Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution: Spreading Fear Among Arab Dictators

Autocratic governments across the Middle-East are watching the events, quickly unfolding in Tunisia after the toppling of Ben Ali by a popular uprising, with anxiety and fear. In Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, Libya and even the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the Arab autocratic  rulers have a new fear: a popular uprising from their own respective oppressed populations inspired by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.

In Tunisia, the army has sided with the new government against Ben Ali’s own security apparatus. Ali Seriati, the security chief of Ben Ali has been arrested for plotting against the new leadership. Ali Seriati was a key figure behind the power of Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime. It has been confirmed by most credible reports that Ali Seriati “security forces” were responsible for staging looting and violence in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s departure to Saudi Arabia in the hope of creating favorable conditions to set up a coup allowing Ben Ali  to come back to power.

The Jasmine Revolution is setting an historical precedent, which is making all the dictators in the region very uneasy. It is the first popular uprising to succeed in removing a president in the Arab world, and it is very quickly becoming an inspiration for all Arabs. It is also a secular movement, at least for the time being, ironically inspired by the principles of the former colonial power’s (France) own revolution. The French revolution motto of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” could summarize what drove Tunisians to topple Ben Ali.

In Algeria, a man has died after setting himself on fire, echoing the self immolation that triggered the uprising in Tunisia. Several Algerian towns, including the capital Algiers, have experienced riots in recent weeks over unemployment and a sharp rise in food prices.

In Yemen, Ben Ali’s ouster is also emboldening the Arab street. On Sunday, thousands of protesters marched in the capital Sanaa, in solidarity with their Tunisian brothers, urging  Arabs to rise up against their leaders like the people of Tunisia. They called on the Arab people to “wage a revolution against their scared and deceitful leaders”. A banner read “leave before you are toppled”.

In Libya, autocrat Gaddafi said on Saturday, in a speech on state controlled  television, that “he regretted the fall of Ben Ali”. “The bloodshed in Tunisia was for nothing, and Ben Ali is still the legitimate president” said Gaddafi. Gaddafi was one of the only Arab leaders to voice his support officially for Ben Ali.

In Syria, the daily Al-Watan said the events in Tunisia were “a lesson that no Arab regime should ignore”.

“Arab leaders on sale to the West should learn from the Tunisian lesson. They should make decisions according to what is favorable to the interest of the Arab people,” said the editorial of the Syrian daily.

In Israel, the events unfolding in Tunisia are viewed by PM Netanyahu as a “sign of political instability in the region”.

“The region in which we live is an unstable region. Everybody can see that today. There can be changes in government that we do not foresee today but will take place tomorrow,” said Netanyahu.

However what PM Netanyahu should already “foresee” is a growing unity of the Arab street across national boundaries, and this time not in the name of Islam fundamentalism, but for the sake  of  real democracy. For decades, the West policy in the Middle-East, with the United States in the lead and Europe in a supporting role, was to shore up authoritarian regimes like the one of Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt. This geopolitical calculation in favor of a so called “stability” but at the expense of any real democratic process is backfiring as we speak. Israel should be concerned indeed about the Jasmine Revolution. If  similar revolutionary movements spread successfully around the Jewish state, the new governments formed and presumably united  will have no hesitation in fully supporting their oppressed Palestinian brothers, and  will challenge Israel with a formidable force.


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