As we prepared for Christmas and played in the snow a crisis was brewing in the North African nation of Tunisia. On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire outside his local government building after having his cart and its contents confiscated (the latest in a long line of incidents where Police bullied Bouazizi) and his Governor refused him an audience. He had simultaneously sent a message to his local government saying that he wouldn’t stand for their corruption any longer and became a martyr for an entire nation angry at levels of unemployment, poor living conditions and their country’s lack of any real democracy.
The world was woken up to an issue that haunts the Arab world: dictatorship. As thousands of protestors took to the streets of Tunis and other cities calling for the resignation of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, the ruler of Tunisia for 23 years, Arab leaders held their breath as they realised that their presidencies were no longer safe. Yet some still questioned whether the revolutionary spirit would spread even after the departure of President Ben Ali on 15 January, 2011.
The revolution has taken on a borderless quality, partially fuelled by the use of the micro-blogging site, Twitter. Though many have questioned whether this has really been the Twitter Revolution that some have dubbed it, there is no doubting that its use to rally protestors in many countries has been powerful. The continuing student demonstrations in the UK for example have embraced Twitter as both a propaganda machine and a clever way to organise protestors when they are on the street through hashtags such as ‘#solidarity’.
In a similar way to the UK’s protestors, demonstrations in Egypt were initially started by students but the issue has now grown to a nationwide call for President Hosni Mubarak to stand down. The regime has been in power since 1981 and emergency powers in Egypt have been in effect almost continuously since 1967, leading many world powers to agree that Mubarak’s presidency should end sooner rather than later.
Twitter’s influence on the situation in Egypt was quelled as internet and mobile phone facilities across the country were shut down prompting many to switch to the older dial-up system as a means of communication. The demonstrations continue on, even through this hindrance, showing that the issue is unlikely to go away until the protestors’ demands are met. President Mubarak continues to hold on to power saying “I am fed up, but if I quit now there’ll be chaos”. Having made the concession that he will stand down at September’s election without risk of his son assuming power, a split has developed with a new group of pro-Mubarak protestors emerging to demonstrate against the large groups still calling for change in places such as Tahrir Square, Cairo.
There are long standing dictatorships throughout the Arab world including Colonel Gaddafi’s who has been Libya’s leader since 1969, the longest period in the region. Government ministers in Jordan have already been fired after protests there and President Ali Abdullah Salah of Yemen has indicated that he will not seek re-election or pass power to his son once the current term ends after a ‘Day of Rage’ was planned for February, 3.
Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, has sparked a revolution in the Arab world. They will no longer stand for being ruled by unwanted dictatorships and are more than ready to force their rulers out of office if they must.