What Tunisia Needs Now

Western countries that sat on their hands while Ben Ali and his family strangled the country could show more enthusiasm for Tunisia’s peaceful revolution, says Zouhair Ouakaa.

Demonstrators at the government palace in Tunis on Jan. 23, 2011 - Fethi Belaid, Getty Images

After living abroad for 20 years, I returned home to start a new life in Tunis. A sense of fin de régime hung in the air, though I never expected to get caught up in the amazing experience that will mark my county forever: the toppling of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the “ghoul” of Tunisia.

As the revolution unfolded over the past few days, I walked the streets of the capital, exhilarated by the protests, startled at times by sniper fire. Still, I can’t help celebrating the achievement: My unarmed countrymen have ejected a strongman who had an iron grip on this nation of 10.5 million on the north coast of Africa.

It makes me proud to be a Tunisian.

After 23 years of brutal dictatorship, Tunisians staged a peaceful revolution that is quite miraculous in these times, for this part of the world. The ouster of Ben Ali ended a regime that confiscated all the basic civil rights of its people. No freedom of speech was allowed; wide censorship of the media and the Internet was the rule; persecution of human rights activists was common. Some say that Ben Ali’s rule was gentler than most in the Arab world, but for me it had all the strains of a police state, not unlike that of North Korea, reminiscent even of the Stalinist era.

Ben Ali dominated with the tacit support of major Western powers and the implicit good will of other Arab states in the region. He positioned himself as the last shield against Islamism, especially after Sept. 11, when a lot of countries in the West saw in him a secular president who needed their full support in his fight against terrorism.

As the world turned a blind eye, his autocratic regime busied itself with rampant corruption that reached all levels of the administration. Some 35 percent of the economy was in the hands of Ben Ali and his clan; unemployment was 30 percent among youths, who saw no future in Tunisia. They faced a bleak choice between immigrating illegally to the north border of the Mediterranean and resorting to the most backward interpretation of Islam.

Read the full article at The Root.

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