Feral waves of democracy
The road to democracy is not paved by founding fathers, grand speeches or a mere transfer of power facilitated by peaceful negotiations.
Rather, it seems that change must be fuelled by animosity and frustration, by violence and destruction, all in hopes of a less bleak tomorrow.
Following extreme upheaval in the North African country of Tunisia, Jan. 14 saw the expulsion of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had held power largely uncontested since 1987.
Considering the iron fist with which he had grasped power for so long, Ben Ali’s submission to protestors’ demands came unexpectedly quick.
Michel Desjardins, chair of the global studies department, speculated, “He was aware of the degree of frustration and he knew that if he stayed around he had more to lose than if he left, so he took his money and ran.”
The uprising was sparked in mid-December, when street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi died after lighting himself on fire in response to repressive actions by authorities.
This act of defiance resonated strongly with the oppressed Tunisians, who have been suffering from the effects of extremely high unemployment rates, corrupt government leadership and growing poverty.
Desjardins, commenting on the complexity of the situation, stated that it’s simply not one issue pertaining to youth, economics or America but rather an inextricable web of factors.
America has had an undeniably strong influence in Tunisia since the end of its colonization under France in 1957. The United States has often been condemned for their contradictory methods of supporting questionable governments while preaching democratic values.
“It puts America in a really awkward place,” said Desjardins. “They can’t be seen to go against this kind of movement and yet they’ve been supportive of the leaders for all this time.”
He believes that the outcome is highly dependent on the actions of the Obama administration, whose support may be necessary for the formation of a new government.
The intensity of the uprising has been surprising to some, as Tunisia is often viewed as more economically stable than its Arab nation counterparts.
Currently, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president.
In an attempt to placate protestors, Ghannouchi has now replaced twelve cabinet ministers in a large overhaul of the government.
The domino effect of the disturbances in Tunisia has already been followed by large-scale uprisings in Egypt and stirrings in Yemen.
On Feb. 1, long-term Egyptian President Mubarak responded to the quarter million protestors who had gathered in Cairo, demanding his immediate expulsion from the country.
Mubarak announced that he had never had intentions of returning for another six-year term in the fall.
On Jan. 31, Jordan’s King Abdullah appointed a new prime minister and discharged his cabinet.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit is a returning figure, having held the position from 2005 to 2007. Opposition to the government appears to have aims to continue their objections, as many are questioning the depth these new changes will have.
Desjardins foresees a dismal fortune for other Arab countries, expecting that there will be “more repressions that will come by the regimes” to prevent any potential revolts.
He added that it was also likely the United States would tighten its talons in foresight of protecting foreign interests.
As for Tunisia, Desjardins said, “[I don’t] have a lot of optimism that they’re going to be able to push through.”
Although resistance is still running strong, it remains a strong possibility that democracy will continue to be near in grasp, but out of hand for the citizens of the Arab world.