By January 2011, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, President and dictator, had ruled the seemingly peaceful North African country of Tunisia for over twenty-three years. What the Tunisians had experienced, however, was as many years of blatant corruption, poverty, unemployment, despicable living conditions, and a lack of free speech. While the President's family grew richer and more corrupt, the common folk were repressed by the brutal use of force. Tunisia was a country where civil resistance was waiting to happen.
What Sparked It Off
It only takes a spark to start a wildfire. What started the Jasmine Revolution was a rather insignificant event. On the morning of December 17, 2010, in the insignificant little town of Sidi Bouzid, Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, was slapped when he protested the confiscation of his goods for lack of a license. The young man instead of resorting to bribe set himself ablaze in the center of the town. Anger against years of oppression, corruption, and unemployment boiled over. Tunisians came in hundreds to protest. While Ben Ali turned to the police to silence protesters, the people took to social media platforms to call for support. The Jasmine Revolution flared up all over the country and the people decided that they would not be silenced any more.
Voice Of The People
Spurred into action by one man's protest against the lack of dignity in the country thousands of Tunisians took to demonstrations and strikes. The spontaneity of the uprising and the widespread involvement spoke of the popular dissent against Ben Ali and the regime of his party the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). The uprising started on December 19, 2010 in Sidi Bouzid. The protesters of the town were arrested, shot and a quasi-curfew was imposed. But the revolution soon grew unmanageable for the police.
By December 27, 2010, Tunis was at the heart of the Dignity Revolution, as the Tunisians themselves called it. Thousands of protestors took to the streets of the Tunisian capital. Through the rest of December a number of rallies and demonstrations were held in Monastir, Meknassy, Sousse, Sfax, Chebba, El Hamma, and Sbikha. By January 3, 2011, the protestors of Thala grew violent. Tear gas was used to curb the demonstration but Tunisians were no longer daunted by the prospect of it. On January 4, 2011, Mohammed Bouazizi died in a hospital near Tunis further aggravating the situation. The lawyers and teachers of the country joined the labor unions in the mass uprising by January 6.
Ben Ali and the RCD deployed military personnel in most Tunisian cities but by January 11 the uprising had taken the form of a full-fledged civil war. Government buildings in Tunis were ransacked. Busses and cars were set ablaze at Ettadhamen-Mnihla in Tunis. Night curfew was imposed in Tunis.
After Ben Ali
On January 14, 2011, President Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia and resigned power thus ending his oppressive regime. A state of emergency was declared in Tunisia. By January 17, 2011, the constitutional court of Tunisia named Fouad Mebazza the acting President. Elections were to be held within two months. The Tunisians, however, did not cease to protest. The new cabinet had many RCD members and the people found this unacceptable. The anti-RCD protests started on January 17 and five non-RCD members resigned from the cabinet in keeping with the anti-RCD sentiment that had taken hold of the nation.
The very next day protests broke out in the Tunisian cities of Sfax, Monastir, Sousse, Gabes, and Bizerta. The curfew in Tunis was ignored by the protestors and thousands assembled outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis. The Tunisians refused to give up till the RCD members including Ghannouchi left the interim government. The UGTT (General Tunisian Workers’ Union) demanded that the constitution be rewritten and the entire government step down. The Ennahda Movement was formed and legalized. It soon went to become Tunisia’s biggest party. On January 27, the Prime Minister announced a reshuffle of the cabinet and excluded all RCD members. On March 7, 2011, RCD was dissolved.
Over 224 Tunisians were killed and ninety-four injured in the protests since December 2010 owing largely to the clashes between the protesters and the police.
Social Media In Protests
With the freedom of speech, assembly and protests being largely curbed in the Ben Ali regime social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were used by protesting Tunisians to garner national and international support. In a country like Tunisia where an open revolution was unheard of, videos of police atrocities were posted on Facebook inflaming the minds of the countrymen and inspiring them to join the uprising. The country’s youth and news agencies used these platforms to voice out their views and to alert the international community about their agenda. This in itself was a novel use of the platforms popularly used for socializing.
What Lay Ahead
On February 9, 2011 Fouad Mebazaa was granted emergency powers. By the end of the month Prime Minister Ghannouchi resigned following violent protests in Tunis, Carthage and other parts of Tunisia. All regional governors of Tunisia were ousted. In April 2011 the government of Tunis pressed 18 charges against Ben Ali. On October 23, 2011 the elections for a constituent assembly were held in Tunisia and the turnout was in large numbers. The moderate Islamist party Ennahda Movement won about 90 of the 217 assembly seats and gained about 40% of the votes. The secular Congress for the Republic won 30 seats Popular Petition won 26, and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties won 21. The general elections of Tunisia are yet to be held. Eleven months since the start of the revolution Tunisia still suffers from a soaring inflation. Curbing the cost of living is likely to feature high on the priorities of the new government.
From Jasmine Revolution To Arab Spring
The term ‘Jasmine Revolution’ was coined by the journalist Zied El-Heni with reference to Tunisia's national flower. The revolution stunned the Arab world and garnered immense support in other repressed nations. Soon revolutions broke out in Egypt, Libya, Syria Yemen, and Bahrain. Encouraged by the success of the Tunisians the people of these countries broke out in revolutions seeking a regime change - ushering what has come to be known as the Arab Spring.