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Infectious Tunisian turmoil began one year ago

December 17, 2011 - TUNISIA

The immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid is likely to be observed as the start of the revolutionary movement that spread from Tunisia and across North Africa and the Middle East. Unknowingly unleashing infectious political forces, Bouazizi doused himself with petrol and set himself alight after police confiscated his produce because he did not have a permit. The anniversary invites a tally of the achievements of the revolution.

The overall demands of protesters include the ouster of despots, economic opportunity and jobs and political reforms that deliver more freedom to citizens. A snapshot view of events points to mixed results. Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak and Yemini president Ali Abdallah Saleh'were early casualties of the uprisings. The uprising eventually cost Muammar Gaddafy both his job as Libyan leader and his life. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might not become a casualty of the unrest. Jordan's King Abdullah has promised political reforms that could defuse anger in his country and help him keep his job. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, meanwhile, is considering constitutional reforms that appear too tentative to appease protesters. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Saudi King Abdullah appear to be holding their own with little or no apparent effort to appease protesters, while cracking down with near impunity. The West appears uneasy about bringing pressure on such strategic allies. The protests in other countries of the region, such as Iraq, appear too fragmented to cause leaders much anguish. Economic opportunity could end up as a casualty of the revolution. The New York Times points out that the median age across the Middle East is just 26, making the young a powerful political force at a time when jobs and economic activity are lacking. The regional unrest is impeding economic activity and tourism, so that those leaders willing to undertake economic reforms might be unable to deliver the improvements demanded by the protesters. Political freedom is not assured, regardless of which leaders fall in this round. Countries that succeed in ridding themselves of despotic regimes could see military-backed faux democracies or Islamist theocracies in their place. Egypt, in particular, appears at risk of heading toward one or both of these models. Achievements must be balanced against the cost in lives.By Dec 17, the deaths could number in the tens of thousands, with no end to the revolutionary fervor in sight. ;

Trouble in paradise: How one vendor unmasked the 'economic miracle' (France24 12 Jan 2011)

Jordan king creates panel to review constitution (AFP 26 Apr 2011)

Bullets stall youthful push for Arab Spring (NYT 17 Mar 2011)

Obama Sees Arab Spring As Moment Of Opportunity (NPR 19 May 2011)

Bullets Stall Youthful Push for Arab Spring (NYT 17 Mar 2011)

After the Arab Spring (Atlantic 28 Mar 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-12-17