Tunisian Protestors Reach Capital

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As Tunisian protesters make their way to the capital, the government is attempting to take action. According to The New York Times, an effort to appease the protesters by firing the country's interior minister was unsuccessful, as the frustrated demonstrators demanded the removal of the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Unrest has taken over the North African country for three weeks now, sparked by the self-immolation of a young college-graduate whose only source of income, a fruit cart, was confiscated by police.

As of yesterday, the government had imposed a curfew on the capital city of Tunis and members of the president's family, to whom much of the protesters’ anger has been directed, were leaving the country for fear of their safety.

Several reporters and bloggers have been following the turmoil closely and offer both predictions for what will happen next and explanations for why the conflict has received relatively little attention from the global press.

  • Coverage Will Determine Response  "It still is not at all obvious that these protests will sustain themselves, lead to revolutions, or even force major changes in the policies of their regimes. But they have already seared themselves into Arab political discourse," writes Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy. Members of the Tunisian government and its supporters have attempted to explain that the rioters are motivated by increasing food prices, "or else as externally fomented terrorism." But, as Lynch points out, most independent columnists and activists familiar with the situation disagree with this reasoning. "They point to the underlying political problems which have enabled the economic mismanagement and corruption and lack of opportunity," he clarifies, suggesting that "how the events are framed will have real significance for the response."
  • Ben Ali is Just Another Ill-Equipped Arab Leader  The Guardian's Simon Tisdall suggests that Tunisia's political unrest and the government's inadequate response are just one example of the problems plaguing most Arab governments today. "Failing or failed Arab governance across an arc stretching from Yemen and the Gulf to north Africa is not a new phenomenon, nor are the likeliest remedies a mystery, except perhaps to rulers such as Ben Ali," he suggests.
  • Tunisia's PR Skills Keep It Out of the News  Blogger Ethan Zuckerman thinks that, despite government efforts to quell protesters, there is a good chance the Ben Ali government will fall anyway. But what Zuckerman is particularly interested in is the lack of coverage, he believes, the Tunisia struggle has received in American news. In addition to the fact that the Arizona shootings are currently the topic on everyone's mind, Zuckerman suggests the Tunisian government's "masterful public relations" and blatant censorship are also responsible for the small amount of news that leaves the country. "The country often gets a free pass on human rights issues from business leaders and governments who praise the social stability of the Ali government and the concomitant business opportunities," Zuckerman adds.
  • A Frustrated Youth’s Opportunity to Fight Back  An anonymous Guardian contributor by the name of Sam shares his point of view as a member of Tunisia's youth. Growing up with an ingrained fear of discussing the government, Sam says his generation pursued studying and partying without regard to politics. Opposition towards the government began to brew with stories of the presidential families excesses and disregard for the law. He notes corrupt police and businessmen, a censored Internet and a growing desire to organize change, but no one to initiate it. "We want things to change, but there is no organized movement," he explains. "The tribe is willing, but the leader is missing." He credits WikiLeaks with revealing "what everyone was whispering," the catalyst for the current uprising.
For the first time, we see the opportunity to rebel, to take advantage on the 'royal' family who has taken everything, to overturn the established order that has accompanied our youth. An educated youth, which is tired and ready to sacrifice all the symbols of the former autocratic Tunisia with a new revolution: the Jasmin Revolution--a true one.
  • Don’t Expect France to Take Action  Reporting from Paris, Time Magazine's Bruce Crumley notices an uncharacteristic reluctance on the part of the French government to take a strong stance on the violence in Tunisia. "The French rarely hesitate to loudly lament the smothering of opposition in Iran, Burma, and North Korea, for example, and continue to push Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to step aside after losing an election he contests," Crumley points out. "But when it comes to staunch allies like Ben Ali getting rough with their people, Paris tends to get tight-lipped and look for excuses." Crumley suggests that the Paris-Tunis allegiance and their historic colonial ties as well as Ben Ali's success with keeping Islamist extremists out of Tunisia are at the root of France's reluctance to undermine the repressive government.

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Update: The Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, announced this afternoon that, after 24 years in office, he would not pursue another term. Al Jazeera's Yasmine Ryan reports that "Ben Ali ordered reduction in the prices of bread, milk and sugar, and also instructed security forces to stop using firearms against protesters in his speech on Thursday evening." He also promised to stop Internet and traditional media censorship within the country.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.