Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tunisia: Intifada or Revolution

I disagree naming the events in Tunisia as a revolution, though I am happy with the word Jasmine, it is my favorite flower. History tells us successful revolutions have two important elements:
  1. leader(s)
  2. program
The French had Robespierre, the Chinese had Mao and the Russian had Lenin as the prominent figures leading the way. More importantly they all had a program, a clear message, an agenda to replace, a power structure to change and an ideology to effect that change. Tunisian uprisings seem to lack these elements.

True, Tunisian people grew tired of oppression, poor economic conditions, high rate of unemployment, etc and put up a courageous fight but where will it take them? Despite the tyrant Ben Ali fled the country, it seems all the underlying causes that created the current conditions remain. Although we see some progress on the liberty side, please remember that poverty and inequality was the dominant factor that triggered the uprisings and riots. The existing power elites (both politically and economically) are still in place and they try to control the situation by letting people blow their steam --they allow more freedom, and by making small sacrifices --Ben Ali gone, a blogger is now a minister.

The third but often overlooked property of revolutions is they have a duration. The spark does not go on forever. If Jasmine fails to change anything substantial, it will lose momentum; this is true for successful ones, too. And this brings us to the fourth property: counter revolution. Every action creates a reaction and here lies the danger.

Not satisfying the essential first two properties, The Tunisian Jasmine movement runs the risk of being labeled as disturbance by the very same people. Failing to accomplish anything, it might be seen as a nuisance, something that only makes things worse. Suppose you are a shop owner and everyday there is a demonstration, a protest or a march in your street.. And no sales plus occasional damage where you have to foot the bill. You are not better off and you will grow tired of those mobsters looting around. You get the picture. This will provide extra leverage for the ruling classes to suppress them.

Hence, I favor neither intifada --it can not be sustained, nor revolution --it lacks direction. And I sincerely hope I will be proven wrong.


  1. If we further your analysis, either anarchy or a very oppressive regime awaits Tunisia. Which one do you think is more likely?

  2. The greatest danger is a division by ethnicity and/or religion as it is very common in the region but so far no sign of either one appears.

  3. Assume the region (not necessarily Tunisia) had democratic governments. How realistic would it be for the people to demand for instance full employment while the birth rate was still high?

  4. @Anon: Anarchy is more likely but see below.

    @Nur: I do not know how the country is divided by ethnic groups but my guess is neither as far as Tunisia is concerned. Seems it is going to be a constant tug of war between to-be-government and dissidents.

    @Ahmar: To demand full employment is natural and realistic as it is not the current generation's fault; as often the case, children pay for their parents' deeds. Unemployment is there to stay at least for a few decades and it is going to be rough.