Well, looks like we timed our visit to the south of Tunisia perfectly. I’m sure things are a bit more hectic there now, as thousands of refugees from neighboring Libya stream over the border into Tunisia. Especially heartwarming to me is the fact that the Tunisians in the area are opening their own homes to the refugees as they wait for the delivery of tents from the United Nations. Thousands of Tunisians also marched in Tunis today to express solidarity with their Libyan neighbors, as well as to continue criticisms of the interim Tunisian government. Feelings of brotherhood with the rest of the Arab world are very much in evidence here in Tunisia. Optimism runs high that the end of all dictators (or at the very least all Middle Eastern dictators) has come.
It is so fascinating to me to watch these revolutions play out. I definitely have the sense that these protesters are going into this open-eyed. They are fearless, persistent, and smart. I am impressed with the reports of the organization and volunteer work that is happening in Libya’s eastern cities, which are largely held by the opposition. Ordinary citizens are rising to heroic heights as they not only fearlessly stand up for liberty, but also brave the general chaos and danger to organize themselves, directing traffic, cleaning up trash, and performing other essentials in the sudden government vacuum. While law and order never deteriorated to this extent in Tunisia, what is happening in these areas of Libya now reminds me of the public spiritedness exhibited by the Tunisian people during the weeks after the revolution, as night after night they manned the barricades that kept their neighborhoods safe. And I salute the two Libyan air force pilots who flew to Malta and defected rather than obeying the order to bomb civilians, as well as the ambassadors and delegates to the United Nations, who are resigning from Qaddafi’s government, but not from their posts, saying that now they represent the Libyan people.
What an exhilarating and wonderful time for an area of the world that has long groaned under more than its fair share of tyrants and despots. This region-wide revolution is something to be proud of, not only for its continuing success, but for the courage and quiet heroism of thousands of ordinary people. In a situation of uncertainty, chaos, and danger, they are showing their true quality. Democracy may be a new experience for people all over the Arab world, but it looks like they have civic-mindedness and good citizenship down.