Conflict Mapping the Tunisian Revolution from the perspective of the main advocates that took over this revolution, the youth of Tunisia through their participation in crucial events, reflected on the problems their country face in the transition to democracy. First the revolution was initiated by disillusioned youth who succeeded in bringing together a broad coalition of social and political forces against the Ben Ali’s regime. Second the coalition was able to bring down the regime due to longstanding and widespread discontent in the country that stemmed from factors such as: massive unemployment especially among the youth, unequal regional development and lack of equitable distribution of wealth, stifling political repression, and a corrupt ruling family. Third, the young people who initiated the revolution are not politically organized, and old and newly established political forces, many of which do not represent the interests of the youth.
The Tunisian revolution started in the center of the country in the small town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old fruit vendor, set himself on fire to protest economic conditions and police mistreatment. Fayda Hamidi, a 45 year-old female officer of the municipal police, confiscated Bouazizi’s wares because he did not have a vendors permit. Bouaziz was furious and insulted her. For a Tunisian man, being slapped by a woman in public constitutes a major humiliation. Deeply offended, Bouazizi’s tried to file a complaint with the municipal thorities.
Apparently the governor refused to see him, even after Bouazizi threatened to burn himself. He set himself on fire in front of the main government building in Sidi Bouzid. A couple hours after Bouazizi’s self-immolation, several hundred young people assembled in the same place to express their solidarity with Bouazizi and protest economic hardship and youth unemployment, as well as police abuses\ . …’’xxsswsjhl’kjgda. Clashes between demonstrators and the police erupted as more people joined in the rallies. Protestors set up a coordinating committee that began relaying information to demonstrators. Images and videos of the protests and of police brutality against demonstrators surfaced on the Internet and Facebook. For the moment, however, national media completely ignored the uprising in Sidi Bouzid.
On December 20, young people in the neighboring towns staged a protest in solidarity with Sidi Bouzid. Over the next few days it spread to other cities in Tunisia. Protestors responded to police violence by throwing stones, burning tires in the street, and torching official government buildings and cars. The police fired on demonstrators, killing two of them and injuring many more but the protestors would not retreat. During the week young bloggers and cyber activist from Tunis and other regions and towns joined in the demonstration to record and report the events to the country and the world.
On January 4, 2011 Mohamed Bouazizi died of his burns. More than 5 thousand people attend the funeral. The protest became national, as young people and trade unionist took to the streets in unprecedented numbers. Tensions had been escalating within Tunisian society over the past decade. Bouazizi’s self-immolation ignited protests that expressed longstanding discontent among various groups and social strata. Frustrations stemmed not only from economic malaise but also from suffocated repression and increasingly visible corruption within the ruling family.
The escalation was ignited first by the neo-liberal economic policies of the old regime reinforced a pattern of uneven development that marginalized the central and eastern desert region and concentrated wealth in the northern and western coastal regions of the country. This approach resulted in low wages and job insecurity and failed to generate enough jobs to employ young people entering the work force. Tunisia’s development model was popular with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, these institutions praised Tunisia approach because it encouraged foreign investment, created flexible workforce, and lowered taxes on the businesses. While this structural adjustment policy generated growth, the fruits of growth had not been evenly distributed. As a result the central and western regions had experienced extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty rates four times higher then the rest of the country.
Second by the state corruption, the notorious excesses of the authoritarian regime played a major role in exacerbating popular dissatisfaction. Tunisians became more aware of the corruption of Ben Ali and his ruling clique in 2009 through revelations published in the international media. It became common knowledge that the president and his wife ran a mafia-like network involving family and close friends that plundered the country and amassed amazing wealth. They controlled all major businesses, from information and communication technology though banking to manufacturing, retail, transportation, agriculture and food processing.
Political repression and the lack of liberties was a third important factor that provoked discontent and the escalation that lead to this revolution. Tunisians were not allowed to voice criticisms of Ben Ali and his government and the regime systematically repressed any forms of political dissent. Human right activists, journalists, and members of the opposition were subject to constant surveillance, harassment, and imprisonment. Legislation was used to exert pressure on journalist and editors to tighten restriction on freedom of expression. The regime developed a sophisticated approach to online censorship and denial to free access to Internet. The authorities blocked access to several Internet sites and engaged in large-scale hacking operation of its citizens’ websites and private accounts. In addition to suppressing the media and the Internet, the regime repressed any popular criticism of the government and its leaders. With few exceptions, all organizations and associations that worked on political issues were denied legal registration. Independent organizations had very little operation, since they were not allowed to hold public meetings or engage in any sort of public criticism of the regime.
The main actors of the revolution were Mohamed Bouazizi, young cyber activists, young unemployed generation, and civil society group including trade union movement, lawyers, and opposition parties that joined as the conflict escalated.
The story Bouazizi and role in the revolution has been a source of debate.
Some present him as a heroic martyr and the father of the Tunisian revolution. He has been credited with galvanizing the frustrated youth across the region to stage mass demonstrations and revolt against their government. He is seen as a revolutionary hero who changed the course of history in Tunisia and influenced events in other North African and Middle Eastern countries. Although others had mixed feelings about him, considering him not a hero and not the first to set himself on fire in protest of the government.
The Tunisian revolution was not only fought on the street but also in the Internet forums, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter. Young bloggers used online social networks to expose the government abuse and distribute information about the situation in Tunisia on the web, while the government control print and broadcast media completely ignored the popular uprising. The Tunisian regime censored the Internet for many years. Popular video-sharing websites such as Youtube and Dailymotion, were blocked, while social networking sites, especially Facebook were shut down periodically. The majority of the young people who took to the street were unemployed and underemployed graduates who were disillusioned. Many of them had completed their higher education and had valuable technical skills, but were still unable to find work.
Left with no opportunities for work, the young graduates survive in irregular underpaid jobs in the service sector, construction and foreign call centers. Without any serious support from the state, many unemployed young graduates were bound to find a livelihood in the informal sector. These strategies did not guarantee any long-term job security and made them disillusioned with the government’s ability to address problems. It is not surprising that they became the main actors of the Tunisian revolution. They are young, knowledgeable and full of energy, but they have no jobs and no real prospects for the future. They had no stake in society and were prepared to engage in violence out of sheer desperation. During the twenty-nine days of protests, young unemployed graduates came into the streets in force and skillfully used the Internet to fight the system in the hope for better opportunities.
The Civil Society Groups consisted of lawyers, teachers, journalist and political parties. Tunisian lawyers staged large protest in front of the courthouse in Tunis and other cities across the country to protest government abuses and defend human rights. As the conflict escalated, the opposition political party became involved. Although the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) initially decided to playa mediating role between the government and the demonstrators, it soon changed its position. Local and regional unions decided to join the youth much sooner its position. The participation of the UGTT helped form a broader national coalition against the regime. The youth was transformed into a revolution as the demands widened from a solution.
Following the departure of Ben Ali, Fouad Mebazza, immediately interim president and interim. The mandate of the provisional government was to manage the first phase of the country’s political transition and prepare for the election of the National Constituent Assembly, which would approve the new Tunisian constitution. From the moment it was formed there were serious challenges, the governments head was still the headed by interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, who was cabinet minister. Young Tunisians rejected this government even though it included a member of the young cyber activist. Protesters in Tunis called for resignation of the interim government. Ten days late, a second more inclusive government was appointed, still headed by Ghannouchi. Protestors voiced frustration over the slow pace of change and accused Ghannouchi of being close to Ben Ali regime. From the first to the second interim government included the ruling party, the Raessemblement Constitutionel Democratique (RCD) the same regime that was in power when Ben Ali was president.
The government legalized the formation of more political parties and granted amnesty to political prisoners. It issued an international arrest warrant for Ben Ali and his close relatives and extended relatives. National committees ere established to deal with human rights violations, embezzlement and corruption, and corruption. Youth took to the street again and days of protest Ghannouchi resigned. Caid- Essebi became prime minister appeared more neutral and managed to keep distance from Ben Ali’s regime. Soon after taking u his post, the new interim prime minister announced dissolution of Ben Ali’s political police and security apparatus which was a critical issue for the young protesters and the opposition parties. Young Tunisians today are seriously worried about the direction the country is taking and doubt that Caid-Essebsi’s government is willing and able to dismantle the power structures of the old regime.
One of the major discussions going among Tunisians today, and among the young people in particular is how to deal with the former members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) who continue to hold power. Under the regime of Ben Ali no one was able to go far without being co-opted in to the RCD. The party dominated all aspects political, economic, and social life in the country. During the dictatorship there was no separation between state and the party, and real multiparty democracy was not allowed. Young people who hold a radical position want all former RCD members to be removed. There is an estimated two or three million ex-RCD cadres and officials still active in the state administration and the private sector. When Ben Ali regime was toppled, Tunisia had only eight political parties since then the RCD has been abolished, opposition parties have been legalized and new political forces have been created and authorized to join the electoral register. By the end of June 2011, the country had 94 political parties on its electoral list.
A combination of factors made Tunisian revolution a success it turned out to be, First, the growing malaise in the country made it difficult for the regime to continue in the same path. Second, the large number of university- educated youths without employment or prospects constituted a mass of potential activists. Third, Tunisian had extensive Internet access, and its youth were savvy about using the Internet for subversive purposes and defending it from government censorship, Fourth, the Tunisian military was quite weak and did not back the regime, while the police were hated for police brutal attempts of repression. All these factors led to the creation of a broad coalition movement that, by mid-January, included all the important sectors of society.
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