The little country that could
With Egypt finally moving forward, Tunisia is ready for their own victory
Egypt has been in the spotlight for the past few weeks, after Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo on Jan. 25, demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down from his 30-year regime.
After weeks of continuous struggles – and crowds of individuals making Liberation Square their home – Mubarak announced on Feb. 11 that he was stepping down. The streets of Egypt erupted with cheers and tears as the strength, determination, and willpower of the people finally paid off.
But, with the media attention focused on Egypt, the world seems to have forgotten where the inspiration was sparked: Tunisia.
Like the Egyptians, hundreds and thousands of Tunisians took to the streets at the beginning of December, in an effort to stand up to the repressive regime and dictatorial rule of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
For 28 days, the voices of the Tunisians rang in the streets with men, women, and children holding signs that criticized – and shamed – the president and his government. Yet, the light at the end of the tunnel shone on Jan. 14, when the president of Tunisia fled the country.
The uproar for change, and the fight for liberation, began in Tunisia when a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. This was after being humiliated by a police officer, and having his only source of income – his wooden fruit cart – taken away from him, leaving him with nothing to support his mother and siblings.
Bouazizi, like many young Tunisians, was a young man trying to make a life for himself. High costs of living coupled with rising unemployment rates have created a living nightmare for many Tunisians. Having completed post-secondary and graduate degrees, many found their education to be of no use and, instead, resigned to selling vegetables, or working at local cafes, instead of pursuing their actual fields of study.
Debra Schubert, a Tunisian-Canadian living in Regina, had been anxiously watching the news when the country was in an uproar. She said she believes it was time for change.
“We live in an age of information and the government was no longer able to keep the people out of the loop, so to speak. Tunisians are known to be highly educated; however, there aren’t jobs, leaving many to sell used clothing and various fruit and vegetables on the side of the road.”
The government’s strong and oppressive hold on citizen’s rights of self-determination has been in effect through the dictatorial leadership of now ex-president Ben Ali. He ruled the country since 1987, after declaring past president Bourguiba too old to lead.
Ali’s 23-year rule has taken a toll on the country and, in many ways, Tunisians paid the price through living impoverished and restricted lives.
“I think for many, life in Tunisia was a struggle,” Schubert explained. “There is a lack of jobs and people aren’t motivated to find work. There are many homes that aren’t equipped with a proper foundation, let alone electricity and plumbing. Most houses and buildings don’t have heating systems which makes life very miserable in the winter.”
Tunisia has always been a popular tourist destination for many Europeans. Its wealth of history and beautiful coastline make it a figurative paradise. Schubert recalls her visits to Tunisia, and its beautiful and diverse scenery of beaches, deserts, and tropical escapes.
“There’s Tozeur, in southwest Tunisia, where Star Wars was even filmed,” she says.
Even with a blooming tourist industry, money tends to vanish into the pockets of Armani suits, rather than going towards the people who deserve it the most – the hardworking Tunisians who struggle to survive everyday.
Despite winning the battle against the government, Tunisians still have a long road ahead. Schubert is relieved that Ben Ali is gone, “but I know that we aren’t out of the water yet. There are still elections coming up in four and a half months. It is also worrisome because Ben Ali and his henchmen have been in power for so long that the opposition doesn’t have enough experience to run the country.”
With Tunisians anxiously waiting for their elections, and Egyptians shining with pride at one of their greatest accomplishments, what comes next for these two countries – and the rest of the Arab world?
Al Jazeera speculates that within the next few weeks Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and possibly other Middle Eastern countries will take a stand – with hopes of joining Tunisia and Egypt in their victories.
For now, Schubert believes that, “only time will tell. Actually it’s kind of like A Bug’s Life where the ants finally stick up for themselves against the evil grasshoppers. The people have spoken and they won’t rest until they get the government they are after. I guess we will have to see.”