Did Wikileaks Help Bring Down A Corrupt Arab Leader?
It hasn’t received much coverage in the United States, but the ongoing protests in Tunisia have apparently brought an end to the Presidency of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who took power via coup d’etat in 1987 and has governed the country ever since:
TUNIS — President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has left the country amid growing chaos in the streets, French diplomats say, and the prime minister went on state television Friday night to say he is temporarily in charge.
A French Foreign Ministry official said authorities did not know where the president had gone, and representatives of the president were not immediately available to confirm the report.
There were also unconfirmed reports that the country’s airspace had been closed.
In his speech to the country, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said that “as the president of the republic is unable to exercise his functions for the time being, I have assumed, starting now, the powers of the president.”
“I call on all sons and daughters of Tunisia,” the prime minister said, “to show the spirit of patriotism and unity in order to enable our country, which is dear to all of us, to overcome this difficult phase and restore its security and stability.”
The apparent fall of Mr. Ben Ali would mark the first time that widespread demonstrations had overthrown an Arab leader.
The prime minister’s announcement followed an extraordinary and fast-moving back-and-forth between the government and the protesters, who became increasingly emboldened over the last month of demonstrations. After the president tried to placate the protesters Thursday with promises of more freedom, including a right to demonstrate, tens of thousands rushed into the streets of downtown Tunis Friday to take advantage of his pledge by calling for his ouster
But when the protesters led a funeral procession for a recently killed protester through the streets, the police moved to disperse the crowds, brutally beating demonstrators and raining tear gas on the crowds who had gathered in front of the Interior Ministry. It is unclear if any demonstrators were shot Friday.
Mr. Ben Ali then announced that he had dismissed the Cabinet and would hold early elections, but news agencies said the government also declared a state of emergency forbidding new demonstrations and warning that those who disobeyed would be shot. There were reports of gunfire downtown in the capital early Friday night, The Associated Press reported.
Not being an expert on North Africa in general, or Tunisia in particular, I’m not going to comment on the internal situation in Tunisia, but I did find this account from one of the protesters to be very interesting in light of the issues we’ve had in the United States with Wikileaks:
The internet is blocked, and censored pages are referred to as pages “not found” – as if they had never existed. Schoolchildren are exchanging proxies and the word becomes cult: “You got a proxy that works?”
We all know that Leila has tried to sell a Tunisian island, that she wants to close the American school in Tunis to promote her own school – as I said, stories are circulating. Over the internet and under the desks, we exchange “La régente de Carthage” [a controversial book about the role of Leila Trabelsi and her family in Tunisia]. We love our country and we want things to change, but there is no organised movement: the tribe is willing, but the leader is missing.
The corruption, the bribes – we simply want to leave. We begin to apply to study in France, or Canada. It is cowardice, and we know it. Leaving the country to “the rest of them”. We go to France and forget, then come back for the holidays. Tunisia? It is the beaches of Sousse and Hammamet, the nightclubs and restaurants. A giant ClubMed.
And for the first time, we see the opportunity to rebel, to take revenge on the “royal” family who has taken everything, to overturn the established order that has accompanied our youth. An educated youth, which is tired and ready to sacrifice all the symbols of the former autocratic Tunisia with a new revolution: the Jasmin Revolution – the true one.
This is one reason that I am not as reflexively anti-Wikileaks as some have been since the information they obtained from Pfc. Bradley Manning was made public. Exposing secrets can cause great harm, although there’s no evidence that any of the Wikileaks revelations in 2010 caused any real harm to American soldiers or American foreign policy, but it can also do great good when the government is using secrecy to hide the truth from the people. There’s a line of acceptable behavior, to be sure, but incidents like this should make clear that reflexively saying that Wikileaks is evil simply is not true.
H/T: Andrew Sullivan