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Middle East: A Closer Look at Tunisia's Uprising

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

As Tunisians continue to grapple with the fast paced events of the few previous days which saw the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his escape, Arab bloggers continue to share their thoughts and reflections on the Tunisian uprising and what it spells for the rest of the region.

Syrian Abu Kareem, at the Levantive Dreamhouse, explains what is ‘invigorating’ about the Tunisian uprising to its Arab neighbours. He says:

It is perhaps its spontaneity, its lacks of designated leaders that give it the feel of a genuine, popular uprising and not an ideologically-driven coup destined to serve the desires of a narrow constituency. It is easy as an Arab, to resign oneself to the fact that the region's stagnant and sclerotic political systems are immovable and immutable. It is exactly this state of hopelessness and inertia that most of the region's leaders strive to instill in their people. It kills hope, prevents progress and keeps the leaders in power. So I hope that the leaders across the region take note and that a cold chill runs down their spine as they watch the events in Tunis unfold; perhaps it will make them reconsider their ways.

Bahraini Emoodz broke his blogging silence vow to chant VIVE LA TUNISIE!

He remarks:

I watched with great excitement the events as they unfolded in Tunisia; in all honesty I had very little hope that the events will evolve and reach where it reached today. No matter how much research I carry out I still can’t understand how the Tunisian were able to overthrow a regime in a month’s time.

Emoodz adds:

There is this great sense of excitement going around the Arab World over what had happened, news agencies and political analysts are all of a sudden talking about how Tunisia is just the beginning to what is expected to have a domino effect and extend to other Arab governments in the region, which I think is highly improbable…

In a post entitled Tunisia, Prove us Wrong, Saudi Hala_In_USA poses the following questions:

In the aftermath, all eyes in the Arab world is tuned to Tunisia, would this be a new beginning of unprecedented democracy in the Middle East? would it lure other countries to follow? or would it fall in the grab of Islamists or the same old Bin Ali‘s men under different labels?

She also shares her anxiety:

I have  a mixed feeling in this regards, while I share the same fears of Robert Fisk of the ugly truth, that countries in the region as well as in the West will probably never support a true democracy in Tunisia, for fear that it may bring unfavorable outcomes, that the people in power would only accept Arab state that would support Western best interests, the hate toward Iran and a tight control of their people… Yet,  I still believe that lessons of oppression and corruptions have been taken well by Tunisians, that they will not easily forget the body in flames of Bouazizi, they will always remember the days of oppression, poverty, and limited resources brought about by totalitarian regimen, I hope that Tunisia would lead the way for a new era, to see justice and experience for the first time a people government, to prove us wrong, and to prove that people do have a choice, can have a choice and can make a better future for themselves…

Algerian-American Kal, writing at The Moor Next Door, is also apprehensive. He notes:

The Tunisian case, with all its idiosyncrasies (the legacy of Bourguiba, secularism, its high rate of education and women’s rights) it represents something new in Arab politics that observers must continue to pay attention. Early on the Sidi Bouzid events were dismissed as bread riots and were not appreciated for they ended up being. This blogger was cautious, mostly for the same reason others were: things like this weren’t supposed to happen in countries like Tunisia. What was written here during the uprising happened only because it happened in the Maghreb (and because it seemed . . . strange). What should be very sad is if all the work Tunisians put into their intifada was hijacked by old party people and officers and put on course for rule by committees or strong men as has been the case following so many times before. The question remains: what will be done?

From Israel, Yael, at Life in Israel, predicts that Egypt could be next:

The events in Tunisia –the first collapse of an autocratic regime in the Arab world due to a popular uprising that has implications for the wider region –are unlikely to, at least in the immediate future, spark a domino effect of uprisings and overthrows in other countries in the region. But pretty much all the experts are saying to keep a very sharp eye on Egypt because it is quite possible that Egypt is going to be the next one to go.

She adds:

The Arab masses (not just in North Africa but the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula) have watched the fall of the Tunisian regime blow by blow, creating the possibility that the public in many countries may find inspiration in the Tunisian experience. It is too early to say how things will unfold in the Middle East and North Africa, as each state has unique circumstances that will determine its trajectory. What is certain, however, is that a regional shift is under way, at least to the extent that governments can no longer continue with business as usual.”

Syrian Qunfuz takes a closer look at whether this “domino effect” is possible in the region. He writes:

If there is a domino effect, it won’t be immediate and it won’t proceed evenly. Current conditions in Iraq obviously will not permit a unified national uprising against the government. Such language is not even relevant. In Syria the president is reasonably popular, even if the regime around him isn’t. And if the president were to fall dramatically from popular grace, Syrians fear that revolution would lead to sectarian war and Israeli intervention – both real possibilities. Saudi Arabia is too tribally divided, and many sections of society are too comfortable, for revolutionary disruption. The angriest population in the kingdom is the oppressed Shia community, but any action on their part would be fiercely opposed by the Wahhabi heartland. Bahrain, with a politicised and intelligent Shia majority facing an oppressive Sunni ruling family, is a more likely candidate for change. Egypt is the unknown quantity. On the one hand, the failure of Mubarak’s gangster regime has been resounding. On the other, very many Egyptians do not have the leisure to think about anything except their next meal. They don’t follow events on Facebook or even on al-Jazeera. And we can be almost certain that any serious attempt at popular revolution in Egypt would result in thousands of deaths. (But that can play both ways – nothing generates a revolution like a series of funerals. See Ali Farzat’s picture above.)

Perhaps in six months’ time non-Arab commentators will decide that the Tunisian revolution was a mere anomaly in an eternally stagnant Arab world. But they’ll be wrong. The revolution will exert a long-term pervasiveness throughout Arab culture, as the Iranian revolution did before it. It will change the air the Arabs breathe and the dreams the Arabs dream.

Meanwhile, back in Bahrain, Mahmood Al Yousif is worried that Tunisia will now go from one extreme – to the other. He writes:

I’m willing to bet that the pendulum now will swing from the one extreme of robbing the Tunisian people of one important element of their identity, religion – through to the other end and we’ll see the rise of Islamism and Islamist sentiments.

So who and what gets sacrificed at the alter of extremism? Common sense and moderation.

Al Yousif adds:

We have quite a lot to learn from the “Tunisian Experiment”, and the wise will benefit most if they take time to understand what transpired and why and try to enact those lessons in their own societies with the inculcation of the respect for human rights and their freedoms of faith, association, thought and speech, and not to shove one doctrine or another down people’s throats.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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