By Ameen Izzadeen
Tunisia’s jasmine revolution has begun to wither away, days after it bloomed and caught the world powers and the Arab world unawares.
Withering away with it are hopes that the winds of democracy will blow across the Arab world, sweeping away the dictatorial regimes and confining them to the dustbin of history, like in Eastern Europe two decades ago. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the victory of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the people in Eastern Europe rose against their dictators. In Romania, dictator Nicolae Ceausescu tried to hold on to power, but the angry people publicly executed him after a brief trial. But no such spectacle is evident in the Arab world though in Algeria and Egypt, three angry youths in sheer desperation set themselves on fire imitating the Tunisian youth whose self-immolation triggered the jasmine revolution.
The Tunisian revolution, the first ever in the post-world war II Arab world, seems to be failing in achieving the desired objective within the country and by extension within the larger Arab world.
The moves taken by the new government in Tunisia so far, following the ouster of President Zine El Abidine ben Ali, are largely cosmetic and aimed at quietening the noise on the street rather than instituting democracy and economic reforms.
At the bottom of the revolution lie matters economic. It was the self-immolation of an underemployed graduate who was selling vegetables on a cart that led to the protests. He torched himself after ben Ali’s police toppled his cart and refused him permission to earn a living in the city. In a country where unemployment stands at a staggering 40 percent, many youths empathized with him and took to the streets, demanding jobs and price reductions. The protests took a political outlook after President ben Ali’s security forces resorted to strong arm tactics to overcome the protesters.
The cabal which now rules Tunisia after ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, a haven for dictators or democracy killers, comprises the very people who together with the ousted president had squeezed the life out of the people since independence in 1956. They are his accomplices. In the face of continuous protests, the new leadership is taking every cosmetic measure under the sun. They arrested ben Ali’s security chief and 33 of the ousted president’s relatives. The new prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who was also the prime minister under ben Ali, formed a new government with the same old faces. But when protests intensified, he gently told some ministers who were closely identified with ben Ali to resign. He is even willing to dismantle the RCD, his and ben Ali’s party. But the bottomline is that, in the absence of a Lech Walesa like figure or an Ayatollah Khomeini like figure among them, the revolution has allowed the old rogues to return in new garbs.
London Independent’s Robert Fisk, a well-respected journalist, in an analytical article on Tunisia quotes a poem by the famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran:
“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.”
Outside Tunisia, the revolution jolted the rest of the Arab world. But it now appears that the Arab despots and monarchs are well in control. A revolution is long overdue in Egypt to oust Hosni Mubarak, who like ben Ali, wins every presidential poll, with a 90 percent majority. Two people in Egypt set fire to themselves, thinking that their actions would trigger a revolution. But state terror has won its day preventing the people from enacting the revolution which has long been confined to their minds.
In the oil-rich Arab Gulf, where the rich and the arrogant are associated more with debauchery, self-aggrandizement and vulgar extravagance – the building of the world’s tallest tower, Khlaifa Burj towers in Dubai, the Makkah Tower with the world’s biggest clock in Saudi Arabia, the hosting of World Cup soccer 2022 in Qatar – rather than with political reforms, revolutionary ideals and intellectual discourse are as alien as paddy fields on desert sand. Even the civic conscious citizens have been tamed by state-sponsored imams who say rebellion against a Muslim ruler is a sin against God. The few who have refused to buy the fatwas of unscrupulous imams and rebelled against the rulers are languishing in jail.
Tunisia’s revolution was also called the first WikiLeaks revolution because the leaked US diplomatic cables brought to the public domain what many Tunisians had already known – corruption involving ben Ali’s family and his cronies. Latest reports said ben Ali’s wife had fled the country with 1.5 tons of gold. The situation is no different in many other Arab countries. How a Saudi prince made a princely sum as kickbacks on an arms purchase deal involving British Aerospace is an open secret. There is little evidence to indicate that the US which is the patron of many of the Arab despots would make a genuine attempt to insist on good governance or democracy in the Arab world.
The fact that the revolution in secular Tunisia had no Islamic character exposed a lie the US has been spreading in defence of its support for the Arab dictators. Washington has described ben Ali and other Arab leaders as frontline defenders in the war against terror and covered up their crimes. One might disagree with me and point to the occasional bombs that go off in Tunis or other parts of the country – blasts that are often attributed to the al-Qaeda in Maghreb. Well, many an enemy in the war on terror is like George Orwell’s Goldstein, a non-existing enemy, in his novel 1984.