Cradle in crisis

February 08, 2013 - 3:46:49 am

Days after Tunisia observed two years of the revolt that started the Arab Spring, it is in a state of dangerous flux. The gunning down of Leftist leader Chokri Belaid on Wednesday, has roiled the polity of the North African nation to the extent that Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali had to dissolve the government. The decision came after the country was drowned in street protests after the killing of the opposition leader who was seen as a critic of the Islamist government. Jebali’s administration has been at the receiving end of criticism for muzzling the voice of freedom which Tunisians have fought so hard to gain.  The cradle of the Arab Spring saw Mohamed Bouazizi burn himself to death in the central town of Sidi Bouzid two years ago. The fruit vendor was protesting before government offices against police confiscating his goods. A tsunami of protests led to the country erupting in demonstrations that led to the country’s leader and strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali thrown out of power. 

However, the state of the country down the road leaves a lot to be desired. The economy and the absence of freedoms brought about Ben Ali’s end. A similar situation presents itself to the present dispensation. It is very hard to guess who was behind the killing of the leader who stood against the policies of Jebali’s government. But it is not so difficult to predict that the forces of destruction are at work. In the course of the Arab Spring, a lot has happened on fronts which could hardly be imagined two years ago. Authoritarian regimes seen to be largely secular have been thrown out to usher in governments which are rightist. In Libya, the overthrow of the maverick Muammar Gaddafi was followed by chaos, which itself gobbled him— he was lynched by his own people after being dragged out of a drain pipe. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is behind bars along with his sons. The revolutions have been largely successful with the situation in Syria still unfolding. But is there a danger of revolutions devouring their own children? With Egyptian President Mursi facing the heat from protesters and Tunisia’s Jebali in trouble, it is likely that the answer to the above question will not repudiate the famous saying. 

With Tunisia erupting in a violent chorus, Tunisians may have drawn inspiration from Egyptians who have made Cairo’s Tahrir Square a marquee of revolutions. After Belaid’s killing, Tunisia has virtually come to a standstill. Belligerent trade unions have called for a general strike today. Embodying the state of affairs, the leader of the largest trade union is said to have received a death threat after announcing the strike. The biggest setback for Ennahda’s Jebali has been his own party leaders rebuffing his decision of dissolving the government. Great ideas sprout from small seeds. The Tunisian premier faces a challenge of reconciling the demands of the ruling party with the aspirations of a people frustrated with a foundering economy — the unemployment rate is higher than it was at the beginning of the revolution. Jebali has to decide between the party and the people — with the latter choice, he is more likely to go down well in history.