It's been quite a stable country, by some standards: the same fellow's been President of Tunisia since 1987. Somehow, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali kept winning elections.
That was then, this is now. The former Tunisian president is believed to be hightailing it for Saudi Arabia, and the country's on its third president so far. Since this morning.
"...Ben Ali's longtime ally, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, stepped in briefly with a vague assumption of power that left open the possibility that Ben Ali could return. But on Saturday, the head of the Constitutional Council declared the president's departure permanent and gave Fouad Mebazaa, leader of the lower house of parliament, 60 days to organize new elections...."Quite a few people have been killed since the excitement started today. There's been a major fire, and one prison released inmates - a humanitarian gesture, I take it, since that's where the fire was. 42 prisoners had been killed by the time the 1,000-odd others were released.
"...In his first televised address, the interim president asked the prime minister to form a '"national unity government in the country's best interests' in which all political parties will be consulted 'without exception nor exclusion.'
"The move was one of reconciliation, but it was not clear how far the 77-year-old Mebazaa, who has been part of Tunisia's ruling class for decades, would truly go to work with the opposition. It was also unclear who would emerge as the country's top political leaders, since Ben Ali utterly dominated politics, placing allies in power and sending opponents into jail or exile...."
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
One lesson of what's happening in Tunisia may be that there are worse things than America's traditional lawsuits to decide who won an election.
Another is, I think, that this isn't the '50s any more. Or the '60s.
An article/op-ed in Wired (January 14, 2011) suggested that we're looking at what happens when Information Age technology and social structures wash over a country that's run by folks whose power depends at least in part of controlling what their subjects know.
I've discussed information gatekeepers before. In America, they've been the editors of east coast newspapers, book and magazine publishers, executives of media companies, professors, and the rest of the folks who run the education establishment.
And that's not quite another topic.
- "Tunisia: Goodbye Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hello Information Age"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 15, 2011)
- "Blogs, Freedom of Speech, and Threats to the Status Quo"
(July 31, 2010)
- "How to Shut Down the Internet - or - Dealing With Troublesome Ideas, and the People who Spread Them"
(December 7, 2009)
- "What is an Information Gatekeeper?"
(August 14, 2009)
- "Arab despots should heed events in Tunisia"
The Observer editorial, guardian.co.uk (January 16, 2011)
- "Presidents-for-life offering bogus protection against phantom terrorists are not reliable friends"
- "Tunisia hit with looting as new leader is sworn in"
Associated Press, via FoxNews.com (January 15, 2011)
- "Tunisians in U.S. watch events with cautious hope"
Aman Ali, Reuters U.S. (January 15, 2011)
- "Tweeting Tyrants Out of Tunisia: Global Internet at Its Best"
Nate Anderson Ars Technica, Threat Level, Wired, (January 14, 2011)
World Factbook, CIA (last updated January 12, 2011)