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The Tunisian revolution and the nature of tyranny

January 11, 2018 at 2:57 pm

Tunisians hold placards and banners during the revolution that took place in January 2011 [Sherif9282/Wikipedia]

With the early signs of the popular movement’s victory in Tunisia and the fleeing of the tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, controversy emerged within political circles regarding the nature of what had happened. The event seemed too big for some to comprehend or respond to in accordance with the usual theories surrounding the meaning and nature of revolutions, who should lead them and what they should look like in order to be considered a revolution. Those who were preoccupied with theoretical literature and fruitless intellectual debate were not the true instigators of the event, and they found themselves on the margins of the popular movement, despite benefitting from the results of the revolution.

It was called everything ranging from an uprising, which is a watered-down description of what happened (given the absence of a leading revolutionary party), to a conspiracy woven by imperial hands that wanted to change the political scene in the region on the basis of the theory of creative chaos. The politicians of theoretical revolutions continued to throw around their big terms and dense comparisons. A revolution, they insisted, should be carried out in the same manner as the Bolshevik, Iranian or, at the very least, French revolutions. Anything outside of these sacred models cannot be discussed as revolutions, or so the theory went.

It is ironic that many of those raised to call eastern military coups great and unmatched revolutions, stood before events in Tunisia mindlessly. Tunisia did not have any of the characteristics of Arab coups nor were events accompanied by guillotines, blunt speeches and blatant propaganda and slogans. They began with a small rebellion by a poor young man who set fire to himself in protest at the violation of his rights and the intrusion of the police state; there were no revolutionary slogans. This was followed by the streets being flooded with an overwhelmingly youthful movement calling for corruption to be fought and the right to employment and a dignified life.

237 Tunisia protesters arrested in clashes this week

It is also ironic that all of those who disparaged the Tunisian revolution, in name and action, and called the popular movement a conspiracy or uprising, enjoyed the great political transformation that followed. Some found themselves reaping the benefits of authority in the ministries and parliament, while others restored rights they hadn’t dreamt of during the domination of the Ban Ali regime and a single party. Such rights include the right to free expression, criticism and review, without being punished.

Despite these great political transformations that Tunisia has experienced, which cannot be ignored or denied by any objective observer, the nature and impact of tyranny still affect some people. Their idea of a theoretical revolution was nothing more than an imagined vision regarding the best way to take control of the state by a specific ideological party that would later nationalise public affairs for its own interests. It would also eliminate all of its opponents by means of the media along with firm and bloody decisions. Some of the political forces that suffered from the ban during Ben Ali’s tyranny blessed the Egyptian coup and considered it to be a popular movement that put the Egyptian revolution back on its natural track.

Meanwhile, other parties sided with the Syrian regime and considered all actions against it as a conspiracy. While they cursed their own president, criticised the government and protested in the streets, they found it unacceptable for the Syrians merely to call for elections whereby the hereditary ruler is not going to win by an unlikely and unreasonable percentage of the votes cast. Others found it acceptable to make alliances with backward-looking governments that are against all political transformations in the region, and were audacious enough to defend their decisions which harm the general public, such as preventing Tunisian women from travelling to the Gulf.

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The strangest of all is the emergence of unexpected patterns of similarities in positions between forces that monopolise revolutionary interpretation and the forces supporting the oppressive regime in Tunisia. They both criticise the Arab revolutions, both call them conspiracies, and both reject the outcome of the democratic situation in Tunisia, calling it a crisis. Sane individuals cannot find any explanation for such similarities other than a state of radical conviction that this nation, and all the Arab nations, do not deserve freedom and that they must remain governed by their closed authoritarian regimes, regardless of their false republics and false resistance slogans.

The Tunisian event remains a revolutionary moment that does not fit the usual profile and, in fact, continues to break the mould. The course of the revolutionary act begun by the new generation, surprising the world, is far from the ideologies of defeat and the justification of failure. It continues to monitor the political scene today and is capable of flipping the situation for everyone whenever it pleases.

This may explain the youth’s reluctance to join political parties, even from among the 350,000 students in Tunisian universities. If the political professionals and mouthpieces for tired ideologies are not aware of the nature of the mindset and awareness of the new generation, they will remain vocal manifestations and media bubbles that will soon disappear given the changes taking place in Tunisian society right under their collective nose, without them realising what they mean or addressing them correctly.

Tunisian students take part in a protest against new exam system at the Habib Bourguiba street in Tunis, Tunisia on November 21 2016 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian students take part in a protest against new exam system at the Habib Bourguiba street in Tunis, Tunisia on November 21 2016 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]

Communities do not act based on pre-determined agendas or flawed ideological predictions, but instead respond to the needs imposed by circumstances and act within the options they provide for themselves. Just as the masses rebelled on 17 December to overthrow the one-party government, this generation, and all those who earned the right to vote thanks to the revolution, can create the same situation again; this time, though, it will not be through action on the streets, but through the ballot box.

This article first appeared in Arabic on 11 January 2018 on Al-Araby Al-Jadeed

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.