Panel Discusses Post-Revolt Tunisia

Last week, a panel of three experts addressed the events that have unfolded in Tunisia. Dr. William Zartman, Professor Emeritus, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun, CCAS Adjunct Assistant Professor, and Dr. Samer Shehata, CCAS Assistant Professor, offered their thoughts on the Jasmine Revolution and its repercussions.

Dr. Zartman began by placing the Jasmine Revolution in an historical context, arguing that similar grassroots and populist revolts occurred in Tunisia in 1978 and 1984, but that this event’s distinctiveness was its spontaneity. Despite the claims of many Arab governments tracing the revolt’s origins to economic grievance, Dr. Zartman stressed that Tunisia’s “arrogant insulting governance” eventually triggered the mass populous to revolt. He also surveyed possible organizations and groups that would provide future social stability in Tunisia, and asserted that this stability will be achieved only through the cooperation of governmental and local authorities.

Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun’s talk, “Tunisia’s Glorious Revolution and its Implications,” provided a brief description of the characteristics of Ben Ali’s repressive regime: the absence of justice, governmental censorship, and corruption, among others. Dr. Jebnoun views the overthrow of this “Mafia” government as not only the end of authoritarianism, but also the abolishment of the “psychology of fear” that had plagued Tunisian society. According to Dr. Jebnoun, Ben Ali’s power was partially sustained by the United States’ war on terror policies, which stifled real social progress in the country. He ended on an optimistic note, arguing that real democracy in Tunisia can be achieved if every group, including Islamists, is allowed to participate in democratization.

Partially as a response to the previous speakers, Dr. Shehata began his talk by stating that the current incident is dissimilar to previous revolts, as the Jasmine Revolution resulted in ousting the head of government. Dr. Shehata noted the significance of this development, as Tunisian’s neighboring nations have not experienced such a drastic transformation in their own respective governments for several decades. Also, while not dismissing the authoritarian nature of the Tunisian government (with its concomitant human rights violations), he emphasized that the drastic increase of the unemployment rate of both the lower and middle classes contributed significantly to popular resentment. Dr. Shehata concluded with a treatment of the international response to the revolution and the United States’ potential role in resolving the crisis.