The Arab Spring lives on in Tunisia

The Arab Spring lives on in Tunisia
4 min read
01 Nov, 2014
The hope and optimism of the Arab Spring lives on in Tunisia, when it has been cruelly extinguished elsewhere
The Tunisian election was free and fair (Al-Araby al-Jadeed)

Why are the Tunisian elections more than merely a Tunisian affair, and why have they become an issue that concerns every citizen in a part of the world cursed with tyrants and failure?


Tunisia is the bride of the Arab spring. It is no exaggeration to say every free Arab wishes they had a vote to cast in the Tunisian elections, to preserve what light is left for them in a dark ocean of coup d’états and counter-revolutions.


In January 2011, hours after the Jasmine revolution toppled the tyrant Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, I wrote “The adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) of change has been issued by the people in Tunisia, and the despots outside Tunisia need to consider the message… Compose yourselves. It would be best if you resigned... May God forgive you”.


At the time, I thought that Tunisians would be the first Arab nation to join the modern age. Many of their neighbours lived in bygone ages that have long since become part of history. The green revolution would launch a new Arab reality.


   If the people one day wish to live, to really be alive, then destiny must respond
- Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

Let me repeat, it is no coincidence that the man who once said, “If the people one day wish to live, to really be alive, then destiny must respond” was a Tunisian poet, Aboul-Qacem Echebbi. He died in 1943, but his words could have been written as an epitaph for the young Mohammed Bouazizi, urging on the Tunisian people to continue their intifada (uprising), demanding freedom, food, jobs and an end to the widespread corruption that had penetrated every level of the State.


The political earthquake that started in Tunisia struck Cairo next. All the Mubarak regime could do was spout stale platitudes like “Egypt is not Tunisia and Mubarak is not Ben Ali”. But only ten days separated Ben Ali fleeing Tunis and the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution. Egypt was in fact a lot like Tunisia and Mubarak was a lot like Ben Ali.

The Tunisian revolution was the spark that ignited the 25 January revolution in Egypt. I noted on 16 January after Ben Ali’s escape was announced that change in Egypt was imminent. I wrote that “And so, Ben Ali left much sooner than anyone anticipated, proving the truth of the famous phrase “dictatorship falls in the last fifteen minutes”. But what was more important was that the development and maturity of the Tunisian experience in this dramatic fashion proved change was possible, and with the simplest tools. The most important thing was the will of the people and for there to be a readiness to pay the price. Change, when it happened, would be easy and extremely smooth, like a prick of a needle, painful for seconds, but a quick and effective cure for a diseased political system.


The story is of 29 days of popular anger that happened spontaneously, without leadership or a centralised organisation… 29 days of anger toppled 24 years of repression, even though the average income of a person in Tunisia is three times that of their Egyptian counterpart”.


Truly, the Egyptian revolutionaries had learned the Tunisian lesson and they did not disappoint. At the time, I said “what happened, in all brevity was that Egypt woke up, performed ablutions and heeded the call to prayer of a revolution and sought salvation from all that had caused its decline and the loss of its beauty, which had once captivated people. It is not, therefore, just an intifada against poverty or hunger, just as it is not a revolution for change or political reform but rather it is a comprehensive revolution, with one universal and ultimate goal which is to regain Egypt from its abductors”.


The fires started by the revolutions in Egypt and Yemen raged out of control, burning everyone in their intensity. The Libyan revolution turned inward and the Syrian revolution was brutalised. Meanwhile, the bride of revolutions was left to fight on, by herself, in Tunisia. I think it is capable of bringing hope back to all of us again… and that is why our hearts are with the green ballot boxes of Tunisia.


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.


 This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.