Tunisia: Chaos, Revolt and the Pursuit of Democracytunisia

Cody Owens, Contributor
Published On: 02/08/2011

Last December, a Tunisian fruit vender from the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid set a fire that would change the Arab world as we know it.

After being harassed by police and having his produce confiscated, Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire: riots and chaos in the streets of Sidi Bouzid broke out, followed by an onslaught of protests across the country.

The outbreak of civil unrest stemmed from the oppressive regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that had been in place for 23 years and as the world watched, Tunisian protestors took the streets in droves. Unhappy with unemployment and political corruption under Ben Ali's regime, Mohamed Bouzizi'z act of self-immolation was the match that set off the bomb of protests that rocked all of Tunisia.

Wasan Manati, who teaches Arabic at UAB claims the uprising is a beacon of hope for the people in Arab nations such as Tunisia and Egypt which have been rocked by civil unrest towards oppressive regimes that seem to blanket the Middle East. "They need to give the young people a future," Manati said.

On January 15, after nearly a month of violence and protesting, Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia since coming to power in a bloodless coup in 1987, fled amid violent demonstrations and protesters who rejected his last-minute raft of concessions, deferring political power to prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi.

Manati adds that "The Tunisian youth deserve a chance to not have to live under an oppressive regime like the one of Ben Ali. I'm very pleased with what's happening and will continue to pray for their movement towards peace in Tunisia."

Last Friday, Feb. 4, Phi Alpha Theta hosted an open lecture put on by UAB professors who spoke and answered questions anyone might have regarding the Arab world's upheaval from what many designated a breeding ground for repressive dictatorships, to a region of revolution and uncertainty.

Lamia Ben Youssef Zayzafoon, an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Language and Literature at UAB is Tunisian. She spoke passionately of her home countries revolt against oppression in the lecture Friday.

"Ben Ali and Arab dictators like him have no sense of dignity" Zayzafoon said. "It's because of that this feeling of alienation from citizens in their own country is the common denominator to all the people who have taken to the streets...Just having the discussion of democracy in that region n is a positive thing. Maybe a way to redefine citizenship. Maybe a way to restructure the world, a new horizon," she said.

She added with an ardor that can only come from the transcendental feeling of unity one gets after a people's revolution against tyranny.

There is hope for Tunisia, but Egypt is still burning.

As the eyes of the world fix their gaze from Tunisia to Egypt, much remains uncertain for the once peaceful, diplomatic model of the Arab world as millions gather to protest against President Hosni Mubarak on an unprecedented scale. Mubarak's regime has been in place for 30 years and has been a strong ally for the U.S in the unstable Middle East.

But In the wake of the Tunisian revolution Egyptian protestors took the streets demanding Mubarak's resignation, after growing tension among the Egyptian people and their resentment towards his regime's systematic corruption and police brutality.

"Things are still very fluid in Egypt. Things are changing day by day" said G.D Mumford, as he spoke at Friday's lecture. Mumford is an Egyptologist at UAB and has many contacts in Egypt, whom of which he says he has received many reports, some inconsistent with others.

But what Mumford and everyone else can agree on is that the issues are widespread. So much is still unclear.

Could Tunisia's revolution mark the demise of oppressive dictatorships in the Middle East? Could a fruit vender light a match that changed the world and maybe pave the way towards peace and sovereignty that has recently eluded the Arab world? Light the match. Make the change.