These days Tunisia has made headlines across the world. Each day offers news and analysis of events in Tunisia, which is suddenly highlighted in both domestic and international media and newspapers. Some articles focus on the domestic conditions in the country; some are pointing to external pressures, and some are more inclusive and also look at a prevalent set of internal factors causing the collapse of Ben Ali’s government. I am reporting according to what we’ve seen over the past few days and reviewing the above points to form a better assessment of conditions.
One particular feature of third world regimes, especially those defined as the Arab type, is having long-term internal corruption in the government. For example: Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, King Abdullah in Jordan, the Thani family in Qatar, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya … All are examples of the presence of a power with strength and longevity — in some cases two or three decades — which has no intention of saying goodbye. Other components of government are corrupt because there is no supervision, and whatever happens in these countries slips through security measures put in place to protect the leaders. Democracy is not a practical presence in these regimes. Critics are suppressed in different ways, and wealth is only in the hands of the ruling family.
However, regarding Tunisia, Robert Godec, Tunisian U.S. ambassador in this country, wrote in one of his reports, “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.” Tunisia’s people are tired of corruption and the over-influence of the party of Ben Ali and his family. Robert Godec adds, "Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years. He has no successor." He emphasized in his report that, "He and his regime have lost touch with the Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international." The American Embassy in Tunisia also explains for Washington that "internal corruption" has increased within the government and this time even ordinary Tunisian people know it. Here is what happens when the regime loses hold of control and the situation turns into violent confrontation.
Another issue regarding the developments in Tunisia being considered and discussed is WikiLeaks. Like other countries, Tunisia wasn’t protected from WikiLeaks’ disclosures. Perhaps this is another reason why the people of Tunisia turned to anger. To some analysts, the disclosure of diplomatic reports from the WikiLeaks website has been evaluated as the cause of anger for the Tunisian people. The United States claims anachronism regarding any connection between WikiLeaks documents and "corruption in Tunisia," in terms of the rising anger of Tunisia`s people during recent events. However, some of the WikiLeaks disclosures do point to corruption in Tunisia’s government, for example the tiger kept at Ben Ali’s daughter's home. In one of the 2009 reports that Robert Godec sent to Washington, Mohammed Sakhralmatry, son-in-law of Ben Ali, his wife Nasrin, and Ben Ali’s daughter kept a tiger called "Pasha." This reminded the Tunisian people of how Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, had kept a lion at his house. Other extravagances by this family were another factor that made the public angry, such as reports of a party given by Ben Ali for the children where plenty of food, which instead of being eaten or given to the needy, was tossed in trash bins.
Ben Ali’s daughter, Nasrin, along with her husband and several servants, live what those in Tunisia consider a very fancy and luxurious life. U.S. Ambassador Godec said, “Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, First Lady Leila Trabelsi and her family.” A WikiLeaks document adds, “And, corruption in the inner circle is growing. Ben Ali’s family, on all matters surrounding the Tunisia economy, will trade for any commodity available to this family.”*
According to Internet activists in Tunisia and government opposition, on Nov. 28 of last year, WikiLeaks inspired action when The New York Times published documents showing the corruption of Ben Ali’s family. The New York Times, in a report regarding the WikiLeaks documents writes, "Though Ben Ali and his family were involved in corruption, because Tunisia is integral in the fight against terrorism, and Ben Ali worked with the U.S. in the fight against extremism, the U.S. has turned a blind eye toward corruption in this country.”*
The newspaper also wrote that in 2008 reports were given to Condoleezza Rice about Ben Ali’s family corruption and widespread human rights violations, but contrary to expectation, and instead of dealing with this problem, America tried to show that Tunisia is a typical model for Arab countries for learning about women’s rights.
There is a wave of developments in Tunisia that has launched a reverberation throughout the Arab world. On one hand the Arab nations support the Tunisian nation uprising, and offer slogans in support of democracy and against despotism; and on the other hand, Arab rulers are taking lessons from this incident, and are hidden behind a curtain of hypocrisy, trying to backtrack and downplay the Tunisian people's protest.
Until such protests are heard and reach the Islamic world leaders, instead of being repressed, its people will continue to sound off in protest.
*Editor’s note: These quotes could not be fully verified.