Monday, 24 January 2011


Is the revolution in Tunisia a Black Swan?

On the margin of being overwhelmed by the Tunisian revolution ( I hate the name of the jasmine revolution that you only hear outside of Tunisia and mainly from the people so used to imported velvet revolutions) some people in The Arab world are dreaming of the wind of change blowing towards their countries. They want that to happen so badly that they are forgetting that they are trying to start the first breeze of that storm. People are burning themselves in front of parliaments ( Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania), political movements organizing demonstrations ( Jordan, Yemen) and trade Unions hoping to be the next UGTT….

Why did it happen in Tunisia? Some people believe it is a Black Swan, but this won’t cut it for me…. there is always an explanation and it can be found. I mean I also enjoyed reading Nassim Taleb on randomness and there is certainly more ground for randomness in human behavior than in other phenomena because we are governed also by moods and moods can be collective… But even Collective moods have psychological roots… I think we agree that bread is not the main reason but that unemployment (which is different than hunger) combined with harsh repression and wide spread mafia practices played an important role.

Aljazeera but also facebook played major roles in this, for example in a facebook event calling to attend a demo 2 days after the regime fell, to protest against the governmet 20 000 people were saying they will attend… this is forming opinion. Also most the videos of aljazeera were taken from facebook.

Facebook is becoming more and more the debate agora space of the people.

But the act of Albouazizi shouldn’t be underestimated and the reaction of sidi bouzid neither. Somebody has to ignite the flame and it always starts somewhere. This Time it was Albouazizi who literary did it, and sidi bouzid that stood up for its dignity in solidarity and didn’t budge.. only after 10 days the rest of Tunisia smelled blood and started joining the revolt… The regime couldn’t curb the revolt of sidi bouzid and this was a sign of weakness. These kind of regimes cannot afford this.

So in a way the regime of Benali acted softer on Sidi Bouzid than what the Moroccan regime did in Sidi Ifni one year or so ago when it isolated the city killed and arrested most of the protesters and acted as if there is nothing. The rest of the country also pretended nothing was happening. It is clear that the people of Tunisia was angry, very collectively angry and that at a certain moment the collective will culminated into a decision to topple the regime. Nothing was going to stop this from happening.

The presence of a highly educated population definitely contributes to the shaping of these kinds of decisions. Also the existence of the UGTT as semi-independent trade union and the Student Union too.

But then again, Tunisians are People who are not happy because streets look nice and tourists are coming and because there is food on the table, why? Because they feel they can govern the country.

Many people in Morocco that I speak to still defend a story that there is no alternative to the King and that without the King Morocco will sink into Chaos.

It is crucial that Tunisia proves these kinds of theories to be wrong .In many schools of political science, revolution is explained by the will of marginalized classes or elites to take power. If you are a regime and you marginalize the middle class in a country, and if that middle class forms or almost is a majority, then your days are counted.

However, I do not see the Tunisian revolution repeating itself in any Arab country any time soon. In Jordan tens of thousands are demonstrating against the government and the parliament, but this is far from being a revolution. People there are not touching the monarchy and the real regime is the monarchy and not the government at all. So even changing the government would not change the fact that the King is the ultimate ruler, and that what he decrees is law. Add to that the fragmentation of Jordan (Palestinian vs Jordanian, Bedouin Vs Urban, and tribes against each other) . In every Arab country the main issue of revolutionary change is related to the level of unity among the people and the level of education and the harshness of oppression and the boldness of corruption plus the size of the middle class. The Tunisian formula is ( popular unity + High education rates + harsh oppression, bold corruption, and large middle class) .

I hope I am wrong, but I believe that no Arab country but Tunisia can currently satisfy this formula. Algeria and Egypt come close, but in Algeria the repression is not harsh enough and in Egypt neither. There is real opposition despite the fact that it is kept out of the main-stream by systemic marginalization techniques, but the outlets are there. Plus in Egypt the middle class is so terrified from the masses, they want to get rid of the regime but they are not sure that they would be able of controlling the tens of millions of Egypt’s most impoverished population segments.. In Lebanon the most developed Arab country after the Emirates ( rate of HDI is 0.803 in the human development report of the UN) a revolution against the harsh corrupted political class is not possible because repression is almost none existent and sectarian politics divide the people.

Still, no one can really predict human behavior, people can just try to explain it after it occurs, and the hope is that Tunisia will resonate, inspire and even help Arabs becoming aware of themselves, and of their potential.

Tunisia is doing that every day, in its continuous revolution. I feel no need to report the facts anymore now that the news is available to everybody, the need we have now is to watch and learn and try to protect this unique experience of a real revolution in the 21ste century.


Tunisia: Interview with Dyab Abou Jahjah
by 4th World War

4th World War show on Feile FM / MR Zine

Listen to the interview with Dyab Abou Jahjah:
4th World War: To what extent do you think this popular revolution can achieve not just democratic rights but also something else: social change?

Dyab Abou Jahjah: After the dictator left the country, many people of what was the legalized opposition, the parties that were legal under the old regime, started calling for a national unity government with the RCD, which is the party of Ben Ali. . . . For a moment, it looked like it was going to end with a compromise when the trade union, the major trade union, decided to support that government. But, immediately after that, the revolution that was organizing itself in popular committees everywhere, in every neighborhood, in every village, all across the country to defend the people from militias of the old regime that were trying to create chaos in order to make the people regret that they deposed the regime -- so these committees started doing something else than just defending the streets, they started also meeting and thinking and trying to devise a political agenda, and they did that by saying that they did not accept the compromise. For them the party of the dictator . . . had to be disbanded because it was the symbol of corruption and oppression and so on. Then they sent that signal to the streets. . . . [The trade union] immediately pulled back its support from the government. Now the street is demanding the disbanding of the RCD and the formation of a salvation government, which is different than the national unity government -- a salvation government that represents all the segments of society and all the political parties including the illegal ones under the old regime, which are for the people the most important ones -- and that this government should rewrite the constitution. And then after that there would be elections, because holding elections under the current constitution, under the provisions of the current government, which are actually the remains of the old regime, will not, according to the people, lead to the change that they aspire to. So, now it is still struggle. The new government is still there. It's unclear whether it will fall in coming days or not. But one thing is sure: there is a lot of political agitation in Tunisia still, the revolution is still ongoing.

I personally believe that eventually the revolutionary agenda will take over and win because the people just realized their power and they are not going to stop. I believe that sooner or later they are going to impose their will. . . . When they impose their will, not only the political but also the social order will change because the way the wealth is distributed is unacceptable and the people cannot live with that. Also, foreign policy will change: Tunisia will become a pro-resistance country. That is why the American government is nervous, the Israelis are very nervous, the British and the French are very nervous. . . . That's where there is risk, because I think the Arab dictators, the West, and the Israelis all have one interest, and that is to corrupt this revolution before it gives an example to other Arab people to depose their governments and before it creates really widespread support for the resistance in places like Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. I think it is a very dangerous period, a very exciting time but at the same time a very dangerous time, things can go in all directions, but I do believe that . . . at least the people are united . . . they are very united people, and I don't think they can defeat them.

Dyab Abou Jahjah is founder and former president of the Arab European League. This interview was broadcast by Féile FM in Belfast on 19 January 2011. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview. Cf. Abdessalem Jerad, "Tunisia: UGTT Demands Dissolution of Government" (MRZine, 23 January 2011).

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