespread chaos and plunder. Prisoners were set free and for the first time in 23 years state television broadcasted “call for prayers,” which means a lot for the region. This could mean that power vacuum at the top of Tunisian political system could be handed over to an Islamic fundamentalist government. Indeed, this is not good news for the West and other Arab countries.
In fact, Tunisia that recognizes Islam as the state religion could very possibly turn to an Islamic government run by fundamentalists. This in turn could have a domino effect not only in the bordering Algeria but many other countries in North Africa and beyond  these two "buffer states”  farther to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Already, people in many countries in the region have expressed support for Tunisians and applauded their courage and vigor. High officials in the Arab states have reacted very cautiously but they seem to be shocked by the speed and the probable consequences of the events in Tunisia.
Curiously, Iranian state broadcastings inside the country had a rather poor coverage of Tunisian uprising and did not bother much to make political analyses for their audiences. Instead, many foreign radio and TV channels provided substantive and informative comments for enthusiastic  people interested in  news concerning  the  Tunisian political developments.

Many political activists in the Arab world believe that "the revolt in Tunisia is a surprise on all levels. It shows nations can topple oppressive regimes. There will be a ripple effect across the Arab region.”
Across the region the frustrated people by corruption, unemployment, rising gaps between riches and poor and family connections in the political strata, are watching closely Tunisia.  Some long-survived rulers like the Libyan dictator, who has been in power for the past 40 years, are warning against radicalism and extreme emotion towards incumbent leaders that may worsen the situation. He is indeed very much troubled about Tunisian experience and the fate of his rule. The Libyan leader like his peer in Egypt is equally worried about the impact of Tunisian revolution on their longtime dream of handing over the power of state to their heirs.
The economic reform plan which is now considered as a pre-requisite for economic development and efficient allocation of resources, requires suppression of subsidies in vital goods such as bread, sugar and diary etc. Most Arab nations rely on such state subsidies for their primary subsistence. Thus, subsidy cut will necessitate price rise and readjustment which in turn cause  people discontent.
Though the Persian Gulf oil producing states may not be categorized in the same vulnerable economic range, yet they lack many other political factors that could instigate people demand for changes in near future.  These latter with huge financial assets have been able to afford a rather workable welfare system that could buy off the opposition groups and postpone eventual revolt against the traditional ruling system.
But, countries such as Syria, Jordan and Egypt which lack such financial strength are very much vulnerable and their hard power instruments cannot deter public to rise up against the rulers. Besides that, military and security forces in these countries in most part come from the poor traditional layers of the society and may not remain devoted to their corrupt leaders in case they are ordered to suppress people protests and uprisings.
In the weeks and months ahead we shall be witnessing amazing changes in the Middle East political configuration. Such changes may not necessarily satisfy people’s rising expectations; they may even work against their hope and anticipations.
Iranians are watching very closely and with caution the development in Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East region. They are now quite busy with the ramifications of the new economic reform plan and waiting to see how their life will be affected in the process.
We shall continue on this topic 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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