jump to navigation

Tunisia & the benefits of hindsight 9, January 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Published in April 2010, many people have come across this book on Tunisia unerringly failing to discern the way things would go. The Arabist has highlighted perhaps the worst paragraph, its final conclusion:

Authoritarianism in Tunisia could prove to be very durable, and not simply because the government represses opponents. A majority of Tunisians may determine that the benefits of the status quo outweigh the individual and collective costs that a transition would require them to pay. In fact, the country’s history and its current balance of political forces make this the safer bet over the medium term. It does seem clear, though, that political change in Tunisia will not come about through some dramatic event that suddenly replaces the existing order with a new one. The stability–reform dialectic

Not for one second do I write this to sneer at this author. I would imagine that his book is fairly well grounded in history and approximated the best that social scientific predictive powers could do (can you tell which side of the Soc Soc/US v UK debate I am on?). But things happen, some of which simply defy prediction.

Similarly, I find myself defending the likes of David Held. While I don’t know the in-depth bits and pieces of the case, I don’t find the notion that Saif was always a despot bursting to get out and Held was a fool for being fooled particularly persuasive. Yes, there were a number of pointers that Saif was not a nice piece of work (to say the least) and for this reason alone, perhaps Held ought not have interacted with him. This, however, is a different question.

Specifically on the notion that Saif was ‘always’ likely to become some blood-thirsty dictator or some such notion, I’m not sold. I don’t think that it takes much imagination to foresee – minus the Arab Spring (!) – Saif eventually taking over from his delusional, vicious father and leading Libya on something of a more normal path (note I don’t say that he’d be a paragon of virtue and democracy).


Least tasteful advert in history 16, June 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
Tags: , , ,

I’ve just stumbled upon this advert currently adorning the sides of buses in London. It’s from the Tunisian tourist authority and shows, as you can see, a semi naked woman getting a massage with the line next to it saying:

They say that in Tunisia, some people receive heavy-handed treatment

This is a revolting play on their recent struggles; directly and unequivocally playing on the brutality of their security forces.

I know they say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but this must come close. Epically poor taste.

Hat tip: Matthew Teller

Tunisia, its future, dominoes and the new media 17, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

It was fascinating following Tunisia’s upheavals via Twitter. The first thing that struck me was how often trending tweets were (completely) wrong. Twitter is great for disseminating information extraordinarily quickly. An interesting tweet can be recycled at the touch of a button and, if it is on a trending topic, the tweet is exponentially repeated. There is only the (at times) gullible judgements of those re-tweeting there to stop a false rumour from being re-tweeted ad nauseam.

The first falsehood that I’m aware of was when the Foreign Minister’s webpage was hacked and a fake resignation letter was posted. Quite the interesting bit of gossip, this was whipped around the twittersphere at pace as news. Then were rumours that the President’s family had left for Malta and that an escape route had been planned for his imminent escape: two days before he finally left. When he did finally leave Twitter was comically bad at predicting where. Malta. Sardinia. Paris. Malta. Qatar. Malta. UAE. Saudi. Sudan and so on.

This is not to criticise Twitter as much as to prompt people to step back for a second and think about what Twitter actually is: a 21st century gossip super-highway.

Most of the tweets on Tunisia’s developments were of a breathless fervor; joyful that the dictator was leaving. While, of course, it is most certainly a good – great – think that Tunisia’s dictatorial leader has left, there was rarely any consideration of what was next. Indeed, many people appeared to simply assumed that things would automatically, ipso facto, be better with Ben Ali gone. While – again – I fervently hope that this is the case, it is far from a given conclusion. Today, looting and vigilantism has become a minor civil war between loyalists and the Army. Next? Who is to say? Even if there is no descent to civil disorder, I fear that peoples’ expectations now are sky-high and no politician operating within the constraints of a country that has gone through such a transition (perhaps badly wrecking one of its key national industries: tourism) can possibly compete.

So will Tunisia’s example lead to sweeping revolutions across the Arab world? History suggests not. Strangely enough we seem to have some kind of innate belief that such events often cascade across regions in a domino effect. Yet this is simply not true. It is worth noting that (Stephen Walt beat me too it) neither the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism nor the Iranian Revolution led to any kind of ‘indigenous’ sweep of similar revolutions in nearby countries. Where neighboring countries did begin to follow, say, Communism, this was hardly the likes of the ‘natural domino effect’ that we think of but under the Soviet or Chinese boot or extreme pressure.

Moreover, not only have other Arab regimes now been forewarned as to the consequences of such demonstrations, but Tunisia is hardly going to seem like a glowing advert for a post-dictatorial state in the coming few weeks and months.