Can we say that a rarely mentioned reason for the US invasion of Iraq
was fear that a revolution like this might have overthrown Sadaam ?



"A Watershed Moment in the History of the Arab World"

The Fall of the West's Little Dictator

January 19, 2011

When people choose life (with freedom)
Destiny will respond and take action
Darkness will surely fade away
And the chains will certainly be broken

Tunisian poet Abul Qasim Al-Shabbi (1909-1934)

On New Year's Eve 1977, former President Jimmy Carter was
toasting Shah Reza Pahlavi in Tehran, calling the
Western-backed monarchy "an island of stability" in the
Middle East. But for the next 13 months, Iran was anything
but stable. The Iranian people were daily protesting the
brutality of their dictator, holding mass demonstrations
from one end of the country to the other.

Initially, the Shah described the popular protests as part
of a conspiracy by communists and Islamic extremists, and
employed an iron fist policy relying on the brutal use of
force by his security apparatus and secret police. When
this did not work, the Shah had to concede some of the
popular demands, dismissing some of his generals, and
promising to crack down on corruption and allow more
freedom, before eventually succumbing to the main demand
of the revolution by fleeing the country on Jan. 16, 1979.

But days before leaving, he installed a puppet prime
minister in the hope that he could quell the protests
allowing him to return. As he hopped from country to
country, he discovered that he was unwelcome in most parts
of the world. Western countries that had hailed his regime
for decades were now abandoning him in droves in the face
of popular revolution.

Fast forward to Tunisia 32 years later.

What took 54 weeks to accomplish in Iran was achieved in
Tunisia in less than four. The regime of President
Zein-al-Abidin Ben Ali represented in the eyes of his
people not only the features of a suffocating
dictatorship, but also the characteristics of a
mafia-controlled society riddled with massive corruption
and human rights abuses.

On December 17, Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old
unemployed graduate in the central town of Sidi Bouzid,
set himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide.
Earlier in the day, police officers took away his stand
and confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling
because he lacked a permit. When he tried to complain to
government officials that he was unemployed and that this
was his only means of survival, he was mocked, insulted
and beaten by the police. He died 19 days later in the
midst of the uprising.

Bouazizi's act of desperation set off the public's boiling
frustration over living standards, corruption and lack of
political freedom and human rights. For the next four
weeks, his self-immolation sparked demonstrations in which
protesters burned tires and chanted slogans demanding jobs
and freedom. Protests soon spread all over the country
including its capital, Tunis.

The first reaction by the regime was to clamp down and use
brutal force including beatings, tear gas, and live
ammunition. The more ruthless tactics the security forces
employed, the more people got angry and took to the
streets. On Dec. 28 the president gave his first speech
claiming that the protests were organized by a "minority
of extremists and terrorists" and that the law would be
applied "in all firmness" to punish protesters.

However, by the start of the New Year tens of thousands of
people, joined by labor unions, students, lawyers,
professional syndicates, and other opposition groups, were
demonstrating in over a dozen cities. By the end of the
week, labor unions called for commercial strikes across
the country, while 8,000 lawyers went on strike, bringing
the entire judiciary system to an immediate halt.

Meanwhile, the regime started cracking down on bloggers,
journalists, artists and political activists. It
restricted all means of dissent, including social media.
But following nearly 80 deaths by the security forces, the
regime started to back down.

On Jan. 13, Ben Ali gave his third televised address,
dismissing his interior minister and announcing
unprecedented concessions while vowing not to seek
re-election in 2014. He also pledged to introduce more
freedoms into society, and to investigate the killings of
protesters during the demonstrations. When this move only
emboldened the protestors, he then addressed his people in
desperation, promising fresh legislative elections within
six months in an attempt to quell mass dissent.

When this ploy also did not work, he imposed a state of
emergency, dismissing the entire cabinet and promising to
deploy the army on a shoot to kill order. However, as the
head of the army Gen. Rachid Ben Ammar refused to order
his troops to kill the demonstrators in the streets, Ben
Ali found no alternative but to flee the country and the
rage of his people.

On Jan. 14 his entourage flew in four choppers to the
Mediterranean island of Malta. When Malta refused to
accept them, he boarded a plane heading to France. While
in mid air he was told by the French that he would be
denied entry. The plane then turned back to the gulf
region until he was finally admitted and welcomed by Saudi
Arabia. The Saudi regime has a long history of accepting
despots including Idi Amin of Uganda and Parvez Musharraf
of Pakistan.

But a few days before the deposed president left Tunis,
his wife Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser known for
her compulsive shopping, took over a ton and a half of
pure gold from the central bank and left for Dubai along
with her children. The first lady and the Trabelsi family
are despised by the public for their corrupt lifestyle and
financial scandals.

As chaos engulfed the political elites, the presidential
security apparatus started a campaign of violence and
property destruction in a last ditch attempt to sow
discord and confusion. But the army, aided by popular
committees, moved quickly to arrest them and stop the
destruction campaign by imposing a night curfew throughout
the country.

A handful of high-profile security officials such as the
head of presidential security and the former interior
minister, as well as business oligarchs including Ben
Ali's relatives and Trabelsi family members, were either
killed by crowds or arrested by the army as they attempted
to flee the country.

Meanwhile, after initially declaring himself a temporary
president, the prime minister had to back down from that
decision within 20 hours in order to assure the public
that Ben Ali was gone forever. The following day, the
speaker of parliament was sworn in as president, promising
a national unity government and elections within 60 days.

Most Western countries, including the U.S. and France,
were slow in recognizing the fast-paced events. President
Barack Obama did not say a word as the events were
unfolding. But once Ben Ali was deposed, he declared: "the
U.S. stands with the entire international community in
bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for
the universal rights that we must all uphold." He
continued: "We will long remember the images of the
Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. I
applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people."

Similarly, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, not only
abandoned his Tunisian ally by refusing to admit him in
the country while his flight was en route, but he even
ordered Ben Ali's relatives staying in expensive
apartments and luxury hotels in Paris to leave the

The following day the French government announced that it
would freeze all accounts that belonged to the deposed
president, his family, or in-laws, in a direct admission
that the French government was already aware that such
assets were the product of corruption and ill-gotten

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