By: Geoffrey Sebastianelli
One of the more compelling revolutions that occurred recently in the Middle Eastern/African region has been in Tunisia. Tunisia, located in northern Africa, is home to a population of over ten million people. It had struggled for centuries gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire, France, and other countries. Finally they achieved independence from France along with neighboring African country Morocco in 1956 since France was receiving pressure from several groups concerning revolution. Tunisia has just displayed their devotion to their country and a willingness to fight for independence once again by creating social unrest and protesting in regard to the actions of their President and government. From this revolution, the people of Tunisia are looking to show the world that they have been living in an oppressed society for decades and are hoping to change that through their uprising.
Being the northernmost country in Africa, Tunisia was at great risk for being colonized. However, its citizens were tired of being exploited by more powerful societies and showed willingness for freedom. One of the most important people involved with gaining independence from France was Habib Bourgubia. Bourgubia was instrumental in spreading information among countries, including the United States, about the aspiration for freedom he and his people showed. After meeting with and discussing his plan for independence, it was accepted by France and on March 20th, 1956 was officially a free country. Granted independence, they immediately elected Habib Bourgubia in power and officially Tunisia's first President of the "National Constituent Assembly". With the ended monarchy and new republic in place, Bourgubia reformed many ailing parts of Tunisian society, including: women's rights, health care systems, public education, and its economy. His policies were so well liked that he was voted "President for Life." But, as time continued, citizens became wary of his health problems and age. In 1987, Bourgubia was impeached by then Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Once receiving that status of President, Ben Ali ruled differently from his predecessor. Even though he experienced a growing economy, the country had high unemployment and reduced free speech. It was found that Ben Ali also stole money from citizens in various businesses and schemes and presented very little opportunities for Tunisian's to better their way of life. This was the main cause of the 2010-2011 Tunisian Revolutions.
Years of Ben Ali's corruption and hold on the Tunisian people came to an end a few months ago. On December 17th, 2010, a street vendor located in Sidi Bouzid was accosted by a policewoman who reportedly slapped and spat in the vendors face. The man, Mohamed Bouazizi, was so enraged by this event and went down to his local headquarters to complain about the treatment of citizens. However they refused to and only an hour later Bouazizi returned to the headquarters and set himself on fire outside the building and died a couple weeks later. Bouazizi sparked national interest and soon protests started emerging from his actions. People were enthralled how the government treated the citizens, their holds on free speech, and censorship. Websites like Facebook and Twitter were monumental in conveying information to protestors and followers since these sites were not censored. One in particular, Nawaat.org, was awarded for their media freedom by the organization "Reporters Without Boarders." It was instrumental in creating protests and increasing exposure of events the Tunisian media ignored. Communication and sharing video and pictures between one another made the country come together and start this revolution. It also made the world realize the lack of free speech and bad living conditions Ben Ali and his regime had placed on them. In a recent study conducted by The Economist, a Democracy Index was created ranking countries of freedom and rights. Tunisia was rated as the 144th country out of 167th countries in regard to that criteria and described their government as an "Authoritative Regime." Protests spread too many cities within the following weeks and many people took to the streets to support Bouazizi and fight for a change of policies. These protests would, which was all set off by the actions of Bouazizi, come to be known as the Jasmine Revolution (the national flower of Tunisia). The government responded with police using tear gas and in some cases guns to subdue the crowds. They even arrested the popular Tunisian rapper "El General," for using such lyrics as, "Mr. President your people are dying," and because protestors began using his songs as expressing their discontent with Ben Ali, but was later released. Media coverage of the protests went widely uncovered as the media was being controlled by the government and they did not want to show the upheaval occurring. After weeks of civilian unrest throughout the country, Ben Ali decided to step down from the title of President after twenty-three years, citing a state of emergency. Websites like Youtube and Daily Motion, both video sharing sites, were no longer censored and restored for citizens. The death toll in the upheaval is one of the most in the Middle East/African revolutions which is recorded at a minimum of two hundred and thirty people.
The Jasmine Revolution has not only been felt in Tunisia but other countries around the world as well. The ousting of former President Ben Ali has given the people of Tunisia the opportunity to vote in a new election occurring in a couple months. Fearing retaliation from citizens like in Tunisia, countries have limited censorship and decreased the prices of food and other commodities in an attempt to increase the happiness of the people. People believe that if a revolution can happen in one of Africa's most wealthy and stable countries then it can spread to countries that are even more unstable, such as Libya or Saudi Arabia. One unintended consequence is the numerous Tunisian's fleeing the country because of the rioting, looting, and unsafe environment to neighboring country Italy. European countries like Italy are on alert to watch for illegal immigrants entering Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. This also affects the United States. With the people of Tunisia ready for a democracy, the United States and other respective leaders can step in and aid the transition of a new government.
With the protests winding down and revolution coming to an end, it is important to see the impact Tunisian's have had on the world. Middle Eastern and African countries are not historically known for successful revolutions against authoritative regimes but with along with Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and others, the people have shown their distress and are trying to rebuild their society. Technology played a massive role in aiding the revolutionary's ability to communicate and plan successful protests. This has enabled other oppressed citizens to feel like they have a chance to fight back against authoritative regimes which have taken advantage of its people for years. Therefore, the Tunisian Revolution has had an effect on the world that will be felt for decades to come.
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