The fall of Ben Ali is a lesson to other regimes
Amara Lakhous 24 January 2011

January 14th 2011. A date that will be remembered for a long time. Al Jazeera announced that Tunisia’s President Ben Ali has left the country. Unbelievable news. Thus came the fall of one of the world’s most ferocious and clever totalitarian regimes. Ben Ali created his dictatorship dressed-up as a democracy and based on many ambiguities and many lies. Abroad he had accredited himself as the bulwark against extremism and terrorism, trampling on human rights, benefitting from the silence coming from European capitals such as Paris and Rome. The Tunisian development model was often quoted as a virtuous path to market economy. In reality the majority of citizens were excluded while a minority thrived on corruption, with the greed of the Trabelsi, the family of the former president’s wife, going well-beyond the limits of decency.

The Tunisian one is not simply a revolt. No, it is something more. It is a revolution undertaken by the young against a corrupt and incompetent managerial class. The anger was taken to the streets by educated young people who are above all open to the world. In Tunisia, the population is no more than eleven million. Over 30% have internet connection. Until December last year, two and a half million Tunisians used Facebook. It is for this reason that Ben Ali’s regime’s censorship did not work. Satellite channels such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and France 24 exposed the propaganda provided by the national Tunisian channel. Tunisians had other sources of information that played a fundamental role.

It would be really reductive and misleading to speak of a couscous or bread revolution. People in the Arab world are in search of dignity, especially when there are countries such as Algeria that have reserves amounting to 150 billion dollars and do not create the conditions for development with corruption instead spreading day after day. The fall of Ben Ali is a lesson for Arab regimes. They can no longer govern for as long as they live and hand down power to their sons or relatives. In his last speech the former Tunisian president said, “Yes, I understand you.” But it was no use, time was already up. The people have now awakened and trouble awaits the dictators.

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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