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Huda Seif: The Toppling of Tunisia

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The following article on the situation in Tunisia was contributed to this blog by the academic Huda Seif.

As the international community watches carefully the intense events of political upheavals and public appraisal that are currently unfolding in Tunisia, one cannot help but reflect on the root causes that led to such desperate public political measures. In a world where one takes for granted basic individual/collective human rights including political rights (the right to a dignified existence and participation in political plurality, elections, freedom of speech, and the rights to disagree) these basic tenets of modern states have indeed been rare commodities in Tunisia.

What is shocking, however, is not the fact that these basic tenets have been lacking in Tunisia to the point were the public have to be driven to the streets using the only means left to them – violence – to claim justice. Rather, it is disturbing to know that Tunisia is celebrated by the international community (the UN, the EU, and the World Bank) as an exemplary and a model state in the Middle East in particular and the developing world in general. Indeed Tunisia enjoys one of the most cordial political relations with the West and the international community, two entities often said to be the guardians of democracy the champions of human rights. The reality, of course, is much different.

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia raises several important concerns about the international community’s ability to judge and rank a given country’s practice of governance and respect for rights, and raises questions about the ways in which such judgments are constructed and on the bases of which they are reached.

What we learn from the Tunisian event is that while the World Bank and the IMF celebrate Tunisia as a model for development (due to its acceptance of structural changes, prescribed economic measures, and democratization process), the public was indeed sinking into deep economic crises and dehumanizing socio-political conditions under a brutal dictatorial regime. These conditions where epitomized and demonstrated to the world in the riots that nearly destroyed the country’s minimum functionality and drove the Tunisian President into fleeing the country.

Indeed desperate public situations bring desperate public measures.

But the effectiveness of such desperate public measures will always be sabotaged by impunity provided to culprits by others who are equally despotic in the region. As long as contemporary dictators know that they will have safe heavens from claims for justices and the uproars of their public in countries that provide them with impunity and economic support, the world will continue to produce tyrants such as the ousted Tunisian President.

Saudi Arabia have in the past as in the present case of the Tunisian president) been instrumental in providing safe havens for dictators from the developing world across the globe (including Idi Amin of Uganda) after committing atrocities that exceeded those committed by the Tunisian president. In deed Saudi Arabia continues to play the anti-political apparatus that will contribute to the delay of any meaningful democracy in the developing world.

The Tunisian event raises other concerns. This time the concern is specific to other dictators who are currently ruling with an iron fist throughout the Middle East. With internets and satellite dishes in every niche across the developing world, the Tunisian events have become known within a few minutes of its development. It has raised the hopes of millions currently subjugated by life time self appointed dictators.

Now that the road to violent democracy is paved by the Tunisian public we can’t help but wonder who will be next: Yemen, Egypt, Syria…? The list is quite a long one.