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Rally For Tunisian Democracy: Denver, Colorado – January 22, 2011

January 22, 2011

Notes on Talk, Rob Prince: Tunisian Community of Colorado Rally for Tunisian Democracy: January 22, 2011. Denver

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(note…these are the themes I will touch on – so it written in a somewhat abbreviated form) – rjp

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Manoubi and Basma Bouazizi - Mohammed Bouazizi's mother and sister respectively

Events in Tunisia `historic’…not just for country, but already for the region and possibly beyond.


–          It is one of the first successful post-cold war social movements – has a different chemistry than many earlier ones

–          First grassroots democratic movement to unseat/overthrow a repressive regime in the Arab World

–          One of the first responses to the global financial crisis that hit 2 years ago…

On the other hand, it has been described as somewhat `unusual’ for Tunisia suggesting that social movements there rarely exist and people rarely demonstrate..

–          This is not quite accurate…more for tourist consumption…

–          Eg – There has been `social unrest’.. so to speak almost non-stop since early 2008 – that is for three years that began in the Gafsa mining district town of Redeyef in which most of the same themes that fueled the recent social movement had already taken shape: high unemployment, corruption of the country’s leadership and finally, pervasive political repression..

–          At the time that Mohammed Bouazizi burnt himself to death in Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, there were already more than 50 Tunisians on hunger strikes and within days of this tragic event another 4-5 people also torched themselves and several others who committed suicide by grasping 30,000 volt high tension wires, another dramatic way to say that things were not going well in Tunisia and that `the economic miracle’ we’ve heard about like a mantra was something less than that

This was protest that came from below,,…from `the depths of  Tunisian society.  And while no doubt `Facebook’, U-Tube and an increasingly militant middle class, as well as the WikiLeaks on Tunisia, contributed to Ben Ali’s downfall… characterizing the Tunisian protest-turned uprising as `a middle class revolution’, really misses the point:

–          The whole country, from the poorest of the poor to many who from an economic point of view have been quite comfortable, participated. The protests emerged from deep within the country, Tunisia’s heartland and soul.

–          And the movement began and was really spearheaded for the first ten days by unemployed youth and the country’s trade union movement. While the central headquarters was prohibited from taking a position, union local after union local took to the streets with their unemployed sisters and brothers. Not only that, they helped give the protests a program,  a vision which transformed the movement’s anger from what people are against…to what they are for…

–          And it is precisely because this movement came from so deep within Tunisian society that it first swept up the rest of the country and then, in short order has had, it appears, echoes beyond the country’s borders

What might be called `the more obvious’ causes of the `Tunisian Intifada’ are well known:

–          high unemployment rates,

–          low wages for those with jobs;

–          breathtaking corruption of the country’s two ruling family clans – the Ben Ali’s and the Trabelsis

–           and the two decades of abuse by an increasingly nasty police state

This you can read about now pretty much everywhere, and while details need to be explored – it is mostly true..

It is quite clear from many sources that both the United States and France, the two major powers with interests in Tunisia have been well aware of all of this throughout the Ben Ali years, and in both cases, almost up to the end, stood by Ben Ali until the two planes filled with family and all the loot they could carry took off for Saudi Arabia…

Not only did the United States support Ben Ali, but also gave him the U.S. foreign seal of approval by labeling the regime `moderate’… a label that is both misleading and that will come back to haunt Washington.

But there are deeper trends that have not garnered much attention in media, or if they have only in passing… that we should all explore. They are:

1                     The security relations between the two countries; Tunisia’s role in

Ben Ali and Rumsfeld - 2006

the U.S. war on terrorism. The Ben Ali Regime cooperated and participated in the Bush Administration’s extraordinary renditions and some Tunisians acted as interpreters in Afghanistan. There is Tunisia’s larger role in military alliances with NATO, Africom. Will this continue? Is this why the United States let security considerations trump its support for democracy?

2                     The role of World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs and how these contributed to the overall economic decline of the country needs to be fleshed out, and explored, starting with and not limited to the way the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families took advantage of privatization programs to create their own private empires.

These themes are important because they lie at the heart of U.S. support for Ben Ali’s regime, for the decades of American silence concerning what they have long known to be a system long rotten.

Today is a moment to celebrate how far the people of Tunisia have come, to note and appreciate the sacrifices made symbolized but not limited to a poor young man no one ever heard of with a degree in computer technology, Mohammed Bouazizi, reduced to selling fruit and vegetables without a permit in a Tunisian town that few outside the country ever heard of… Sidi Bouzid…

–          May the explosion of Tunisian democracy take root and prosper

–          May  people everywhere find strength and courage in the Tunisian example…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. E K Shirayanagi permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:42 pm

    Hey Rob–

    A lot of this is excellent. Some typos of course like an interesting double comma followed by an ellipsis. One thing that has to be changed immediately though is the Tunisian translators in Afghanistan. Tunisians speak Arabic, not pashtun man! I assume you mean to say Iraq.

    We should talk more, I am really glad that you are connecting well with the Tunisian community and you are getting speaking engagements. I am going to have to do some more writing myself… I do too much reading.

    • January 22, 2011 10:48 pm

      thanks eli…no, apparently they are in afghanstan according to a UN Human Rights Report where they interpret for the U.S. with arabic speakers. in any case, i am going to look into these details more in the next weeks. rob

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