Blood, pain and tweets in Tunisian revolt
After weeks of unrest in Tunisia, the President of twenty-three years has fled abroad. But can violence and chaos ever bring democratic change?
After 23 years in power, President Ben Ali has been forced out of Tunisia by a combination of fearless street demonstrations and the power of the internet.
Something snapped in Tunisia and caught the government unawares. It started as a series of street protests by the poorer classes hit by the economic downturn. Great bravery was shown in the face of police gunfire; some were so angry at conditions they burned themselves alive.
There was a rolling wave of riots, moving from one town to the next. The early slogans demanded jobs; but soon they were demanding a change of government.
The President sensed the mood and promised he'd go in 2014; but it was too late for that. The energy for change was like a bush fire sweeping across the plains: unstoppable.
Many believe the internet also played a crucial part in this revolution; indeed, some call it 'the first online uprising'. Bloggers, tweeters, Facebook users were all busy exchanging information, and getting news out to the world.
The Tunisian Internet Agency attempted to block Facebook and other sites reckoned hostile to the government. But it was too little too late.
Wikileaks, an organisation which controversially makes secret information public, has revealed many things the government would like to have kept hidden.
Nothing was more discussed online by the people of Tunisia than government corruption, creating the sense that the powerful only looked after their own, whilst ignoring their people's hardship.
It was information on the internet, for instance, that fuelled such bitter resentment over the business interests of the President's wife, Leila Ali and her family.
Lethargic leadership that doesn't take into account the feelings of the nation is always at risk.
A birth day?
The government mistook repression for stability, but now they are gone; and after a dramatic and fast-moving 4 weeks, it is for the Tunisians to shape their future.
This will not be easy. The autocrat President Ben Ali was a man who crushed all opposition; now wise opposition must quickly appear and respond to the people's demands.
A political vacuum is dangerous, however. Sometimes uprisings remove one tyrant only to replace them with another. The Russian revolution of 1917 overthrew autocratic monarchy for an even more autocratic communism.
The country's future is in the balance. Can violence give birth to democracy? Can political repression make way for freedom?
- Is democracy always a good thing? Are 100 stupid people in government necessarily better than one wise one?
- What would make you demonstrate on the streets? Do you believe in any cause that much?
- Imagine you are a Tunisian blogger. Do some research (the 'Become an expert' links should help,) and then describe what's happening on the streets - the police and the protests - as if you were there.
- Imagine you are the new leader in Tunisia. Write your first speech to the people. What do you want to say to them about the past, the present and the future?
Some People Say...
“Revolutions only make things worse; never better.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So what is an autocrat?
- Someone who rules on their own, without reference to anyone else. So autocracy is the opposite of democracy; the rule of one as opposed to the rule of many.
- And if you didn't like the President?
- You either kept quiet or risked arrest. There were many political arrests in Tunisia. In the recent uprising, the blogger Hamadi Kaloutcha was taken from his home and hasn't been seen since.
- So who is in power now?
- The army are in control, but they are preferred to the police.
- But Tunisia is popular for holidays, isn't it?
- Yes, 1800 scared British tourists have just been flown home for their own safety. But maybe they weren't as scared as other North African autocracies like Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. Revolutionary ideas spread fast on the internet. Are they next?