March 13, 2013
Authorities confiscated a street vendor's vegetable cart; in desperate protest the owner self immolated. Sparks from his fire spread from Tunisia to Algeria to Egypt. Dictators were deposed. Islamists seize control. The world is silent.
Tunisia sits between Algeria and Libya in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. She has enormous history which includes Hannibal the 2nd century Tunisian General, one of the greatest strategic military commanders in history. He defeated the Roman Army which had invaded Tunisia at Carthage. The Romans reclaimed it a century later. Carthage remained one of the three most important cities in the Roman Empire until the Muslim Conquest destroyed it in the 6th Century. This was followed by the Ottoman Empire and then protectorate disagreements with France and Italy.
General George Patton led the Tunisia Campaign in WWII; the Battle of El Guettar was the first battle in which US forces defeated the experienced German tank units. Patton believed in reincarnation and wrote that he had been in Carthage; speculating that he had been with Hannibal and those brave warriors.
Habib Bourguiba was the first president when Tunisia became an independent state in 1956. He suppressed Islamic fundamentalism and established women's rights. In 1987 he was replaced in a bloodless coup by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali who respected the secularist position. In spite of corruption during Ben Ali's autocratic regime, he was an important ally of the United States; and a large middle class with liberal social norms and gender equality for women had evolved.
A Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire protesting the confiscation of his wares and harassment by government officials; Mohamed Bousazizi died before his 27th birthday. With the death of Bousazizi, the January 2011 Jasmine Revolution began. The torch of Arab Spring was lit. Within days dozens of protestors were dead; President Ben Ali and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia.
The cosmopolitan capital of Tunis, the ancient ruins of Carthage, the Muslim and Jewish quarters of Jerba , the sands stretching south to the Sahara, and the coastal resorts of Monastir had beckoned adventurous tourists prior to the Arab Spring.
An assembly was appointed to govern until parliamentary elections would be held. The Ennahda Islamist Party campaigned on a moderate pro democracy stance comparing itself to Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP). They claimed victory in the October 2011 elections with 41% of the vote.
Moncef Marzouki of the Islamist Ennahada became the interim president and reassured secularists that the new constitution would respect women's rights and would not impose a Muslim moral code on society. He appointed Hamadi Jebali as Prime Minister; and Ali Larayedh as Interior Minister. Each Minister has since resigned.
Anti Islamist Ennahda Party demonstrations were led by Chokri Balaid of the Popular Front and the General Tunisian Workers Union. Poverty, economic and social problems remain, especially unemployment; which is around 30%. Political promises have not been kept. Smuggling is rife. Milk, tomatoes, pasta, other foods, and mineral water are frequently exported to Libya to be sold for more than in Tunisia. This causes shortages. Gulf States are not loaning or giving money to Tunisia. Foreign investments are down. Taxi drivers and petrol stations strike to protest increased petrol prices.
Chokri Balaid was murdered last month. It is speculated that he was killed by Islamic Salafists, whose influence has grown. His killing plunged the nation into deeper political crisis and sparked the largest demonstrations in more than a year. Protesters demand the dissolution of the Ennahda militia which they accuse of brutal acts. They accuse Ennahda of violence which include the attack on the US embassy and on Sufi Shrines. The country remains in turmoil since Balaid's death.
Since Ben Ali fled office, Tunisia has been in a state of emergency, Parliament remains divided over the future political system, Ennahda announced that their government will step down; a new coalition government headed by Islamist Ali Larayedh will be formed with a new cabinet. It is estimated that new elections will take place in 2014. Chaos prevails.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that democracy requires an informed educated electorate. Plato posited that a benevolent dictator was the best government. Arab Spring has deposed dictators. Lives are not improved. Protests and riots have become the norm for unhappy citizens that crave a better life; and are angry at the corruption of leaders, at the western world, and especially the US. The Islamists use this to win elections and take control. The countries of Arab Spring burn; the US Administration fiddles.
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