Tunisian President Flees Country Amid Unrest
Arab Bloggers Cheer on Tunisia’s Revolution
AP In this video grab, a man walks past a burning vehicle in Douz, Tunisia on Wednesday. Tear gas and stone-throwing youths reached the heart of Tunisia's capital on Wednesday as rioters desperate for jobs defied their autocratic president in escalating unrest
The authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has fled the country after weeks of chaotic street protests that his security forces have been unable to stifle.
The president fled after his attempt to lift some restrictions on demonstrations led to a large rally outside the country’s interior ministry, in the capital, Tunis, on Friday.
Since no opposition figure took power in his place, the president’s departure left a tense situation in the country. A glimpse of the dangerous situation on the streets of Tunis can be seen in this video, uploaded to the Web on Friday by contributors to Nawaat, a group blog, apparently showing shots being fired at demonstrators:
Tunisian bloggers have helped spread news of the protests around the country and the world using mobile phones, social networking sites and blogs. On Friday, as they followed developments in Tunisia on Twitter and Facebook, bloggers in other Arab countries cheered on the protesters and expressed hope that their nations might follow their example.
Let the Tunisian people show the example for the Arab world – no more dictators!
The same blogger also just posted a link to video on Facebook of what he said was the central station in Tunis, burning. He also strongly denounced a Tunisian journalist for appearing on France 24 to defend the regime by claiming that “this is all the fault of a U.S. government plot using WikiLeaks and Al Jazeera.”
As several commentators have noted this week, some of the cables obtained and distributed by WikiLeaks described in detail the corruption of the Tunisian president’s regime. That, in turn led foreign observers to suggest that the leaked cables might have “stirred things up” in Tunisia. However, it remains unclear if the unemployed vegetable-seller who set himself on fire to protest the Tunisian government’s economic policies last month, triggering the demonstrations, had even heard of WikiLeaks.
From Bahrain, a blogger named Mohammed AlMaskati exclaimed on Twitter:
I can’t believe my eyes.. It actually happened in my lifetime!! An Arab nation woke up and said enough!! #SidiBouzid
(Readers who want to track the discussion on Tunisia on Twitter can follow the Tunisian group blog Nawaat’s feed or search by the #SidiBouzid hashtag, which refers to the town where the uprising began last month after a young man set himself on fire in protest at government policies.)
Issandr El Amrani, a Moroccan-born freelance journalist in Cairo, who edits the Arabist blog, introduced this note of caution on his Twitter feed:
New Tunisia govt. needs to clarify next steps to convince and appease. Not legitimate yet.
Mr. Amrani also posted a link to a 2007 article on Tunisia in Vanity Fair, with the note: “Christopher Hitchens, you fraud, we still remember you this propaganda you wrote for Ben Ali.”
Another Arab journalist who has been providing frequent updates and commentary on events in Tunisia on Twitter, Dima Khatib of Al Jazeera, wrote:
Take a breath people. We are living history. Tunisians have given us the best gift ever. I am happy to be living today.
Earlier she made this observation about the transition of power to the country’s prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, with the apparent backing of the security forces:
Is it a movie? Directed by Ben Ali; Starring PM Ghannoushi; Produced by Tunisian Army? Luckily public is not blind or stupid #Sidibouzid
Indeed, raw footage from the streets of Tunis on Friday, posted online by Russia Today, showed the security forces firing tear gas at demonstrators, which is hardly a sign that they have surrendered:
The French news site Rue89’s live blog pointed to video of the large demonstration outside the country’s interior ministry on Friday, which preceded the attack on the protesters by the security forces.
Still, there has been evidence in first-hand reports on the protests that some members of the security forces support the protests. According to the Nawaat bloggers, this video, uploaded to YouTube late on Thursday, shows a soldier saluting as the coffin of a dead protester passed on the streets of the city of Bizerte on Thursday:
Nasser Weddady, a Boston-based native of Mauritania who grew up in Libya and Syria, has also been using Twitter to gather and comment on news of Tunisia’s uprising. On his feed, he points to a comment by another blogger, Seifeddine Ferjani, who warns that there is a “serious attempt to co-opt [the] entifadh occurring NOW.” Mr. Weddady warns: “Ben Ali’s Aparatchiks [are] trying to cling to power through Ghanoushi.”
A Jordanian blogger living in Canada, who goes by the user name AmmarM on Twitter, has been using the Web site FlightRadar24.com to track a jet that may be carrying the deposed president to Europe. He has also taken to calling Mr. Ben Ali, “The New Shah in Exile,” drawing parallel to the outcome of the Iranian revolution three decades ago.
Golnaz Esfandiari, an Iranian journalist who blogs for the American-financed Radio Liberty Web site, reports on her Twitter feed:
some Iranians reacting with envy to events in #Tunisia #Sidibouzid, others say situation different , not comparable.
On the subject of Iran, Mr. Weddady points to a key difference between the Iranian revolution in 1979 and what has transpired in Tunisia over the past month – this movement is not led by Islamists:
Before anyone starts lying to you: the REVOLUTION in #tunisia was a popular uprising, no islamists, no armed struggle.#sidibouzid
Later on Friday, as French television reported that the deposed president would not be allowed to enter France, As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American professor who maintains the Angry Arab News Service, observed:
This is funny: Al-Arabiyya says that Bin Ali plane is going to Qatar, while Al Jazeera implies that his plane is going to Dubai.
The White House has posted this statement from President Barack Obama on the violence used against the Tunisian people:
I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people. The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people.
As I have said before, each nation gives life to the principle of democracy in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people, and those countries that respect the universal rights of their people are stronger and more successful than those that do not. I have no doubt that Tunisia’s future will be brighter if it is guided by the voices of the Tunisian people.