Tunisia. It was only a month or so ago that I really started thinking about this little Mediterranean country. Coincidentally (or not), that was just about the time when the demonstrations first began. Since then, for various reasons, I’ve kept a close eye on developments there. Yesterday, in fact, at around 5:30 in the afternoon, Tony happened to be online skyping with a friend in Tunisia when President Ben Ali left the country, ending 23 years of repressive dictatorial rule.
And so here and now I want to express my heartfelt congratulations and deep respect for the people of Tunisia, who during the past four weeks have steadfastly worked and fought for their freedom. Despite heavy-handed government responses, even to peaceful protests, they have steadfastly persevered, and last night were rewarded with what had hardly seemed possible before: the departure of a president who for over two decades had squelched every hint at dissent.
Since mid-December, when a desperate young man with a college degree set himself on fire after police confiscated his only means of supporting his family, Tunisians have taken to the streets to express their anger at a corrupt and repressive government. The revolution began in smaller villages in the desert interior, but slowly gained momentum. It was not until this last week that the protests finally reached the capital city of Tunis. After tear gas and gunfire failed to dissuade the protesters, the president first offered concessions, including the end of internet censorship, and then finally stepped down and fled to Saudi Arabia yesterday.
And they did it all on their own. Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, protesters organized and spread their message througout Tunisia. Mainstream media coverage of the events has been sparse up till now (with the exception of Al-Jazeera), but without much international support or even notice, the people of Tunisia have bravely spoken their minds and changed their world.
The future for Tunisia is still uncertain. The Prime Minister (a close ally of the deposed president) has assumed interim power, and the army has been called into the capital to restore order, with no immediate mention of the early elections promised by the president just before his departure. It is too early to tell, but I fervently hope that this will end in the democratic elections that these courageous people have fought so hard for, and so richly deserve.
Tunisia, I salute you. May God bless you in your efforts and aspirations, and send you freedom, prosperity, and peace.