Following a month of huge frustration and anger towards the government and the President, the protests fastly erupted to revolt with resident’s turned the country into a battlefield. The protest was sparked by a suicide of an unemployed college graduate in December. The man, Mohammad Bouazizi, 26 years old, set himself on fire in front of a government building after the police had confiscated his fruit cart, saying he was selling without a permit, according to Amnesty International. He was frustrated as the police left him without any income. The young man died on January 4 from his injuries.
The suicide tore the lid of the long time fury at President Ben Ali and his associates as the Tunisians accused him of ruling a government of corruption and nepotism. Tunisians called for a change over what they considered as poor living conditions, high unemployment, government corruption and repression. Ben Ali was the second president of Tunisia since it gained independence from France in 1956. His predecessor, President Habib Bourhuiba, ruled for more than 20 years until he was succeeded by Ben Ali. Ben Ali claimed victory in 5 successive presidential elections since then, most recently officially taking nearly 90% of the vote in November 2009. In the end, the daily protests and riots made the President fled the country after 23 years. This Arab nation with a long-time president and a young and unemployed population has spread the protests to the neighboring countries such as Algeria and Egypt. Libya and Yemen is following closely on the situation in Tunisia as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi said he was “sad and hurt” after Ben Ali fled Tunisia, warning that the country was heading for “more unjustified chaos”. “It used to be a safe, secure and friendly nation. Development was going on, with job opportunities, work training, education. And suddenly, one day people destroy their own houses,” Gadhafi said in a nationally televised speech. He ended by addressing to the Tunisian people; “I hope your sanity returns and your wounds heal, because you had a big loss that will never return.” I’m not surprised that Gadhafi who is a dictator himself defences another dictator and corrupt man who stole from his own people. Instead of applauding the brave people who ran out on the streets sacrificing their lives for a better future, he is talking about Ben Ali as a loss rather than achieving triumph. Gadhafi should look at his own people and nation, what he has done to them and what they think about him as a leader. Let us start asking the thousands of innocent people in the prisons who is sentenced for their freedom of speech, and last, why doesn’t he step down from the power after taking the leadership in Libya after a coup in 1969.
Tunisia’s government called the protesters troublemakers and Ben Ali who was under pressure said in his second speech on National Tv since the riots had erupted that he was ordering the creation of 300,000 jobs and called for greater freedoms for members of the media. He promised also to lower the taxes on employers who would generate new jobs. “These violent, sometimes bloody events, which caused deaths among civilians and injuries among security officers, were perpetrated by hooded gangs that attacked, at night, public institutions and even citizens in their houses,” he said. “This is an intolerable act of terrorism,” he said ending with reminding that extremist groups like Al Qaeda might use the riots to recruit young people.
Residents were armed with knives and sticks guarding their neighbourhoods they stopped suspicious cars near their homes, saying security forces had no manpower to guard the suburbs. The future of Tunisia is now in the hands of the military. The military is more respected as the residents have more understanding and tolerance towards the military rather than the police. The army is now trying to limit the crime wave of looting, theft and general abuse. The ruling government now has declared a state of emergency and ordered a curfew requiring that people stays indoors at certain times. The number of the deaths of Tunisian riots (The Jasmine Revolution) is unclear but stands somewhere between 23 and 68.
Human rights groups have said that the Tunisian government has cracked down on the demonstrators with unnecessary force as the same time as Reporters without borders condemned the arrest and disappearance of bloggers and online activists across the country. The worldwide press freedom organization has said that police have arrested some bloggers who is believed to hack into the government websites. Amnesty International has urged the Tunisian government to respect the freedom of expression while Tunisian authorities have said that they were acting in self-defence.
Tunisia has had three presidents in the past 48 hours
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was re-elected in 2009 with 89, 4% of the vote. Mohammed Ghannouchi took over the job on Friday, and now Fouad Mebazaa, who was Speaker of the Tunisian parliament. Mebazaa is now working very hard to put together an acting government ahead of elections which are due in 3 months. Ben Ali fled to Jeddah where he was welcomed by the Saudi Arabian king who announced that he was standing fully side by side with the Tunisian people. France is the country that invaded Tunisia in 1881 have close cultural and economical links to Tunisia, and Sarkozy sent out an statement where he called for free elections as soon as possible. After this, the finance minister, Christine Lagarde, sent instructions to financial institutions and banks to freeze the assets in France of the Ben Ali family. French government spokesman, Francois Baroin announced on Saturday that some of the Ben Ali’s relatives to leave the country adding that Ben Ali wouldn’t be allowed in France.
Tunisians made history January 14, 2011
Despite the deaths and instability in the country, there have also been some achievements among the young. Tunisians experienced a newfound freedom online as the new acting president took over and filters on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube, put under Ben Ali was now dropped. In addition to this, 3 journalists including 2 bloggers critical of Ben Ali have been freed from jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Saturday. These developments came as Foud Mebazaa was sworn in as acting leader on Saturday when after Ben Ali and his family took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Mebazaa spoke then on National TV and promised to “ensure the nation’s stability”, “respect its constitution” and “pursue the best interest of the nation.” Tunisian State Tv has reported that officials are planning to hold presidential elections in 60 days and opposition leaders were meeting with the caretaker prime minister to discuss the formation of a unity government.
As the protests started few weeks ago, few with imagine that these riots and a poor desperate man with no income who saw suicide as the only way out would overthrow a President after 23 years of ruling. The president and his family had become so hated at the same time as the western governments turned the blind eye on his suppression of dissent and ignored that the Tunisian people were suffering. Now the Tunisians see an opportunity to create and form better governance. All because of the life and death of Mohammed Bouazizi.
24 Dec: Protester shot dead in central Tunisia
28 Dec: Protests spread to Tunis
8-10 Dec: Dozens of deaths reported in crackdown on protests
12 Jan: Interior minister sacked
13 Jan: President dissolves government and parliament, then steps down.