Image source: Al Jazeera
The North African world is experiencing major society upheavals. The population of Tunisia and Egypt rose against dictators and controlling governments in the past couple of months.
Tunisia was the country that launched this moment of important changes. In December 2010, Tunisians started to protest and strike in front of government buildings. They were asking President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to hand his powers back to the country. Ben Ali took the head of the government during a bloodless palace coup in 1987, declaring President Bourguiba mentally ill, and won the presidential elections in 1989. He has been ruling the country with the support of his party the RCD and he has kept tight control of the media and the opposition parties for the last 23 years.
It is believed that the protests were sparked by the Tunisians’ exasperation over food inflation, unemployment and corruption, when twenty-six-year-old, college-graduated and unemployed Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after being stopped by the police for selling fruits and vegetables illegally in the streets. The demonstrations lead to the president exile on the 12th of January. The country was left with a provisional government under Prime Minister Mohammed’s governance.
Tunisia’s protest spread and in January 2011, Egypt followed its example. Egyptians went in the street and demanded President Hosni Mubarak to peacefully leave the government. Like his counterpart in Tunisia he has been in power for nearly 30 years, and has kept the country under emergency laws, giving himself and the government more and more power and control over the media and civil liberties.
The protests are entering their third week now and Mubarak is still in power. He announced he would not run for the next elections in September and that if he had to leave now “there will be chaos” in the country… Egypt is already experiencing the harsh consequences of the long lasting protests; the BBC said in a recent article that the economy was losing $310m a day.
In both countries the protest started peacefully but the strong reaction of armed forces and the government’s inaction led to more violent results.
The number of victims during the Tunisian clashes amount to 200 people, and in Egypt the Human Right Watch researchers count over 297 victims.
As demonstrations escalated, Tunisia saw the protests turning violent: demonstrators demanding all members of the former government to be excluded from the interim government. In Egypt protesters started attacking official buildings a week after the police open fire during demonstrations and killed 30 people.
No social revolution ever went bloodless. History is being written at this very moment before our eyes. This year 2011 will mark an historical climax for these countries that have for too long been under the control of colonialists or dictators.
Will the protests lead to democratic and fair governments? Rome was not build in one day neither was democracy. The protests could either leave the countries in a worse condition or on the contrary mark a fresh start.