Tunisia: end of an autocracy

It was indeed a historic moment when Tunisia’s authoritarian ruler, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, had to flee his country after weeks of protests against the government. Mr Ali has now taken refuge in Saudi Arabia, a country where an autocratic monarchy is in power. President Zine al-Abidine had been in power since 1987 after assuming office through a coup. For 23 years, he kept getting re-elected with astounding numbers, as is the case with most authoritarian dictators. It all began when 26-year old Mohamed Bouazizi, who is now being hailed as the “Father of the Tunisian Revolution”, set himself on fire at a public square on December 17, 2010. He was an unemployed graduate who became a street vendor to support his family. When the Tunis authorities barred him from selling fruits and vegetables because he did not have a licence, he resorted to self-immolation in desperation. Mr Bouazizi became a symbol of resistance in Tunisia. Reportedly, marchers at his funeral chanted: “Farewell. We weep for you today; we will make those who caused your death weep.”

Now that an autocrat has been overthrown by the people’s power in Tunisia, it should serve as a message to all dictatorial regimes, especially in the Arab world. The Tunisian people got over their fear of the dictator and continued their agitation despite severe repression, which cost further lives, until he had to flee. Taking a cue from Tunisia, people in Jordan also came out on the streets to protest against the rising prices of commodities. Most countries in the Arab world have authoritarian regimes with little or no political freedom and/or freedom of speech. People’s frustration is now quite palpable. The brave people of Tunisia deserve our respect and commendation for not bowing before a ruthless regime and standing up for their rights.

Tunisia may not be in close proximity to Pakistan, but our so-called democratic government should not rest sanguine. Unemployment, rising prices, inflation, the electricity and gas crisis, etc, are issues that affect the people of Pakistan every single day. The government must address all these problems on a war footing or else a time may come when our people will take to the streets and then the results of such an uprising would not be to the liking of our ruling elite.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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