The speaker of the Tunisian parliament was sworn in today, becoming the country’s third leader in 24 hours after the prime minister asked him to form a new government. After 23 years in power, former president Ben Ali fled the country this week as widespread unrest and frustration reached a boiling point; he is now in Saudi Arabia. Rising food costs, unemployment, and corruption led to the successful uprising, aided in some part by communications through social media and by publicity around the government’s corruption as spread by Wikileaks.
New president Fouad Mebazaa is in talks with the opposition to form a “national unity government.” He stated, “All Tunisians without exception and exclusion must be associated in the political process.”
Unrest continues, and reports show that the cities are in lockdown amid looting, with military checkpoints and curfews. The Guardian reports that the main train station in the capital of Tunis was burned to the ground today, and dozens have died in two separate prison incidents: a breakout and a fire.
Revolution Years in the Making
A Wikileaks memo from 2008 neatly summarizes the issues that culminated in this week’s events:
“Beyond the stories of the First Family’s shady dealings, Tunisians report encountering low-level corruption as well in interactions with the police, customs, and a variety of government ministries. The economic impact is clear, with Tunisian investors — fearing the long-arm of “the Family” — forgoing new investments, keeping domestic investment rates low and unemployment high. These persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT (Government of Tunisia) and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.”
Social Media’s Role
Reports claim that the anti-government demonstrators were helped by use of social media, especially Twitter and YouTube; other reporters are pointing out that this has been a long time coming and that Twitter had little to do with it. Consensus seems to be that Twitter did play a role in coordinating the demonstrators’ actions, making them more effective.
One American company has lost some business over the situation. The Washington Post reports that communications strategy company Washington Media Group dropped Tunisia from its client roster on January 6, citing civil rights abuses. Interesting that it takes attention from world media and violent street protests by thousands to pressure a communications firm that specializes in “unique insights to solving public affairs challenges” to finally admit it is representing a corrupt dictatorship. Sleep well, Washington Media Group.
Education Rise Did Not Lead to Jobs
While the government undoubtedly was anti-democratic and corrupt, ironically it may be advances in education that contributed to its downfall. According to the U.S. Department of State, “the number of students enrolled at university has soared from 41,000 in 1986 to over 357,472 in 2009″ in Tunisia. While the official unemployment rate is around 13%, many of the newly college educated class are under or unemployed, which fueled the unrest.
This video compiles dozens of images from the recent events. The photos of engaged, courageous people are truly moving:
Let’s hope that all Tunisians will enjoy more freedom in the months and years to come.
Photo: Still from YouTube video by ramsey1200