Tunisia disproves Arab world’s greatest myth

Tunisia's Sidi Bouzid uprising and resulting "Jasmine Revolution" was the first successful case of popular upheaval toppling a ruling regime in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Moreover, this is the first revolution to be fueled from within, by its own civilian population–with little or no assistance from abroad.

In the last decade a number of "color revolutions" swept away authoritarian regimes, with the blessings and support of other states or financiers. The Bulldozer Revolution in Serbia (2000), the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004), and the Pink, Lemon, and Tulip Revolutions in Kyrgyzstan (2010) were all backed by external governments and forces.

In the Middle East, the so-called Purple Revolution in Iraq (2003) involved an American-led invasion and occupation, while the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005) led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and the attempted Green Revolution in Iran (2009) aimed at removing President Ahmadinejad and his anti-American theocratic regime. They were all–directly or indirectly–supported by the US and other Western states.

So why was Tunisia's revolution the first to unfold without foreign intervention, international boycotts and/or aid to the opposition? Or was some amount of foreign assistance involved?

According to Emad Gad, political analyst at Egypt's state-funded Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, there was no active external assistance for the Jasmine Revolution. However, "there was some form of indirect assistance from France and Europe–in not supporting the Ben Ali regime" during the course of the revolution.

"Europe moved to close its doors to migrations from Tunisia and North Africa following the terror attacks of September 11th, along with the string of terror attacks targeting European countries," said Gad, adding "these anti-immigration policies led to increasing unemployment and social grievances within Tunisia." With no outlet for relief, the poor state of the Tunisian economy, coupled with state repression, police brutality and shootings, helped the Tunisian revolution become a reality. "European and other Western states abandoned Ben Ali, but they did not actively support the revolution."

Another external factor which assisted the Jasmine Revolution was "the Internet, along with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter which helped spread news of events in Tunisia" beyond the borders of the country. "It has proven extremely difficult for authoritarian regimes to control the dissemination of such news."

Indeed, messages of support and solidarity abounded from across the Arab world, and the world at large, encouraging the Tunisian population to drive on with their revolution. "As for the states and governments of the world, they abandoned Ben Ali but did not lend active support to the revolution.

Gad says that the reason why Western states support dictators is not merely that their regimes are pro-secularism, pro-West, or pro-women's rights. He provided the examples of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and said "the determining factor is whether these regimes are able to protect the interests of Western states. They will protect those regimes which safeguard their regional interests. It doesn't matter if these regimes are Islamist, liberal or leftist, as long as they are able to protect foreign interests."

Since the downfall of Ben Ali on 14 January, most Arab governments and others around the world announced their acceptance of the Jasmine Revolution as a reality forged by the will of the Tunisian people. "Only the Libyan leader has expressed open support for Ben Ali, while Saudi Arabia agreed to take him in for humanitarian reasons." As for Israel's statements issued in support of the pro-Western and pro-Zionist Arab regimes "this is merely an act of political maneouvering on Israel's part," according to Gad.

Presidents Obama and Mubarak communicated on Tuesday about events in Tunisia and the greater MENA region. According to a White House statement issued the same day, President Obama "shared with President Mubarak that the United States is calling for calm and an end to violence, and for the interim government of Tunisia to uphold universal human rights and hold free and fair elections in order to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people."

According to Diaa el-Sawy–a leading member of Egypt's Labor Party, a populist-Islamic party legally frozen by Egyptian authorities–"Egyptian authorities are attempting to paint a picture of complete chaos and disorder in Tunisia. They fail to explain that the looting, arson and other crimes are being perpetrated by members of Ben Ali's police and security apparatuses."

El-Sawy agreed that regional powers hope that the Jasmine Revolution will fail, while Arab masses hope that the revolution spreads to their countries. "Egyptian authorities are attempting to instill fear into the hearts of the people, by warning them against the alleged instability and violence associated with uprisings and revolutions. This is only reflective of their own fears. Arab rulers are all terrified by the prospect of revolutions, uprisings, protests and civil disobedience spreading to their countries."

Gad agreed, stating "Arab states and governments are hoping for disasters, chaos, disorder and a governmental vacuum in Tunisia. But the chaos there is primarily being caused by the police forces, militias and members of Ben Ali's presidential guard."

Both Gad and el-Sawy agreed that the ordinary downtrodden folk living in Arab countries are hopeful that Tunisia will succeed–as has been exemplified by protests and expressions of solidarity in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Algeria and Jordan. They both pointed to the fact that at least 11 Egyptians have attempted to set themselves on fire in the course of past week, in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in Tunisia, while similar acts have taken place in Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco.

As for Tunisia's future prospects, Gad went on to say "the situation there is not stable yet, we have to wait and see. Arab states are betting on failure, wishing for cosmetic changes, and/or a marginal presence for opposition forces within the next Tunisian government. Western states are hoping for another regime which will protect their interests. At the same time time the Tunisian people are struggling to protect their own interests and rights, their freedoms and liberties as citizens."

In the words of el-Sawy: "there is a common misconception among Western governments that the Arab peoples are by nature opposed to the West. Accordingly, these governments want Arab statesmen in power who are pro-West and pro-business–no matter how cruel or corrupt they are–to control and contain these masses."

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