Arab Bloggers Cheer on Tunisia’s Revolution-Are Mullahs next?


A video report from Britain’s Channel 4 News on the day’s events in Tunisia.Last Updated | 6:01 p.m. As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports from Tunisia, 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.

Video of Tunisian demonstrators chanting the country’s national anthem during a protest in the capital, Tunis, on Friday, posted online by contributors to the group blog Nawaat.org.

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.
Within the past hour, a Moroccan lawyer who blogs as Ibn Kafka wrote on his Twitter feed:

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 Mohamed Bouaziz, the unemployed vegetable-seller who set himself on fire outside a Tunisian government office 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 for updates including the #SidiBouzid hashtag, which refers to the town where the uprising began last month.)
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. el-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.”
Later in the day, in a blog post headlined, “Where Tunisia Is Now: Exhilarating Limbo,” he added these thoughts:

Ben Ali has fallen. An Arab dictator of 24 years has turned out to be removable — not by a relative, former ally or military chief, but by a popular insurrection. This is historic first for the entire region and I will come back to it tomorrow.
In the meantime, though, we should not assume that Tunisia has become an instant democracy. The announcement today that Prime Minister Ghanouchi was assuming the presidency has yet to be accepted. Rioting and looting are continuing in the streets of major Tunisian cities, sometimes targeting the homes and businesses of regime cronies, but also of ordinary citizens. Some suspect police deserters to be looting. The situation is chaotic and the army is showing signs of wanting to impose order.
With no clear leadership with the moral authority to get people to go back to their homes, it may be days before the situation resolves itself. What interim president Ghanouchi does tomorrow in his meeting with the opposition — whose very definition will be controversial, notably over whether En-Nahda’s Islamists could become part of an interim coalition government — will be crucial. Right now, there does not seem to be any indication that Tunisians are accepting any government as legitimate. Ghanouchi will have to either move quickly to build a credible alliance (here the international community may have a role in conferring legitimacy) or step aside for someone who can.

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

Tunisian Revolution

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 power.
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:
After night fell in Tunis, Ms. Khatib reported, based on eyewitness accounts posted online: “Situation in Tunisia is critical. Violence has spread amid chaos. Masked men like militias are attacking civilians.”
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.
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.
The success of these street protests against an unpopular president also brought to mind, for some Iranian bloggers, the failure of protests in Iran in 2009 following the disputed presidential election. 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 — Islamists have not taken a prominent role in the uprising. In Mr. Weddady’s words:

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.

Today’s Timescast begins with a report from Tunis by my colleague Dave Kirkpatrick on the day’s events:

Posted by Pro Democracy Movement of Iran
 
 

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