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January 20, 2011

What else does the revolution in Tunisia reveal?

Dr. Mohammed Shokr

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When Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian university graduate with a computer science degree, became unemployed and had to rely on selling fruits and vegetables from a cart in his rural town of Sidi Bouzid to support himself, no one outside Tunisia really paid any attention to the desperate economic situation that had obligated him to take such desperate measures.

When the authorities confiscated his produce because he was selling without a permit he went to complain but he received, instead, a humiliating slap on his face.  This brutal treatment did not make the news outside Tunisia either.

When the desperate Bouazizi decided to end his life on that same day (December 17, 2010) in a dramatic gesture by setting himself on fire outside the governor’s office, unrest broke out in Sidi Bouzid. The police cracked down harshly on the protestors but that only fueled more violent protests in many cities across Tunisia, including the capital. 

Only then, some people around the world started to show concern.  Yet, not a single leader in the “G” world seemed to care thus far.

Bouazizi passed away on January 4, 2011. 

But his death triggered massive protests from angry Tunisians who have been suffering from the iron fist of their dictator, Ben Ali, for 23 years. 

The president had to flee the country amid escalating violence and opposition.  Only then the G “world” started to pay attention!

The voices of the free democratic countries should have been loud and strong in opposing Ben Ali and his fellow dictators in the Middle East during his brutal ruling time, not after they were ousted. 

But most Western countries, including Canada, have chosen to be selective on the matter by synchronizing their voices with their favorite dictator until they see his end at the hands of his own oppressed people.

In a visit to Tunisia in 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that liberties were evolving in Tunisia and paid homage to “the country’s determined fight against terrorism, the true enemy of democracy”. 

How ironic? Terrorism is the enemy to democracy however Ben Ali’s brutal regime is not!

On the eve of the fall of Ben Ali, the U.S. Secretary of State was in the Middle East. 

When she was asked about the escalating protests in Tunisia, her answer was “we can’t take sides”!  How despicable?  The U.S., who is supposedly the great icon of liberation, was taking sides with the despotic regime in Tunisia all along and at the point of liberation of the Tunisian people they have opted to show themselves as being impartiality.

  1. This speaks volume about the mentality of the U.S. foreign policy in diffusing the issue and hiding the evident truth.   

But, for the record, President Obama was more assertive in supporting the will of the Tunisian people later on when he condemn violence against citizens voicing their opinion peacefully.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation in Tunisia after the revolution as being very serious and that it has proven that “stagnation has made the people very impatient”. 

Was the German regime waiting for that “proof” all these years while supporting Ben Ali and the like?  Then she added “We will now bring our influence to bear in order to ensure that things take place there peacefully”. 

Are we supposed to believe that her “influence”, which in fact helped the despot to exercise his brutal ruling for 23 years, is going to bring any peace to the Tunisians today?

The U.K. foreign minister William Hague called for a rapid return to law and order, restraint from all sides, and an immediate expansion of political freedoms in Tunisia.  That sounds as if the “law” was there all along and now we just have to “return” to it!

Stefania Craxi, the Italian foreign ministry spokeswoman continued to praise Ben Ali even after his fall by saying “I am sure that history will give him the right credit due for the economic development, civil and social progress and political stability in Tunisia”. 

No mention about the suppression of political freedom.  As if, the message for the Tunisian and the Arabs is that you should be content as long as you have food at the table.  He simply undermines the long struggle and years of oppression that the people of Tunisia faced under their dictator.

In perhaps one of the most moderate comments, the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and commissioner Stefan Fuele expressed their support and recognition to the Tunisian people and their democratic aspirations and said “dialogue is key. We reiterate our engagement with Tunisia and its people and our willingness to help find lasting democratic solutions to the ongoing crisis.” 

It is true that dialogue is the key but that key must be used at any time when it becomes clear that the people “inside” are suffering.

It is this double standard that is at the heart of the uncomfortable relation between the West and the Arab world.  Invoking demands of freedom and democracy only when it comes to fighting terrorism or yielding to the demands of Israel, while turning a blind eye on the suffering of people under dictators favored by the West, is sheer hypocrisy.

If the West really wants to defeat the forces of extremism, they do not have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq or Afghanistan. 

They just have to sever their support to the puppet dictators in order to help the oppressed people regain their freedom. 

With many of these puppet rulers still around, the West still has a chance at truly helping the people of the Middle East.

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