The North African country of Tunisia exploded with a mass democratic uprising in December 2010 and it is still unfolding today.
The country of about 10 million people was ruled by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (many call dictator) since 1987 until the Tunisian people forced him to flee the country and take up residency in Saudi Arabia on January 15, 2011.
The rebellion, referred to by the media as the Jasmine Revolution, was sparked by a single, unemployed, university graduate Mohammad Bouazizi. The 22-year-old Bouazizi made his living with an unlicensed vending cart on a market street in the town of Sidi Bouzid, a place described as “hard scrabble,” and is 190 miles south of the country’s capital of Tunis.
Bouazizi was roughed up by the police and his cart was confiscated. Angry and upset, the young man did a dramatic protest. With a message that he “can’t live without food anyway,” Bouazizi set himself on fire and died. Self-immolation has been used throughout many countries as a form of protest.
Bouazizi’s dramatic action sparked mass protests throughout the country. Tunisians were fed-up with the mass unemployment and government corruption.
Democratic forces including left groups and unions took to the streets, 300,000-strong, and have been protesting for more than a month.
Ben Ali’s police attacked protesters, shooting into the crowds. At least 80 people died. That angered and shocked more Tunisians and turned them against the repressive government.
After Ben Ali and his family fled, his prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, offered to form an interim unity government with opposition parties joining the discredited ruling party. The opposition accepted but the wrath of the public was so great, four opposition leaders stepped down and joined the protests. Tunisians were demanding the resignation of all ruling party ministers, and action on jobs for the mass numbers of unemployed.
These developments have been so massive and quickly developing, almost taking everyone off-guard, that the President of the United States mentioned it in his recent State of the Union speech.
Tunisia’s neighbor on the west, Morocco, issued a statement expressing “concern” about the overthrow of Ben Ali and its impact on Morocco and the region. Libya, Tunisia’s neighbor on the east, and Egypt have expressed similar concerns.
And with good reason, these governments are concerned. There have been thousands demonstrating in Egypt against corruption, unemployment and repression, representing the biggest challenge to the Mubarek government yet.
And now thousands demonstrate in Yemen.
Tunisia’s Communist Workers Party leader Hamma Hammami declined to meet the prime minister and respond to his invitation to join the government. Hammami had been arrested during the earlier protests, but released after civil liberties leaders demanded his release. He issued a statement calling for a constitutional assembly “to lay the foundations of a democratic republic.”
The Iraqi Communist Party issued a solidarity statement with the Tunisian people and workers saying,
“What has happened in Tunisia is an example for our Arab peoples, who are fighting for their freedom, bread and happiness, and for their legitimate aspirations in establishing the political, economic and social system which they desire, a system of democracy, peace and social justice.”