Tunisia's Lesson

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Ben Cohen
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guest post by Daniel Ritchie

The recent ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his government from power in Tunisia can be a lesson to us all: Tunisia is further proof that democratic reform does not come from exogenous force, but endogenous force.

The political movement, which is now known as the Jasmine Revolution, was a long time in the making. Political and economic stagnation, oppression and monopolization joined forces to create a long standing social malaise, which finally developed into full out unrest after the 26 year old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in his native town of Sidi Bouzid in an act of desperation. Bouazizi’s death was the straw that broke the dromedary’s back. From Sidi Bouzid the unrest spread to Kasserine,Thala, Menzel Bouzaiene, and eventually to Tunis.Tunisians of every age, class and profession joined the revolution which ousted Ben Ali on January 14, 2011.

Tunisian are now demanding that the members of the former autocrat’s party, the RCD, remove themselves from power to allow for competitive multiparty elections; and they will most likely succeed. As a political scientist and student of Tunisia, I believe it is accurate to say that the Tunisians will make relatively short work of democratically reforming their country. However, I am not saying that Tunisia will become a democratic paradise, far from it, but compared to the democratizing efforts led by the U.S. and U.K. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pitiful U.S. efforts to reform Iran, it will be quick, cheap, effective and legitimate.

At the time of writing this letter, protests inspired by the Jasmine Revolution are being held in Egypt against Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak’s government. Its a long shot, but if the same thing were to happen in Egypt what happened in Tunisia (In šāʾ Allāh), it would make the hubristic west look very foolish indeed.