The Tunisian revolution according to Khosrokhavar (2012)
Khosrokhavar, F. (2012). The new Arab revolutions that shook the world. Paradigm Publishers.
Notes on Chapter 2. The Tunisian revolution of dignity and freedom.
p. 28. most unexpected revolution in Arab world, but there were signs in previous protests of what was to come.
There were historical precedents like the Gafsa movement in early 2008, in the Gafsa mineral field, in poor region bordering Algeria.
p. 30 Unlike Jasmine revolution of late 2010, though, in Gafsa the two segments of the population (pro-democracy middle class and the precarious or poor seeking social justice) did not come together.
p. 31 Nevertheless, some lessons were learned in Gafsa that would be applied in 2010: ‘a leaderless social movement, spontaneous riots, a leading role played by the “jobless graduates”, strong backing by young people’.
p. 31. Before that, in October 2005, 18 October Movement for Rights and Freedoms formed out of opposition forces incl. liberals, leftists and Islamists. Unlike the Gafsa and Ben Guerdane movements, which were socio-economic, this was a political platform/movement.
p. 32-35 Tunisian revolution was counterintuitive: happened in seemingly highly stable country, with ‘presidents for life’ (Bourguiba, Ben Ali). Ben Ali stood out among authoritarian regimes for not tolerating any opposition whatsoever.
It was a highly creative revolution in that it combined disparate social forces (the poor and the middle classes) and unified them through new digital media, with Bouazizi’s self-immolation as the trigger. It started in the marginalised regions, derided by the elites as ‘inland Tunisians’ (Nuzuh), where youth joblessness almost double the national average, not in the relatively affluent coastal regions and northeast with 90% of investment.
This case shows it’s not glaring poverty and lack of development that trigger revolutions, but ‘unevenly spread development and a political regime out of touch with real society can’ (p. 34).
p. 35 Compared to Egypt, much more important role of working-class activists, taking on ‘a classical dimension of class antagonism, coupled with a middle-class demand for democracy’.
p. 36-38 The revolutionary imaginary in Tunisia was ‘hectic’, with ‘fanciful, even extravagant interpretation of the facts’ as people caught up in the revolutionary fervour, not unlike the French Revolution of 1789 or the 1979 Iranian revolution. Distorted accounts of Bouzazi’s suicide helped to radicalise the population [see also this blog, Lim 2013].
p. 37 Wikileaks also important in ‘general lack of inhibition towards the Ben Ali regime’. When it revealed – further disseminated by Al Jazeera – that the country was ‘ruled by thugs and Mafia’, revolutionaries were emboldened by the fantasy that America was now on their side.
p. 38 Collective indignation created ‘a collective sense of immunity towards death’.
p. 39 National workers’ union (UGTT) played a key role, but internally riven between central leadership supporting Ben Ali and regional/local levels as well as some subsections such as the teachers’ union. p. 40. Eventually it joined the protest movement following the Kasserine repression. Role of political groups and Islamists was limited. It was trade union, first local and regional levels, then nationally, that was decisive. One could say Tunisia was the Arab Gdansk, in reference to Solidarity movement in 1980s Poland.
p. 41 ‘The Internet, mainly Facebook and Twitter, played a major role in mobilising the youth’. When the govt banned journalists from Sidi Bouzid, the town where Bouazizi killed himself, a group of bloggers (incl 100+ censored in previous months) managed to bypass censorship and relay news of unfolding events in the town. As 1 in 6 Tunisians was using Facebook, the gov was unable to put a stop to it. Even innocuous websites devoted to sport or fashion became politicised. Soon disparate ideologies unified on Facebook around a pro-democracy stance and ‘all of them denounced dictatorship, fraud, and censorship’.
FB crucial role in linking young middle classes in Tunis with trade union movement and organising demos just prior to autocrat’s downfall. When gov tried to suspend use of FB in some regions and penetrate opposition’s pages, Anonymous launched ‘operation Tunisia’ against government websites.
p. 42 Al Jazeera not allowed to open office in Tunisia, but had a big impact by broadcasting cell phone footage of provincial protests by bloggers (as did France 24) and amplifying contents from FB and YouTube. Despite low quality and dubious credentials of a lot of the images they ‘took the risk and broadcast the images’.