Kouddous, Democracy Now's senior reporter, an Egyption native, 30
years old. After almost 30 minutes of reporting and discussing with
Amy Goodman, they're joined by a history prof, a political analyst, and
finally an 80 yr. old Cairo feminist. A very spcial cast, not to be missed.
Listen at 9 pdt on kpfk 90.7 fm, other radio and tv sta. Check Dem.Now
By Laila Lalami
The Nation: February 7 edition
In conventional thinking about the Middle East, perhaps the most persistent
cliché is "moderate Arab country." The label seems to apply indiscriminately
to monarchies and republics, ancient dictatorships and newly installed ones,
from the Atlantic Coast to the Persian Gulf, so long as the country in
question is of some use to the United States. And, almost always, it crops
up in articles and policy papers vaunting the need for America to support
these countries, bulwarks against growing Islamic extremism in the Arab
A perfect example is Tunisia. Just three summers ago, Christopher Hitchens
delivered a 2,000-word ode to the North African nation in Vanity Fair,
describing it as an "enclave of development" menaced by "the harsh
extremists of a desert religion." This is a country with good economic
growth, a country where polygamy was outlawed in 1956, a country with high
levels of education, a country with perfect sandy beaches. And, Hitchens
wrote, it "makes delicious wine and even exports it to France."
Never mind that the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for
twenty-three years, was regularly winning elections with 90 percent of the
vote. Never mind that his wife, Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser, had a
stake in almost all of the country's businesses. Never mind that the
unemployment rate among college graduates was reportedly as high as 20
percent. Never mind that there was a police officer for every forty adults
and that the Internet was censored. In January all these things added up,
making the ouster of Ben Ali seem not only possible but probable, and later
The Tunisian uprising began on December 17, when Mohammed Bouazizi-a college
graduate eking out a living selling vegetables whose unlicensed cart was
confiscated by the police-set himself on fire, an act of desperation that
inspired the country's thousands of unemployed graduates to take to the
streets in protest. Despite severe police repression-arrests, beatings and
murders-the protests continued for several weeks, spreading from Bouazizi's
hometown of Sidi Bouzid to the rest of the country and culminating on
January 14, when Ben Ali and his family fled the country.
What is striking about the Tunisian revolution is how little attention it
received in the mainstream American press. The Washington Post mentioned the
protests for the first time on January 5, two and a half weeks into the
unrest, when it ran a wire report about the burial of Bouazizi. Time ran its
first piece about the protests later yet, on January 12. Even those who,
like Thomas Friedman, specialize in diagnosing the ills of the "Arab street"
did not show much interest.
When the mainstream press finally paid attention, it was often to explain
the success of the Tunisian revolution in terms of technology. "Tunisian
Protests Fueled by Social Media Networks," read one typical headline, from
CNN. Was it Twitter, which allowed activists to communicate swiftly and
widely with one another? Was it YouTube, where videos of protesters and
police abuse were posted? Or was it WikiLeaks, whose cables revealed that
Ben Ali and his entourage were mind-bogglingly corrupt? But Twitter seemed
to be most helpful in keeping those of us outside the country informed,
since few in the Western media were reporting the story; YouTube was
censored in the country; and WikiLeaks didn't reveal anything that the
Tunisian people did not already know.
In contrast, the Iran uprising of 2009 captured much of the American media's
attention. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan posted videos, tweets and
eyewitness accounts during the weekend following the Iranian elections.
William Kristol took to the pages of the Washington Post to applaud the
brave protesters. In The Weekly Standard Michael Goldfarb urged the
president to speak up for the Iranians on the street. Although Twitter,
YouTube and Facebook were used widely to disseminate information,
Ahmadinejad remained in power, highlighting the limits both of social
networks and foreign media in affecting internal developments.
The Tunisian revolution occurred thanks primarily to the men and women who
protested despite the intimidation, beatings, tear gas and bullets. The
death of Bouazizi, the refusal of Gen. Rachid Ammar to obey Ben Ali's orders
to shoot, the arrest of dissident Hamma Hammami and the solidarity of trade
unions and professionals with college students-all these factors played an
incremental role in keeping the momentum going. In this modern revolution,
the protesters had access to Internet tools that made it easier for them to
get the word out, but those tools on their own could not topple a dictator.
The initial lack of interest by the American press in the Tunisian protests
may have something to do with the fact that there was no Islamic angle: the
Tunisians were not trying to oust an Islamic regime, nor were they
supporters of a religious ideology. In other words, this particular struggle
for freedom was not couched in simple terms that are familiar to the Western
media-Islam, bad; America, good-so it took a while for our commentariat to
While Tunisia, the poster child of a "moderate Arab country," was in revolt
against tyranny, the French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie,
suggested to the Assemblée Nationale that, as part of the cooperation
between the two countries, French troops could be sent to help stamp out the
protests. The minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, said that calling
Tunisia a dictatorship was an exaggeration. Yet after Ben Ali was ousted,
President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly refused him entry into France. In a
final irony, the dictator who had been praised in the West as a bulwark
against Islamic extremism ran off to Saudi Arabia for safe haven.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was on a tour of Gulf
countries, lectured Arab states about the need for democratic reforms but
scrupulously refrained from mentioning the Tunisian protests. The only
official statement from President Obama came after Ben Ali had been ousted.
Perhaps the Obama administration remained quiet because it had learned from
its experience with Iran that it is best to let internal matters play out.
Or perhaps it was a stunned silence at the realization that all the
conventional thinking about the Arab world is wrong and that a popular
revolution against tyranny can occur without American involvement.
The reverberations of the Tunisian revolution were felt almost immediately,
when Muammar el-Qaddafi scolded Tunisians that they should have had the
patience to wait for Ben Ali to step down in 2014 and warned them about
civil chaos. Of course, this was a warning to the Libyan people, who might
feel inspired to topple their own tyrant. In Mauritania and Egypt-yes, two
other "moderate Arab countries"-copycat self-immolations are creating
deepening worry. And in Jordan the government has hurriedly put together a
plan to lower the price of fuel and basic commodities.
It is too early to tell whether Mohamed Ghannouchi's interim government will
be democratic. The appointment of the activist Slim Amamou as state
secretary for youth and sports seems inspired, but the inclusion of several
Ben Ali allies, particularly at the Interior Ministry, does not make for an
auspicious start. Nor does the exclusion of parties banned under Ben Ali.
The Tunisian people do not yet seem content with the government that is
shaping up, and there are reports of continuing protests. The revolution is
not over. In fact, it may have just begun.
The Tunisian people are expecting justice for those who died, free and fair
elections, and a new political order. But the three biggest lessons of their
uprising have already been delivered far and wide. To the Arab dictators:
you are not invincible. To the West: you are not needed. And to the Arab
people: you are not powerless.
From: "Sid Shniad" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Egypt not trending in China
Alljazeera: 29 January 2011
Beijing blocks searches for "Egypt" from microblogging site following
China has blocked the word "Egypt'' from the country's wildly popular
Twitter-like service, while coverage of the political turmoil has been
tightly restricted in state media.
China's ruling Communist Party is sensitive to any potential source of
A search for "Egypt'' on the Sina microblogging service brings up a message
saying, "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search
results are not shown".
The service has more than 50 million users.
News on the Egypt protests has been limited to a few paragraphs and photos
buried inside major news websites, but China Central Television had a report
on its midday broadcast.
China's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment Saturday
on the events in Egypt.
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