The departure of a dictator or an authoritarian ruler is always a happy moment for any country. But it is an especially momentous event if this takes place in the Arab world. The standard notion is that somehow people over there don’t mind living without a whiff of democracy as long as daily life potters along.
Well, things are changing. Following the wide-ranging protests and riots triggered by corruption, unemployment, food inflation and curbs on freedom of speech, the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia is being seen as a new chapter in Arab ‘street-up’ politics. These are the first popular street protests leading directly to the toppling of an Arab regime in the last 60 years.
In a way, what has happened in Tunisia — and similar protests spreading to Algeria and Egypt — isn’t that different from what happened in other countries. Take the case of Iran. The reason for mass protests coalescing into a revolution there was different: the oil boom of the 70s leading to inflation and the Shah and his family accumulating massive wealth while Iranians were made to undertake severe austerity measures.
But the effect and the general social desire remains the same: to replace the political ossification with a genuine sense of movement.
The shake-up in Tunisia and the echoing rumbles in the Arab world do show that people, even far removed from the Westphalian model of the nation-state, have a hankering for removing dictatorships. For the region, Tunisia could very well be the first straw on the doddering camel’s back.