Will the Jasmine Revolution spread?
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Having been in power in Tunisia since 1987, the end came swiftly for Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. And after the ousted president fled on Friday, it didn’t take long for a pertinent question to be raised. If Ben Ali could be toppled, would the so-called Jasmine Revolution spread to other Arab countries?
Tunisia was hardly the first country most observers would have picked to be at the centre of such dramatic upheaval. But the social problems that drove the recent protest movement - rising unemployment, high food prices, housing issues and life under an autocratic ruler - are far from uncommon in the region.
The uprising in Tunisia was sparked by the death of a protester who set himself on fire, and similar incidents have already been reported in Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania.
Algeria has seen violent demonstrations in several cities in recent weeks and thousands of people also took to the streets in Jordan in a “day of rage” on Saturday to protest against the cost of food and lack of jobs.
In Egypt, where 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak has been president since 1981, tensions have also been building over the past 12 months.
Mohamed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, helped set up the National Association for Change on his return to the country last year.
He has pressed for democratic reforms ahead of elections due to be held this autumn, though it remains to be seen whether there is the appetite for a grassroots rebellion there.
The momentous and unexpected events in Tunisia have led to comparisons with eastern Europe in 1989. Back then, the electoral success of the Solidarity movement in Poland precipitated the demise of several other communist regimes.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was coupled with the collapse of the East German government, the peaceful Velvet Revolution brought change in Czechoslovakia and the communist administration was also spectacularly overthrown in Romania.
The break-up of the Soviet Union soon followed, but analysts are unsure that there will be a similar domino effect in the Arab world.
“There is no doubt that 34 million Algerians, no doubt that Moroccans, Libyans, Mauritanians and Egyptians are glued to their televisions and radios,” says Francis Ghilès, a North African specialist at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.
“This is the first time that a dictator in the Arab world has fallen after demonstrations in the street in a reasonably peaceful manner. So I think this is very important. On the other hand, I think one shouldn’t fall for domino theories too easily.”
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