Khouri: Tunisia is Gdansk shipyard of ’80 with Jazeera as megaphone to other Arab countries!

on 35 Comments

Are you as thrilled by Tunisia as I am!! Yes. A joyous moment that captures the Arab political awakening/maturity in a new form. The arrival of a great thrilling new character on the world stage, smashing prejudicial stereotypes of yesteryear. I think of how I struggled to overcome my own ideas of what Arabs are, and how this education will now begin for so many in the west. Here is the excellent Rami Khouri, a few of his lessons, and his explosive conclusion:

1. This is the first example in the past generation of an Arab leader and his system being overthrown by popular action. It marks the end of acquiescence and docility among masses of ordinary Arab citizens who had remained remarkably complacent for decades in the face of the mounting power of Western-backed Arab security states and police- and army-based ruling regimes. Tunis today may well go down in history as the Arab equivalent of the Solidarity movement in the Gdansk shipyard in Poland in 1980…

3. The coverage of the fast-moving developments and the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime on Jazeera television brings this process into the living rooms of hundreds of millions of Arabs, many of whom have been captivated with the media coverage, making it likely that some of them may want to launch their own protests in other Arab countries. This marks the maturity of Jazeera television as a political force…

4. The most remarkable thing about what has just happened in Tunisia is how thin and narrow was the support structure that held Ben Ali’s security-based regime in power. We learn once again that dictators maintained in place largely by soldiers and intelligence services crumble swiftly once their citizens show that they are not afraid to confront the soldiers…

A major unknown is what the overthrow of Ben Ali will mean for the interests and postures of major Western powers, like France and the United States. This will depend largely on what kind of governance system replaces his security state, whether a democratic and pluralistic system takes root, and how much the Tunisian people will hold Western powers responsible for their decades of suffering in their dehumanized condition as politically castrated semi-citizens. We shall soon find out, because for the first time in half a century we may have an opportunity to learn what the citizens of Tunisia actually feel and want.

35 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    January 16, 2011, 11:05 am

    Are you actually thrilled?

    What about it thrills you? The popular view of the Arab world is that it has experienced MANY overthrows in recent memory, that it exists in a state of near permanent civil wars, and that that permanent state of civil wars is constructed OF rebel and factional impulses.

    Maybe you should specify what your attitudinal changes towards Arabs has been rather than leave the statement gratuitously vague.

    I’ve met many that I admire, and many that scare me. Not enough that I admire for my faith.

    • Jim Haygood
      January 16, 2011, 12:24 pm

      ‘The popular view of the Arab world is … that it exists in a state of near permanent civil wars … constructed OF rebel and factional impulses.’

      This is the racist premise upon which the entire edifice of western colonialism was erected: that the dim-witted, fractious, semi-civilized natives of the global South were incapable of governing themselves without the firm guidance of the white man and his local client regimes.

      And of course, it’s the line that Israel specifically takes toward the Palestinians — that they’re unprepared for and incapable of governing themselves.

      Yet in the Gaza election of 2006, it was the vaunted democratic system of the US and Israel which was exposed as a hollow fraud: when the desired results weren’t obtained, the election was simply nullified.

      With their democracies revealed as contingent upon ‘acceptable’ results, Israel and the US are really not that different from the discredited Ben Ali regime, which clung to power by force. And of course, that’s why they identified with Ben Ali, rather than with people threatening the illegitimate power structure.

      Your statement about Arabs is a casual, thoughtless libel. I’d call it a blood libel, but as l’affaire Palin demonstrated, that would be a trademark violation!

      • Richard Witty
        January 16, 2011, 1:04 pm

        I’m not sure if the argument is that they are incapable of governing themselves, but repeated and repeated civil wars indicate that they are not yet governing themselves.

        I dislike the rationalizations that many made here relative to last year’s green uprising in Iran, that was squelched militarily. That was not an Arab state, but tyrranical nevertheless. It struck me as a callous double standard.

        With Gaza, Israel and the US didn’t nullify the election, Israel declared that with Hamas as the elected new government in Palestine, it was then an enemy, not one in any state of negotiation, and they were treating it as an enemy.

        You present Arab people’s as so passive, so subject to the whims of external powers only, rather than urging and noting the skills OF self-governance.

        We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, a new governance structure emerges that is an improvement.

        You know that relative to Palestinians I take the line that they ARE capable of self-governing, and should. In contrast, I find that the majority of the left posters here, insist that Palestine not self-govern, in your depiction of Fayyad and Abbas as quislings, that should fear the grand wave of Arab uprising.

        How many times has the word “uprising” been invoked relative to Arab struggles?

      • Danaa
        January 16, 2011, 2:51 pm

        The problem with Fayyad and Abbas is not that they are not capable of governing per se. It’s that they do so a representatives of a Vichy government, and as such are hopelessly corrupted by the will of the occupier.

        Many capos were also quite effective in helping maintain law and order – and even helping improve things some for their imprisoned bretherns. Alas – it was to the detriment of the prisoners (which is what palestinians are, effectively. Literally so in Gaza), and to the benefit of the occupiers/jail guards who benefit from a complacent, cowed populance that can be seduced by a few crumbs of bread and a couple of drops of water.

        Though on the bright side, at least one capo, Dahlan, apparently ran out of the store of good will, even among his fellow capos.

      • Donald
        January 16, 2011, 11:53 pm

        “You know that relative to Palestinians I take the line that they ARE capable of self-governing, and should. In contrast, I find that the majority of the left posters here, insist that Palestine not self-govern,”

        Richard’s idea of self-governing is that the Palestinians be ruled by the people the US and Israel choose for them. It really is that simple for Richard, who is honestly amazed to think that anyone could imagine he is a narcissist and a racist for thinking this way.

        Below Richard further demonstrates his keen grasp of democratic values by praising King Abdullah of Jordan, insisting that this monarch whose government tortures people isn’t a tyrant.


      • pjdude
        January 17, 2011, 8:21 pm

        and just not you know on all the land that is legally theirs

      • RoHa
        January 17, 2011, 4:30 am

        “they’re unprepared for and incapable of governing themselves.”

        And this is usually true. But it seems that they only way to learn is by experience. That takes a long time, and the lessons do not always seem to stick.

        If we take Europe as the measure of success, I would be tempted to say that people only become capable of governing themselves for very short periods after many centuries of bloodshed. And they frequently go back to the bloodshed.

        China’s civil wars seem to carry a similar message.

    • jewishgoyim
      January 16, 2011, 5:02 pm

      Now Witty, your comments are truly sad. Truly sad. Isn’t there a teeny tiny universalist part of your brain who can rejoice when a people is breaking free? Are you so blinded by your tribal loyalties that it is in every circumstances what you cling on to?

      WHERE IS THE LOVE, Witty?

      And now for the factual part:
      MANY overthrows? Name them. Capitalizing the “many” is not doing it for me.
      What is this “admire/scare” business about? Are you implying that your personal experience of “ayrabs” makes you believe that, on the whole, they are not worthy of your faith? Just how is that not a generalizing bigoted statement?

      Now let’s say someone says about Jews what you say about Arabs: “I’ve met many that I admire, and many that scare me. Not enough that I admire for my faith.” Rings differently to your ears I’m sure.

      Very sad.

  2. Richard Witty
    January 16, 2011, 11:20 am

    link to

    Tunisia gripped by uncertainty
    Former interior minister arrested as armed gangs roam streets of the capital, causing residents to barricade inside.

    Armed militias have taken to the streets of Tunisia following the toppling of Ben Ali, sowing fear among the population as the country’s new leadership attempts to bring order and form a coalition government.

    Looting and deadly prison riots have erupted throughout the country after mass protests forced Ben Ali, who had been in power since 1987, to flee to Saudi Arabia.
    Follow Al Jazeera’s complete coverage

    “There is a real sense of fear right now on the streets,” said Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, the capital.

    “Many residents, running out of bread, milk and petrol, have decided to arm themselves and barricade their homes, Moshiri said. Some are forming local groups to defend their own neighbourhoods.

    Three different armed groups appear to be attempting to assert power, she said: Police, security forces from the interior ministry, and irregular militias allied with Ben Ali’s former regime. Among Tunisia’s population of roughly 10 million people, 250,000 are in the police force, she said.

    “People are telling us right now they trust the army far more than they do the police,” Moshiri said.

    Adding to concerns, around 1,000 prisoners were reported to have escaped, possibly with the aid of the prison direction, during a major disturbance at a penitentiary.”

    This is what you admire, what excites you? Or is this just collateral damage?

    • jewishgoyim
      January 16, 2011, 5:29 pm

      “Freedom is untidy.” Donald Rumsfeld

      What a bunch of hooligans! We killed dozens of millions in Europe in the 20th century but we’re all “oh so civilized”. Give me a break Witty. You’re embarrassing yourself. How about the French Revolution? Do you think it looked like Switzerland?

      History is often tragic. Let’s hope that Tunisia will escape the worst possible outcomes of this type of situation. Now do you want to see a free democratic Tunisia, Witty? Or do you like it better when these people unworthy of trust are ruled by some autocrat with our not even thinly veiled support?

  3. Citizen
    January 16, 2011, 11:46 am

    Witty, perhaps this will help you understand Phil’s thrilled reaction, and that of many others here and around the world too: link to

  4. Potsherd2
    January 16, 2011, 11:57 am

    Juan Cole has an overview of Tunisian corruption today.

    • annie
      January 16, 2011, 12:27 pm


      A corrupt, closed economic elite that grabs most of the new income arriving in the country and acts so irresponsibly that it even weakens the foundations of the banking system? Does any of that sound familiar to American readers?

  5. Jeff Klein
    January 16, 2011, 12:22 pm

    Egypt’s Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah must be crapping in their pants over this — with sympathetic cramps in Israel and the US State Department. It’s no wonder that Netanyahu isn’t happy. These regimes, like Tunisia, were the closest things to US puppets in the Arab world, and, not coincidentally, more than willing to cooperate with Israel regardless of their rulers’ crocodile tears for the Palestinians.

    • eee
      January 16, 2011, 12:35 pm

      And what about the Syrian regime? The economic situation in Syria is worse than in Tunisia. Are you a supporter of democracy or are you just against Israel and the US?

    • yonira
      January 16, 2011, 12:36 pm

      What about Iran’s Mullahs/Ahmadinejad, Saudi Arabians Monarchy, Libya’s Qaddafi, or Syria’s Assad?

      Do you think they are crapping also Jeff?

      • Richard Witty
        January 16, 2011, 1:07 pm

        I think King Abdullah of Jordan is a progressive man, not a tyrrant.

        How do you get “tyrrant”?

      • Siegfried al-Haq
        January 16, 2011, 2:18 pm

        i think they are all crapping. syria, egypt, algeria, jordan — all are crapping. oh, and libya too, did you not see ghadhafi’s video address condemning the tunisian revolution? it’s not a matter of only the israeli-aligned tyrants. but the issue here is that in the west there is only celebration when there is an iranian revolt, but not when there are ones in tunisia or jordan.

        oh and btw witty, jordan is a police state which carries out systematic discrimination against a majority (palestinian refugees) in favor of a minority (bedouin-tribals). “king” abdallah may be more savvy in his public appearances than some other tyrants, but ask the dissidents beaten in the torture cells and they will tell you in more colorful language what kind of ruler he truly is.

  6. eee
    January 16, 2011, 12:42 pm

    The people cheering on what is going on in Tunisia are just as culpable as the people who were cheering the “democracy” Iraq will become. I wish with all my heart that Tunisia will become a liberal democracy. But these things do not emerge out of vacuum. Maybe in Tunisia the institutions are there to support a real democracy, I don’t know. But in Egypt, Syria and Jordan the only real alternative to the awful dictators is the Muslim Brotherhood. The dictators made sure there was not an alternative to them that could be remotely interesting to Western countries. In Egypt, Syria and Jordan the leaders may fall, but the result will not be democracies.

    • annie
      January 16, 2011, 12:54 pm

      the only real alternative to the awful dictators is the Muslim Brotherhood. The dictators made sure there was not an alternative to them that could be remotely interesting to Western countries.

      do you think if you got rid of the dictators those alternatives would be snuffed out by the muslim brotherhood?

      • eee
        January 16, 2011, 12:59 pm

        Think? I am absolutely sure. This is exactly what happened in Iran right after the revolution and the MB is not as nice as the Mullahs (no joking). Syria is going to be the biggest blood bath as the MB has not forgotten the Hama massacre:
        link to

    • lareineblanche
      January 16, 2011, 8:39 pm

      eee :
      Read this article and TRY to understand it :
      link to

      Then, watch this video and decide whether or not Arabs understand what “democracy” is :
      link to

      • eee
        January 17, 2011, 12:09 am

        The question is not whether Arabs understand democracy. Surely Iranians understand democracy but have a theocracy. The question is which parts of society are organized enough to impose their views on the rest. And it isn’t the democratic elements in most Arab societies. Specifically in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Gaza it is the MB.

      • Shingo
        January 17, 2011, 1:30 am

        Surely Israelis understand democracy but have an apartheid ethnocracy.

        Israel is a great example of how meaningless a democracy is without liberty.

  7. yourstruly
    January 16, 2011, 2:58 pm

    out of the martyrdom of street vender muhammad bouazzi

    a message to the oppressed peoples of the world

    to retake the dawn

    our rising up en masse

    the one sure way

  8. Danaa
    January 16, 2011, 3:02 pm

    It’s good that we have such good bellewethers here on MW. Whenever we want to know whether some development is good for the humans or bad, we just need to take note of their position. Check out Witty’s “ambivalence” towards the events in Tunisia and eee rush to deflect (this time to Syria, Iraq – hey – why not Iran, eee?), followed by yonira’s clapping (or was it bleating?).

    That’s why I have been in favor of keeping such personages here despite the nuisance factor (and a major one it is too, though they inspire sometimes such good retorts!). How else would we know what’s good for the people of this planet (and thus for the jews) unless our erstwhile combatants for zionism came out swinging with nay saying? of the thinly disguised variety, too….

    • Richard Witty
      January 16, 2011, 3:19 pm

      In my case, I do not know enough of the Tunisian political struggle to judge it, applaudingly or condemningly.

      What I do see is a rush to declare this the “beginning of the Arab uprising” in which all despots will quake in their boots, to be replaced by …..”

      It seems vain, narcissistic to use a word often attributed to me, mobbish more than thoughtful.

      In Phil’s reporting, we DON’T hear of the various themes, issues, proposals being raised, and conflicts between them.

      I wish.

      • Danaa
        January 16, 2011, 4:22 pm

        Witty, that response is so you! an absolute classic….it left my keyboard stroke-tied, trying to print out synonyms to ‘thoughtful’.

      • Danaa
        January 16, 2011, 4:26 pm

        On second thought, would you care to submit a joint skit to SNL? you’ll be you, I’ll be me, and the rest will just be….

        Oops, we’ll both need some help making it fit within something resembling normal time (and attention) constraints….know anyone who could help with that?

      • Citizen
        January 16, 2011, 7:04 pm

        Witty, as the Berlin wall fell, people were happy. So you were morose there too because they should have started discussing what next even before the first brick fell all the way to the ground? Those who rushed here, pointing out all the troubles to come so quickly, especially those without even an initial reaction of joy in their first comment on this thread, reveal their lack of feeling for common humanity. We know who you are, and how narrow is your heart.

    • yonira
      January 16, 2011, 4:32 pm

      instead of the ad-hominem’s Danaa, why not address my question above?

      • Danaa
        January 16, 2011, 9:29 pm

        yonira, I protest – those were not ad-hominems, they were quips.

        As for your point, I think your selection speaks for itself: Iran, Syria and Libya, then for good measure South Arabia. I agree with that last one, but why did you neglect Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, the Emirates and Algeria?

        At least, iran had what looked like serious elections, and a measure of opposition, and they already had their uprising which no doubt was a model for the Tunisians. When Iran’s day comes it’ll be through the ballot box. I am willing to bet on that, assuming your buddies in israel don’t muck it up.

      • yonira
        January 16, 2011, 10:29 pm


        Jordan and Egypt were brought up in the original thread which I was responding to. You don’t agree with Iran, Syria, and Libya because you don’t consider them stooges to the West. Your hatred of the US/Israel trumps the well being of the Arab country and their right for self-determination.

        When Iran’s day comes it’ll be through the ballot box. I am willing to bet on that, assuming your buddies in israel don’t muck it up.

        How can you say that with a straight face? Any type of election is mere window dressing, the Mullahs have the power in Iran. The Iranians ‘uprising’ was quelled with an iron fist.

        Any Iranian election is no different than one in Egypt or Jordan (and probably in Yemen, Kuwait, the Emirates and Algeria).

      • Danaa
        January 17, 2011, 6:25 pm

        “Any type of election is mere window dressing, the Mullahs have the power in Iran. The Iranians ‘uprising’ was quelled with an iron fist.”

        Iron hand it was, but things will change. But will they change for the gang of criminals who brought us the atrocities of Iraq? and Afganistan? since you were speaking of iron hand, many of the 100’s of thousands of dead and millions displaced in those two countries will probably take the mullah’s iron hand any day over the US’s, especially when emboldened, held and pointed by the Israelites’ killer state. Speaking of which, when can we expect a left-wing/trade-union/students uprising in Israel? anytime soon (or were those 20K demonstrators in Tel Aviv the sum total of the commitment to human rights there?)

        As for my “hatred” of israel – gotta love this emotional language. Countries are not objects of desire, you know. They are entities that can be appreciated, despised, emulated, decried, hoped for, admired or lamented, but love/hate? neither israel nor jews are a proper object of a love-affair. And though it may be so for you, for most of us a country is a place, people one knows, a language, a set of rules, values, memories, traditions and a history. A country is something that one may or may not have great attachment for, a home for one, a place to outgrow for another. Such derision as I have is reserved for policies I consider heinous and for the seeds of true evil that’s growing in a land gone spiritually arid.

  9. Les
    January 16, 2011, 3:29 pm

    Keeping Al Jazeera English off US cable systems is beneficial to those who believe Americans should be kept ignorant.

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