Tunisian Revolution

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2010–2011 Tunisian Revolution
Caravane de la libération 4.jpg
Date18 December 2010 – ongoing

The 2010–2011 Tunisian Revolution, also known as the Jasmine Revolution,[2][3] is a continuing series of street demonstrations taking place throughout Tunisia from December 2010 onwards. The demonstrations and riots were reported to have started over unemployment, food inflation, corruption,[4] freedom of speech[5] and poor living conditions. The protests led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who stepped down from the presidency and fled Tunisia on 14 January 2011 after 23 years in power.[6][7]

The protests began in December 2010 after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after police confiscated his produce cart.[8] (Bouazizi's action has since been replicated across North Africa, the wider Arab world and the region.) The protests constituted the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades[9][10] and have resulted in scores of deaths and injuries. Following Ben Ali's departure, a caretaker coalition government was created, including members of Ben Ali's party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), in key ministries, while including other Opposition figures in other ministries, with elections to take place within 60 days. However, five newly-appointed non-RCD ministers resigned[11][12] almost immediately, and as of 21 January 2011 daily street protests in Tunis and other towns around Tunisia continue, demanding that the new government have no RCD members and that the RCD itself be disbanded.[12][13][14]

The protests and change in government are referred to in Tunisia itself and in the wider Arab world and diaspora by the toponym Sidi Bouzid Intifadah (or Revolt or Revolution). [15][16][17] In the western media these events have been dubbed the Jasmine Revolution[18][19] in keeping with the geopolitical nomenclature of "colour revolutions" (although the comparison is disputed).


President Ben Ali had ruled Tunisia since 1987. His government, which had been criticised in the media and amongst NGOs, was supported by the United States and France because of his "persecution of the Islamists [and] his economic agenda was touted as a brilliant model that could be replicated in North Africa and he proved to be a staunch U.S. ally actively involved in the controversial rendition programme." As a result, the initial reactions to Ben Ali's abuses by the U.S. and France were muted, and most instances of socio-political protest in the country, when they occurred at all, rarely made major news headlines.[20]

Riots in Tunisia were rare[21] and noteworthy, especially since the country is generally considered to be wealthy and stable as compared to other countries in the region.[22] Al Jazeera English also said that Tunisian activists are amongst the most outspoken in its part of the world with various messages of support being posted on Twitter for Bouazizi.[23] An op-ed article in the same network said of the action that it was "suicidal protests of despair by Tunisia's youth." It pointed out that the state-controlled National Solidarity Fund and the National Employment Fund had traditionally subsidised many goods and services in the country but had started to shift the "burden of providence from state to society" to be funded by the "bidonvilles," or shanty towns, around the richer towns and suburbs.[clarification needed] It also cited the "marginalisation of the agrarian and arid central and southern areas [that] continue[s] unabated."[24] The protests were also called an "uprising" because of "a lethal combination of poverty, unemployment and political repression: three characteristics of most Arab societies."[25] Another cause for the uprising has been attributed to the inability of the Tunisian government from being able to censor information from reaching the Tunisian people, such as information from WikiLeaks describing rampant corruption in the Tunisian government.[26]

Sidi Bouzid and Mohamed Bouazizi

On December 17, 2010 in Sidi Bouzid, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in front of the municipal building to protest corruption and ill-treatment by the local police.[27] This immolation and subsequent heavy-handed response by the police to peaceful marchers caused riots the next day in Sidi Bouzid that went largely unnoticed, although social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube featured images of police dispersing youths who attacked shop windows and damaged cars. Bouazizi was subsequently transferred to a hospital near Tunis where he died on 4 January.[28]

Early protests

There were reports of police obstructing demonstrators and using tear gas on hundreds of young protesters in Sidi Bouzid in mid-December 2010. The protesters had gathered outside regional government headquarters to demonstrate against the treatment of Mohamed Bouazizi who had set himself on fire to protest the police confiscation of fruit and vegetables he was trying to sell on the streets. Coverage of events was limited by Tunisian media. On 19 December, extra police were present on the streets of the city.[29]

On 22 December, Lahseen Naji, a protestor, responded to "hunger and joblessness" by electrocuting himself after climbing an electricity pylon.[30] Ramzi Al-Abboudi also killed himself because of financial difficulties arising from a business debt by the country's micro-credit solidarity programme.[24] On 24 December, Mohamed Ammari was fatally shot in the chest by police in Bouziane. Other protesters were also injured, including Chawki Belhoussine El Hadri, who died later on 30 December.[31] Police claimed they shot the demonstrators in "self-defence." A "quasi-curfew" was then imposed on the city by police.[32]

Violence later increased as Tunisian authorities and residents of Sidi Bouzid Governorate encountered each other once again. The protests had reached the capital Tunis[30] on 27 December with about 1,000 citizens expressing solidarity[33] with residents of Sidi Bouzid and calling for jobs. The rally, which was called by independent trade union activists, was stopped by security forces. The protests also spread to Sousse, Sfax and Meknassy.[34] The following day the Tunisian Federation of Labour Unions held another rally in Gafsa which was also blocked by security forces. At the same time about 300 lawyers held a rally near the government's palace in Tunis.[35] Protests continued again on the 29 December.[36]

On 30 December, police peacefully broke up a protest in Monastir while using force to disrupt further demonstrations in Sbikha and Chebba. Momentum appeared to continue with the protests on 31 December and further demonstrations and public gatherings by lawyers in Tunis and other cities following a call by the Tunisian National Lawyers Order. Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), said that lawyers across Tunisia had been "savagely beaten."[31] There were also unconfirmed reports of another man attempting to commit suicide in El Hamma.[37]

On 3 January 2011, protests in Thala over unemployment and a high cost of living turned violent. At a demonstration of 250 people, mostly students, in support of the protesters in Sidi Bouzid, police fired tear gas; one canister landed in a local mosque. In response, the protesters were reported to have set fire to tyres and attacked the office of Constitutional Democratic Rally.[38]

Some of the more general protests sought changes in the government's online censorship, where a lot of the media images have been broadcast. Tunisian authorities also allegedly carried out phishing operations to take control of user passwords and check online criticism. Both state and non-state websites had been hacked.[39]

Rising elites' support and continuing protests

On 6 January, 95% of Tunisia's 8,000 lawyers went on strike, according to the chairman of the national bar association. He said "The strike carries a clear message that we do not accept unjustified attacks on lawyers. We want to strongly protest against the beating of lawyers in the past few days."[40] It was reported on the following day that teachers had also joined the strike.[41]

In response to January 11 protests police used riot gear to disperse protesters ransacking buildings, burning tyres, setting fire to a bus and burning two cars in the working class suburb of Ettadhamen-Mnihla in Tunis. The protesters were said to have chanted "We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God." Military personnel were also deployed in many cities around the country.[42]

On 12 January, a reporter from the Italian state-owned television broadcaster RAI stated that he and his cameraman were beaten with batons by police during a riot in Tunis' central district and that the officers then confiscated their camera.[43] A night time curfew was also ordered in Tunis after protests and clashes with police.[44]

Hizb ut-Tahrir also organised protests after Friday prayer on January 14 to call for re-establishing the Islamic caliphate.[45] A day later, it also organised other protests that went to the April 9 Prison to free political prisoners.[46]

Also on January 14, Lucas Dolega, a photojournalist working for European Pressphoto Agency, was hit in the forehead by a tear gas canister allegedly fired by the police at short range; he died two days later.[47]

On 25 January protesters continued to defy a curfew in Tunis[48] as reverberations continued around the region.


Arabic agitprop. Translation: Free Saleem — Advocate Tunisian Detainee

Reports indicate that several webloggers and the rapper Hamada Ben Aoun[49][50] were arrested, but that the rapper and some of the bloggers were later released.[51] Reporters Without Borders said the arrest of at least six bloggers and activists, who had either been arrested or had disappeared across Tunisia, was brought to their attention and that there were "probably" others.[52] Tunisian Pirate Party activists Slah Eddine Kchouk, Slim Amamou (later released,[53][54] and eventually appointed Secretary of State for Sport and Youth by the incoming government) [54][55] and Azyz Amamy had been reported to have had "disappeared" as no news was heard about them.[39][56][57][dubious ]

Hamma Hammami, the leader of the banned Tunisian Workers' Communist Party and a prominent critic of Ben Ali, was arrested on 12 January,[44] though he was released two days later.[58]

Domestic political response

During a national television broadcast on 28 December, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali criticised people for their protests calling the perpetrators "extremists and mercenaries" and warned of "firm" punishment. He also accused "certain foreign television channels of broadcasting false allegations without verification, based on dramatisation, fermentation and deformation by media hostile to Tunisia."[59] His remarks were ignored and the protests continued.[36]

On 29 December, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali shuffled his cabinet to remove his communications minister Oussama Romdhani, while also announcing changes to the trade and handicrafts, religious affairs, communication and youth portfolios.[60] The next day he also announced the dismissal of the governors of Sidi Bouzid, Jendouba and Zaghouan.[61]

In January 2011, Ben Ali said 300,000 new jobs would be created, though he did not clarify what that meant. However, he also described the protests "the work of masked gangs that attacked at night government buildings and even civilians inside their homes in a terrorist act that cannot be overlooked." Ahmed Najib Chebbi, the leader of the Progressive Democratic Party, then said that despite official claims of police firing in self-defense "the demonstrations were non-violent and the youths were claiming their rights to jobs" and that "the funeral processions [for those killed on January 9] turned into demonstrations, and the police fired [at] the youths who were at these .. processions." He then criticised Ben Ali's comments as the protesters were "claiming their civil rights, and there is no terrorist act...no religious slogans," while accusing Ben Ali of "looking for scapegoats." He further criticised the additional jobs offered as mere "promises."[62]

On 10 January, the government announced the indefinite closure of all schools and universities in order to quell the unrest.[63]

Days before departing office, Ben Ali announced that he would not change the present constitution, which was read as, in effect, promising to step down in 2014 due to his age.[64]

President Ben Ali's ousting

On 14 January, Ben Ali dissolved his government and declared a state of emergency. Officials said the reason for the emergency declaration was to protect Tunisians and their property. People were also barred from gathering in more than groups of three people otherwise courting arrest or being shot if they try to run away.[65][66] He also called for an election within six months to defuse demonstrations aimed at forcing him out.[citation needed] France24 also said the military took control of the airport and closed the country's airspace.[67]

On the same day, Ben Ali fled the country for Malta under Libyan protection[68] and landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after France rejected a request for the plane to land on its territory. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi then briefly took over as acting president.[6][69] Saudi Arabia cited "exceptional circumstances" for their heavily criticised decision to give him asylum saying it was also "in support of the security and stability of their country." The Saudi decision was "not out of sympathy" for Ben Ali (who had long fought against Islamists in Tunisia). Saudi Arabia demanded Ben Ali remain "out of politics" as a condition for accepting him.[70] On the morning of January 15, Tunisian state TV announced that Ben Ali had officially resigned his position and Ghannouchi had handed power over to parliamentary speaker Fouad Mebazaa.[71] This was done after the head of Tunisia's Constitutional Court, Fethi Abdennadher, declared that Ben Ali had left for good, Ghannouchi did not have right to power and Mebazaa would be given 60 days to organise new election.[72] Mebazaa said it was in the country's best interest to form a National Unity government.[73]

A commission to reform the constitution and current law in general has been set up under Yadh Ben Achour.[74] There have also been calls by the opposition to delay the elections and hold them in six or seven months and with international supervision.[75]

Immediate aftermath

Tunisian soldiers serving as gendarmes

Following Ben Ali's departure violence and looting continued and the national army was reported to be extensively deployed in Tunis.[76] The identity of the perpetrators has not been determined. A high official of the Tunisian military, however, also stated that elements loyal to former President Ben Ali have deployed across the country.[77] The capital's main train station was also torched.[76]

A prison director in Mahdia freed about 1,000 inmates following a deadly prison rebellion that left 5 people dead.[78] Many other prisons also had jail breaks or raids from external groups to force prisoner releases, some suspected to be aided by prison guards. General pandemonium was said to have occurred in Tunisia as residents who were running out of necessary food supplies had armed themselves and barricaded their homes, even to the extent of having formed armed neighbourhood watches. Al Jazeera's correspondent said there were apparently three different armed groups: the police (250,000 people of the country's population were supposedly part of the police force), security forces from the Interior Ministry, and irregular militias supportive of Ben Ali who were vying for control.[79]

Gun battles took place near the Presidential Palace between the Tunisian army and elements of security organs loyal to the former regime after Ali Seriati, head of presidential security, was arrested and accused of threatening state security by fomenting violence.[80] The Tunisian army was reportedly struggling to assert control.[81]

On January 16, Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali's wife, died from a stab wound he received 2 days before. He was the first victim amongst Ben Ali's extended family during the protests.[82] Gunfire continued to ring out in Tunis and Carthage as security services struggled to maintain law and order.[83]

The most immediate result of the protests was seen in increased internet freedoms.[84] While commentators were divided about the extent to which the internet contributed to the ousting of Ben Ali from power,[85][86][87] Facebook remained accessible to roughly 20% of the population throughout the crisis[86][88] whilst its passwords were hacked by a country-wide man-in-the-middle attack,[89] YouTube and DailyMotion became available after Ben Ali's ousting,[90] and the Tor anonymity network reported a surge of traffic from Tunisia.[91]

Post-Ben Ali government

The unity government announced on 17 January included twelve members of the ruling RCD, the leaders of three opposition parties (Mustapha Ben Jafar from the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, Ahmed Ibrahim of the Movement Ettajdid and Ahmed Najib Chebbi of the Progressive Democratic Party),[92] three representatives from the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and representatives of civil society (including prominent blogger Slim Amamou). Just one day after the formation of the temporary government the three members of the UGTT as well as Mustapha Ben Jafaar, head of the FTDL opposition party quit saying that they had "no confidence" in a government that still featured members of the RCD party that ruled under Ben Ali.[93][94]

The Times of Malta suggested that three notable movements not included in the national unity government were the banned Renaissance Party, the communist Tunisian Workers' Communist Party[95] and the secular reformist Congress for the Republic.[96]

It was unclear whether the ban on these parties and the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir would be lifted,[citation needed] though the Renaissance Party has announced it would apply for recognition as a party.[97][98] On 20 January 2011, the new government announced in its first sitting that all banned parties would be legalised and that all political prisoners would be freed.[99]

Protests against the RCD and new government

Anti-RCD graffiti

Internal and external protests against the presence of RCD members in the new government occurred daily starting on 17 January, the day that the new cabinet was announced.Thousands of anti-RCD protesters rallied on January 17 in a protest with relatively little violence between security services and protestors.[100] Pro-Ben Ali supporters held a rally later in the day.[citation needed] The Tunisian General Labour Union's ministers resigned after a day (18 January), citing the presence of RCD ministers in the government as the reason.[11] Mustafa ben Jaafar also refused to take up his post. The interim president and prime minister then left the RCD in a bid to calm protests against the inclusion of RCD members in the government with the PM stating that all members of the national unity government had "clean hands."[14]

On 18 January, street protests against RCD participation in the new government included hundreds of people demonstrating in Tunis, Sfax, Gabes, Bizerta, Sousse and Monastir.[11] The protests continued on 19 January, with the demand that no "former allies" of Ben Ali should remain in the government, including hundreds of protestors marching in central Tunis and about 30 staging a sit-in near the Ministry of the Interior, ignoring a curfew.[13] Protestors also called for the RCD to be disbanded.[14] On 20 January, hundreds of people demonstrated outside of the RCD headquarters in Tunis with the same aims, and protests in other towns around Tunisia were reported.[101] Thousands participated in 21 January protests outside the Interior Ministry.[12]

Zouhair M'Dhaffer, a close confidant of Ben Ali who was seen as the main architect of the 2002 constitutional reform to lift term limits, resigned from the government on 20 January. All other RCD ministers resigned from the party on the same day. The central committee of the RCD also disbanded on that day.[102][103]

PM Ghannouchi vowed on 22 January 2011 that he would resign after holding transparent and free elections within six months.[104]

On 23 January, thousands of police began to join protests in Tunis over salaries and to assuage blame over political deaths attributed to them during Ben Ali's rule.[105]

As the country's army chief Rachid Ammar announced on 24 January 2011 it was on the side of the protesters and would "defend the revolution", rumours emerged that the government would be replaced by a council of "wise men".[106]

On 26 January 2011, international arrest warrants for Ben Ali, his wife and several other members of his family were issued.[107]


Other domestic

The national stock market index, TUNINDEX, fell on 12 January for a 3-consective day loss of 9.3%.[108] Following the curfew in Tunis, the market index again fell 3.8% as cost to protect against a sovereign default in credit default swaps rose to its highest level in almost 2 years.[109][110]

International and non-state

The International Federation for Human Rights, which is headed by Tunisian journalist Souhayr Belhassen, condemned "the use of firearms by the Tunisian security forces, and calls for an independent inquiry to cast light on these events, to hold those responsible accountable and to guarantee the right to peaceful protest."[31]

On 2 January the hacktivist group Anonymous announced 'Operation Tunisia' in solidarity with the protests in hacking a number of Tunisian state-run websites.[39][111] In a statement Anonymous announced:

"The Tunisian government wants to control the present with falsehoods and misinformation in order to impose the future by keeping the truth hidden from its citizens. We will not remain silent while this happens. Anonymous has heard the claim for freedom of the Tunisian people. Anonymous is willing to help the Tunisian people in this fight against oppression."[112]

Within 24 hours of the announcement, multiple Tunisian governmental websites were made unavailable, including: Bourse de Tunis (the Tunisian national stock exchange), Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Industry, Tunisian Government Commerce, The Carthage Palace (home to the President), presidential election commission and a government website that is a portal for various ministries.[113]

The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb voiced support for the demonstrators against both the Tunisian and Algerian governments in a video released on January 13, 2011. AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud offered military aid and training to the demonstrators. He also called on them to overthrow "the corrupt, criminal and tyrannical" regime and for "retaliation" against the Tunisian government. His statement was denounced by Tunisian members of parliament, journalists, students, and residents.[114][115]


  • Europe EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Fuele jointly expressed their "support and recognition to the Tunisian people and their democratic aspirations, which should be achieved in a peaceful way" urging "all parties to show restraint and remain calm in order to avoid further casualties and violence". The EU also expressed its "willingness to help find lasting democratic solutions to the ongoing crisis".[116]
  • United Nations UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that "the political situation is developing fast and every effort must be made by all concerned parties to establish dialogue and resolve problems peacefully to prevent further loss, violence and escalations"[116]
Demonstration in support of the Tunisian protests in Nantes, France, January 15, 2011.
  • France French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that "only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis"[116] French Socialist Party First Secretary, Martine Aubry, called on the French government to be tougher towards the Tunisian government. "I would like to say to the Tunisian people that it has the full support and solidarity of the PS, and we ask that France adopt a strong position condemning the unacceptable repression."[117] On January 24, Paris’s state prosecutor office announced that it had opened an investigation into French assets held by Ben Ali.[118] The government of France also said it would probe possible irregularities into Ben Ali's assets.[119]
  • Iran Iranian speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani praised the protests by the Tunisian people "to restore their rights." He accused Western states of being "countries which are the main cause of autocracy (in Tunisia)...[but] are pretending that they are sympathising with the nation."[120]
  • Libya On January 16, Libyan Leader Muammar al-Gaddafi decried Ben Ali's removal in a speech on Libyan state television: "You have suffered a great loss. There is none better than Zine to govern Tunisia. Tunisia, a developed country that is a tourist destination, is becoming prey to hooded gangs, to thefts and fire. [The conditions in Tunisia reflect] chaos with no end in sight.[121] I am concerned for the people of Tunisia, whose sons are dying each day. And for what? In order for someone to become president instead of Ben Ali? I do not know these new people, but we all knew Ben Ali and the transformation that was achieved in Tunisia. Why are you destroying all of that? [Do not be fooled by] WikiLeaks which publishes information written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos."[122]
  • Morocco The Morocan Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "solidarity" with the Tunisian people, hoping that Tunisia will attain "civil peace."[123]
  • Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic The Sahrawi government announces its support to "the free choice of brotherly Tunisian people," through a statement its Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek: "The Government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic followed with great interest the current developments in Tunisia...The Sahrawi government hopes peace, security and stability to brotherly Tunisia in freedom, democracy and equality.".[124]
  • United Kingdom UK Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the violence and called for "a rapid return to law and order, restraint from all sides, an orderly move towards free and fair elections and an immediate expansion of political freedoms in Tunisia", urging the Tunisian authorities "to do all they can to resolve the situation peacefully"[116] An emergency flight was also chartered to bring back British citizens from Tunisia.[125]
  • United States United States President Barack Obama applauded the courage and dignity of protesting Tunisians. He urged all parties to keep calm and avoid violence.[126] He also called on the Tunisian government to respect human rights and hold free and fair elections in the future.[127] During the 2011 State of the Union Address, he referenced events in Tunisia saying that the democratic goals are supported and that the "struggles" of the American people are sought by others around the world.[128] The State Departments leading envoy for the region said that the US was hoping that the "example" of Tunisia would bring reform to the rest of the region. "I certainly expect that we'll be using the Tunisian example [in talks with other Arab governments]. The challenges being faced in many parts of the world, particularly in the Arab world, are the same and we hope people will be addressing legitimate political, social, economic grievances." This came despite US support for Ben Ali. He also said he would visit France for talks over the crises in both Tunisia and Lebanon[129]

Media and punditry

An example of the default global symbolism by a Tunisian citizen.[citation needed]

The protests and resultant political crisis have generally been called the Jasmine Revolution in the media[130][131] in keeping with the geopolitical nomenclature of "colour revolutions". (Others have dubbed the protests and the ousting of President Ben Ali as a Twitter Revolution[132] or WikiLeaks Revolution[133] due to the influence of these new media.)[134] The term Jasmine Revolution is deemed inappropriate by philosopher Youssef Seddik, who insists on the violence that marked an event "perhaps as deep as Bastille Day,"[135] and although the term was coined by the Tunisian journalist Zied El Hani, who first used it on his blog on January 13 and initially spread via social media such as Facebook (hence "Revolution Facebook" amongst the youth of Tunisia),[136] it is not in widespread use in Tunisia itself.[18][19]

The lack of coverage in the domestic state-controlled media was criticised.[23] Writer/activist Jillian York alleged that the mainstream media, particularly in the Western world, was providing less coverage and less sympathetic coverage to the Tunisia protests relative to Iranian protests and the Green movement and China's censorship. York alleged the "US government—which intervened heavily in Iran, approving circumvention technology for export and famously asking Twitter to halt updates during a critical time period—has not made any public overtures toward Tunisia at this time."[137]

Despite criticism about the "sparse" level of coverage and "little interest" given to the demonstrations by the international media, the protests have been hailed by some commentators as "momentous events" in Tunisian history.[138] Brian Whitaker, writing in The Guardian, suggested on 28 December 2010, that the protests would be enough to bring an end to Ben Ali's presidency and noted similarities with the end of Nicolae Ceauşescu's reign in Romania in 1989,[138] although Steven Cook, writing for the Council of Foreign Relations, notes that a tipping point is only obvious after the fact, and points to the counter-example of the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests.[139] Ben Ali's governing strategy was nevertheless regarded to be in serious trouble,[140] and Elliot Abrams noted both that demonstrators were able for the first time at the end of 2010 to defy the security forces and that the regime had no obvious successors outside of Ben Ali's own family.[141]

The French management of the crisis came under severe criticism[142] with notable silence in the mainstream media in the run-up to the crisis in its former colony.[143]

Repercussion analysis

Al Jazeera read the ousting of the president as the "glass ceiling of fear has been for ever shattered in Tunisia and that the police state that Ben Ali created in 1987 when he came to power in a coup seems to be disintegrating." Though it added that Ben Ali's resignation following his statement that he had been "duped by his entourage" may not entirely be sincere just yet. Le Monde criticised French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Union's "Silence over the Tragedy" when the unrest broke.[20] The Christian Science Monitor suggested that mobile telecommunications played an influential role in the "revolution."[144]

The revolt in Tunisia began speculation that the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" would lead to protests against the multiple other autocratic regimes across the Arab world. This was most famously captured in the phrase asking whether "Tunisia is the Arab Gdańsk?. The allusion refers to the Polish Solidarity movement and Gdańsk's role as the birthplace of the movement that ousted Communism in Eastern Europe. The phrase appeared in outlets such as the BBC,[145] as well as editorials by well known columnists Rami Khouri[146] and Roger Cohen.[147]

Larbi Sadiki suggested that despite "conventional wisdom has it that 'terror' in the Arab world is monopolised by al-Qaeda in its various incarnations" there was also the practice of "regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria [that] have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden [they] were [also] caught unawares by the 'bin Laden within': the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population. The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west – the Maghreb – threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death."[148] A similar op-ed in Al Jazeera by Lamis Ardoni said that the protests had "brought down the walls of fear, erected by repression and marginalisation, thus restoring the Arab peoples' faith in their ability to demand social justice and end tyranny." He also said that the protests that succeeded in toppling the leadership should serve as a "warning to all leaders, whether supported by international or regional powers, that they are no longer immune to popular outcries of fury" even though Tunisia's ostensible change "could still be contained or confiscated by the country's ruling elite, which is desperately clinging to power." He called the protests the "Tunisian intifada" which had "placed the Arab world at a crossroads." He further added that if the change was ultimately successful in Tunisia it could "push the door wide open to freedom in Arab word. If it suffers a setback we shall witness unprecedented repression by rulers struggling to maintain their absolute grip on power. Either way, a system that combined a starkly unequal distribution of wealth with the denial of freedoms has collapsed."[149] Similarly, Mark LeVine noted that the events in Tunisia could spiral into the rest of the Arab world as the movement was "inspiring people...to take to the streets and warn their own sclerotic and autocratic leaders that they could soon face a similar fate." He then cited solidarity protests in Egypt where protesters chanted "Kefaya" and "We are next, we are next, Ben Ali tell Mubarak he is next;" and that Arab bloggers were supporting the movement in in Tunisia as "the African revolution commencing...the global anti-capitalist revolution." He pointed to an article in al-Nahar that talked of an "inhuman globalisation" that had been imposed on the Arab world, however a "human" nationalism had not taken place. He then accused the Obama administration in the United States of double standards when Clinton was in the region meeting with political and civil society leaders, however she responded to a question about the protests saying "We can't take sides," which was read as a failure to seize the "reigns of history" abd "usher in a new era" to "defeat the forces of extremism" without the violent conflict in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. He also pointed out Clinton's remarks at a summit in Qatar where she said that regimes whose "foundations are sinking into the sand" and needed "reform" was in fact a call for US foreign policy in the Middle East and the Muslim world that was "equally in danger of sinking into the sands if the President and his senior officials are not willing to get ahead of history's suddenly accelerating curve. It is the US and Europe, as much as the leaders of the region, who in Clinton's words are in need of 'a real vision for that future.'" Finally he said there were two scenarios that could play out: "a greater democratic opening across the Arab world," or a similar sitiation to Algeria in the early 1990s when the democratic election was annulled and the Algeria went into a civil war.[150]

Robert Fisk asked if this was "The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world?" and partly answered the question in saying that Arab leaders would be "shaking in their boots." He also pointed out that the "despot" Ben Ali sought refuge in the same place as the ousted Idi Amin of Uganda and that "the French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a 'friend' of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists." He notably pointed at the "demographic explosion of youth" of the Maghreb, though he said that the change brought about in Tunisia may not last as: "For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia – but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties? Then when it looked like the Islamists might win the second round of voting, we supported its military-backed government in suspending elections and crushing the Islamists and initiating a civil war in which 150,000 died. No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and stability." He added that "If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it?"[125]

According to Glenn Greenwald, the protests may have been prompted at least in part by certain cables [151] released by the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks which "graphically detailed for the Tunisian citizenry the opulence and corruption of Tunisia's U.S.-backed ruling family, and . . . were amplified by Al Jazeera."[152]

The use of communication technologies, and the Internet in particular, has been widely accredited as the main catalyst, if not precondition, to the mobilisation of protests.[153] A blog associated with Wired described the intricate efforts of the Tunisian authorities to control such online media as[154] Twitter and Facebook. Other regional regimes were also on higher alert to contain spillover effects that may ensue. Simon R. B. Berdal noted:

Centres are here to be understood as governments or institutions that have direct influence on collectively binding decisions, whereas peripheries refer to the public spheres, where public opinion draws its roots and develops.[citation needed]

Blake Hounshell wrote on Foreign Policy.com that the Tunisian precedent raised the prospect of a "new trend. There is something horrifying and, in a way, moving about these suicide attempts. It's a shocking, desperate tactic that instantly attracts attention, revulsion, but also sympathy."

Regional instability

Bouazizi's actions were said to have resonated across the region "There is great interest. The Egyptian people and the Egyptian public have been following the events in Tunisia with so much joy, since they can draw parallels between the Tunisian situation and their own."[156]


On 29 December, clashes with police were also reported in neighbouring Algiers, Algeria, over protests about the lack of housing. At least 53 people were reported to have been injured and another 29 were arrested.[157] In January 2011, following food price rises, simultaneous protests against living conditions and food inflation erupted all over the country[158] for a week.[159] In total, three demonstrators were killed, more than 800 people were wounded, and at least 1100 were arrested.

From January 12 to January 19, a wave of self-immolation attempts swept the country, beginning on the 12th with Mohamed Aouichia, who set himself on fire in Bordj Menaiel in protest over his family's housing. On January 13, Mohsen Bouterfif set himself on fire after a meeting with the mayor of Boukhadra in Tebessa who was unable to offer Bouterfif a job and a house. Bouterfif was reported to have died a few days later; about 100 youths protested his death, causing the provincial governor to sack the mayor. At least ten other self-immolation attempts were reported that week.

On 22 January the RCD party organised a demonstration for democracy in Algiers attended by about 300 people, illegal under the State of Emergency in force since 1992; it was suppressed by the police, with 42 injuries.


On 14 January 2011, protests took place in Jordan's capital Amman, Maan, Karak, Salt and Irbid and other cities. The protests, led by trade unionists and leftist parties, came after Friday prayers, and called for the government led by Prime Minister Samir Rifai to step down. They chanted anti-government slogans and called Rifai a "coward." One banner in the protest read "Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury," while protesters chanted "Down with Rifai's government. Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh. Raise fuel prices to fill your pocket with millions." Tawfiq al-Batoush, a former head of the Karak municipality, said: "We are protesting the policies of the government, high prices and repeated taxation that made the Jordanian people revolt."[160] The Muslim Brotherhood and 14 trade unions said they would hold a sit-down protest outside parliament the next day to "denounce government['s] economic policies." Parallels were drawn with the Tunisian protests.[161]

The Jordanian government reversed a fuel price rise following the protest.[162] Al Jazeera stated that protests are expected to continue for several weeks because of increasing food prices.[162]

On 21 January 2011, 5,000 people in Amman took part in the largest protest so far.[163]


A political cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting Hosni Mubarak facing the Tunisian knock-on domino effect

On 16 January, Egypt's EGX stock market index fell on speculation the instability would spread.[164] Protests in Egypt then also led to a restaurant owner, Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafara, setting himself on fire. On 18 January, two other self-immolations, one by a lawyer in Cairo and another by an unemployed 25-year-old in Alexandria, were reported.[165] Many Egyptians have set up Facebook pages calling for 25 January, Egypt's 'National Police Day' to be "a day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.".[166]

Potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei warned of a "Tunisia-style explosion" in the country.[167]


Protests occurred in many towns in both the north and south of Yemen for several days in mid-January against Yemeni governmental proposals to modify the constitution of Yemen, rejecting the proposals as insufficient, and over unemployment and economic conditions.[168] Protests on 20 January included thousands of protestors in Ta'izz.[168] Protests in Aden took place on 18, 19[169] and 20 January.[168] In Aden, car tyres were burnt, roads were blocked, and at least seven people, both soldiers and protestors, were injured.[169] Protests in Sanaa appeared to be weakening as of 20 January 2011.[168] Two of the protests occurred at Sanaa University, with a slogan "Leave before you are forced to leave", which Reuters interpreted as a criticism of "autocratic Arab leaders, including Saleh."[168]

The leader of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, the largest opposition party in Yemen, Mohammed al-Sabry, stated, "We want constitutional amendments but we want amendments that don't lead to the continuance of the ruler and the inheritance of power to his children."[168]


There were also similar protests in Mauritania where Yacoub Ould Dahoud, a protester, burned himself near the Presidential Palace in opposition to the policies of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.[170][171]

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, an unidentified 65-year man died on January 21, 2011 after setting himself on fire in the town of Samtah, Jizan. This was apparently the kingdom's first known case of self-immolation.[172][173]


Sudan arrested the head of the Popular Congress Party Hassan al-Turabi after he called for a similar style protest to oust the ruling government over electoral fraud, stoking inflation and abrogating civil liberties[174][175] at a time when Sudan is facing a secessionist referendum.


In Albania, after a television broadcast showing Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta trying influence the decision for awarding a contract to build a power station, protests against Sali Berisha's government, organised by country's socialist party[which?] and attended by some 20,000 people, that took place in Tirana turned violent and resulted in three deaths. The country's opposition parties vowed to continue the anti-government protests.

Edi Rama, the mayor of the Albania's capital, Tirana, and leader of the Socialist party, blamed Berisha for the deaths and said a day of mourning would be observed. "After we honour the dead in a show of freedom and justice, we assure Berisha that we will confront him with all the historical and civil responsibility we feel for getting rid of this intolerable regime of thieves." Berisha responded by calling for his supporters to organise a mass protest against the violence. "I call on Albanians to gather on [26 January] in Tirana to protest against the violence. It will be a big demonstration against violence. I warn Edi Rama and his followers, and violent groups of their supporters, that they will face the full force of the law if they dare touch the [government] institutions." He had earlier said that "Albania is not in a state of emergency and will not pass into a state of emergency. But scenarios of violence will not be tolerated." He also accused Rama of trying to foment an uprising like that of Tunisia.[176]

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