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15 January 2011

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Lysander

As far as the neocons are concerned, the significance of this is the rick of spread to other Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan in particular. I do not think they are happy with what happened in Tunisia and probably are working to contain the fallout.

This is not Iran 2009 or Lebanon 2005 or Ukraine 2004, where the revolutionary forces were confronting governments opposed to US interests. Tunisia's government was a US ally. It is not clear whether or not the Tunisian revolutionaries will be.

Will it lead to economic growth? Depends on the extent of the previous corruption and what replaces it. I don't know.

Will it lead to "democracy?" Perhaps not right away. The French Revolution did not lead to democracy right away either. But it was a step in the right direction.

Patrick Lang

lysander

Wrong. The neocons live on an ideology of pending "democratic" revolution in the Middle East. They LOVE this as do their Obamite idiot friends. Tunisia was never anything like a substantial "ally" of the US. A modest amount of agricultural and military aid do not an "alliance" make. pl

Patrick Lang

lysander

"Depends on the extent of the previous corruption and what replaces it." So the previous government was stealing the riches of Tunisia. More idiocy. pl

Buzz Meeks

Your second para could have been written about the US and the education bubble though I am no longer convinced of the quality of US higher education.

If Tunisia can keep a progressive secular government, it will be a strong counter argument to conservative Islamic extremism that is only covered by the Reich wing and MSM media's anti-Muslim slant.

Somehow I don't expect much positive coverage by either of the for profit propaganda ministries.

Buzz Meeks

Clifford Kiracofe

Tunisia is a most attractive country with a long and interesting cultural history.

The country is heavily dependent on tourism: the blue blue Med, beaches, palm trees, etc. In the agricultural sector, olive oil is a major export.

Their economy is vulnerable. They better get their house in order before the summer tourism season or they are going to take a severe hit.

As of several years ago, when I was last there, I was under the impression that their light manufacturing sector is tentative. Many European firms back then seemed to consider East Europe more favorably as Tunisia was not that competitive wage wise, I heard.

While they have a generally "secular" Mediterranean culture, there is a salafist presence and "Al Qaeda/North Africa" is out and about in the region. The tourism sector is VERY vulnerable.

The carefully cultivated identity of the country in recent years has been "Mediterranean" owing to the layers of various former occupants. One thinks of Carthage, the Romans, the Byzantines, and etc. This is not the same as an "Arab" or "Islamic" identity it was explained to me there. The Mediterranean identity was encouraged so as to foster closer relations with Europe and the broader Med region.

The professional women I met there were outspoken on the matter of not regressing from their present legal status owing to any Islamist pressures.

It will be interesting to see how they handle the issue of their national identity, secularism, economic development, women's rights and the like in the changed situation.

It will also be interesting to see any moves by the Gulf Wahhabi complex (Saudi, etal) to gain influence and undermine the present secular constitutional arrangement.

Cal

I don't see a democracy emerging out of this....and so what really...elections do not a representative government make....as we all know.

I have seen nothing about the neocons having anything to do with the Tunisia revolt but I am sure they will encourage the US to meddle.

I will be more interested when and if Egypt ever goes the same way...that would the biggie.

Meanwhile Ben Ali is a guest of the Saudis. France wouldn't allow his plane to land in France.

frank durkee

I vaguely recall un my counteruntelligence training in the mid-'50's that one of the significant factors for unrest and potential revolution was a relatively large college educated group with no decent job prospects. There were two other factors which were rated as equally significant but they are gone in the mists ofa memory in its 79th year,

Tyler

Reminds me of the Phillipines, where you will find the best educated taxi drivers in the world. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a monument to the females who go abroad to find work since their remittances are what keeps the government afloat?

Reading about this, I see a lot of the typical buzzwords about democracy rah rah rah that seem to shut down any discussion about whether or not its the balm of gilead that everyone likes to pretend.

Also if I have to read one more journalist trying to sound hip by tying in what happened in Tunisia to Twitter/Facebook/social networking I might lose my voice screaming.

Lysander

"Wrong. The neocons live on an ideology of pending "democratic" revolution in the Middle East. They LOVE this as do their Obamite idiot friends"

Really? Did I miss all the talk of the "Arab Spring" that I heard non-stop during Lebanon's 'Cedar revolution?' Compare this coverage to the Green revolution in Iran. Do you not notice a difference? Are there neocon blogs and essays writing about this wonderful moment in Arab history, that will no doubt lead to similar revolutions in Egypt and Jordan?

Obamites are happy about this? Obama didn't make a statement about it until after Ben Ali's plane was out of Tunisia. State Department spokesman PJ Crowely didn't seem happy when answering questions about it.

Neocons do not care about democracy at all. They may talk about it a lot, but what they want is a string of dictatorships that are friendly towards Israel. Do you believe neocons would be happy about a revolution that overthrows Mubarak or Abdullah in Jordan? I don't.

"A modest amount of agricultural and military aid do not an "alliance" make. pl"

Tunisa has been described as an "ally" and "friend" of the United States by numerous american officials and the media. No one suggested it was a lynchpin of American grand strategy.

""Depends on the extent of the previous corruption and what replaces it." So the previous government was stealing the riches of Tunisia. More idiocy. pl"

Corrupt, inefficient governments can rob a nation of its wealth and productivity. Otherwise North Korea would be as wealthy as South Korea. As I clearly stated in my first comment, I do not know the extent of corruption of Tunisia's government or whether the next one will be any better. Clearly, the Tunisian public was willing to confront the state's security apparatus on the assumption that it might be.

I see nothing wrong with being hopeful.

Simone

The neocons live for "controlled pro-U.S./Israel democracy." They desire and reject any spontaneous attempt at democracy. Their silence on the rejection U.S. Ally, Ben Ali speaks volumes. No doubt, they will cultivate Ben Ali's allies as the new dictators unless the Tunisians continue to make it untenable. I hope for once an Arab population will dictate their own futures.

Doug Tunnell

From today's NYT, quoting American diplomatic cables from 2008 found on a site called "Tunileaks: "


“What’s Yours Is Mine” was the wry title of a June 2008 cable reporting the brazen habits of the president’s clan.

“Corruption in Tunisia is getting worse,” the cable said. “Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants,” the cable said, reporting that two nephews of Mr. Ben Ali’s had seized the yacht of a French businessman in 2006.

While the cable recounted routine demands for bribes by low-ranking government workers (the cost of a traffic stop, one Tunisian said, was up from 20 dinars to 40 or 50, or about $28 to $34), it said the flagrant thievery at the highest levels was most worrisome."

We may not like those wikileaks types very much, but, gee, aren't they handy when it comes to shedding light on events in places where we are unwilling to pay for resident correspondents.

Norman Rogers

Any successful effort by the disenfranchised to turn on their national leaders--and stop falling for the "blame Israel and the US for your woes" nonsense--has to be very troubling for the people running Egypt and Jordan and wherever else.

How much success are these governments having with their anti-Israeli and anti-US rhetoric these days? Does the Internet fuel the growth of homegrown economic literacy? Does the Internet help someone in Tunisia see that their problems are really the fault of corruption, poor planning, foolish economic policies, etc? Does it help them to see through the lies they have been fed for decades?

How long can you keep beating that drum? I'm just curious if we are seeing that first spark of realization. Or have people on the Arab street already moved on from this?

In America, we still seem to believe that sending a mediocre student to a state school for four years is preferable to sending them to a two year technical college (they don't have that problem here in Germany, of course). We still tell our kids that they are special, and college is what they are entitled to, even though they barely graduate and enter the work force without the ability to write clearly, analyze information, or go one week without fingering a beer bong.

Fred

The Egyptian human rights activist quoted in the article has a unique idea of what democracy is.

walrus

The central issues in increasing economic growth anywhere in the world are the levels of trust and cooperation in a society as Francis Fukuyama, a noted conservative, wrote.

It is almost impossible to build a successful business in a corrupt environment because that essential foundation, trust, is lacking; trust that your suppliers will supply you at a fair price, trust that your customers will pay you what they owe, trust that the Government will not confiscate the economic surplus your business generates.

By all accounts President Ben Ali was corrupt. Exactly how his corruption affected the Tunisian economy, I don't know. What I do know is that if Tunisians can form a government that can increase the levels of trust and cooperation in Tunisian society, and adhere to free market principles, then in the absence of deliberate foreign attempts at destabilisation, their economy should grow considerably faster, providing jobs and a better standard of living.

If of course Ben Alis replacement is corrupt and incompetent, nothing will change.

I hope your cynicism is shown to be unwarranted in due course, Col. Lang.

Jose

Shouldn't we let the French deal with this problem?

jdledell

It's way too early to tell how this "revolution" is going to shake out. When Fouad Mebazza was named President (a good sign consistent with the Constitution) his first act was to appoint Ben Ali crony Mohamed Ghannouchi to form a interim unity government.

Here comes the rub. Will ALL the opposition parties be represented, including the communist party and the fundementalist party? Will they delay elections until they get everything in place to have assured results?

My guess is that behind the scenes, Eqypt, Saudia Arabia etc are plying the elite with all sorts of promises and goodies if they bring this under control and revert to the old arab ways of governing.

pmr9

Tunisia isn't "largely devoid of resources". It has abundant solar energy and a relatively short undersea route (via Sicily) to the European land-mass for a a high-voltage cable to transmit that energy. For this reason Tunisia is likely to be one of the first countries participating in the Desertec initiative, a plan to generate electricity using concentrated solar thermal plants in the north African desert and transmit it to Europe via HVDC cables. Desertec is backed by a consortium of large European engineering corporations, but investment is held back by the obvious political risks of partnering with dictatorships. A Tunisian government with a real popular mandate might be able to attract this investment. attractive prospect

DanM

I know very little about Tunisia (i'm trying to address that and appreciate Pat's small post above, particularly about college education to become bellmen) but I will say in the case of Egypt, it will be very ugly when a similar day comes (which i doubt is "soon" since it's so different from Tunisia, but what do I know?)

jr786

As an American educator in a very traditional Muslim Arab country I see first hand the effect that professional education has on people with few or none of the liberal freedoms we associate with the educational process itself. Here I mean things like critical thinking, which is one of the stated goals of the University where I teach and which must be exercised without free speech. The tensions of such paradoxes can't be contained forever. although they do give rise to some extremely creative hair-splitting, believe me.

This is the "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm...' dilemma that is unavoidable with the advent of higher education and satellite television. Even under relatively benign despotism, like where I am, there is an urge to greater personal freedom, although it is not without question.

Tradition and modernity are dialectical, I think, as are most political processes.I'm rooting for the Tunisians to find a way through this and arrive at what they want with a minimum of meddling.

Patrick Lang

jr786

Yes. Well, the French created educational institutions in the Tunisian protectorate with much the same goals. pl

Doug Tunnell

Jose,

At what point in history do we begin counting on Tunisians to "deal with" Tunisia...and the rest of us to decide if their outcome is a "problem" or not ?

different clue

The problem of more educated people than jobs for those people is going to become more of a problem here too. I have seen suggestions of "job-sharing" to solve an unemployment problem. Say if 80% of the workforce has 40-hour-per-week work and the other 20% in unemployed, one could put the 80% on 32-hour-weeks, and the "undone worktime" could be put together into 32-hour-weeks for the unemployed 20%. Full underemployment for everyone! (I hope my arithmetic is correct). Perhaps once Tunisia has settled back down the Tunisians will figure out their own version of this.

It also raises the question of how many people are aware of the difference between an education and a vo-tech-professional training. I was a lost and troubled young person in college who didn't understand the difference and didn't get either one. Years later I went to community college and came out with a vo-tech training in pharmacy technology; which I do to this very day.
Were these young Tunisian students taught how to fill their days with thought and learning if they had no work to fill their days with?

I also heard about the corruption problem from the BBC, which I thought is a reliable source. But that newscast described it as more of a family-mafia monopoly problem. Mr. ben Ali's wife's family was supposed to be pre-empting many of the modestly profitable opportunities in Tunisia thereby preventing other Tunisians from working at these opportunities. If that is true, and that can be unwound over time; perhaps many small opportunities can be opened up on some kind of fair basis to many qualified Tunisians who would rather have a small opportunity than no opportunity at all.

The googling which this post led me to do indicates that Tunisia does have some modest resources which can provide many modest livings if handled right. Tourism can be a dignified bussiness if done right. So can agriculture. Certainly Michigan is trying to increase tourism and agriculture now that we are resigned to the fact that we will never again be the Motor Capital of the Universe and Beyond.
If Tunisia can produce and sell high value, high prestige, and high priced semi-luxury agricultural products to Europe and elsewhere; then the Tunisian farming community may be able to re-absorb some of those high-talent high-desperation young people.

I also read about that giant electric-cables plan. If mass-quantity solar electric generating technology really exists beyond the dream stage, charging transit fees to allow all that electricity to move through Tunisia on the way to Europe could be a real moneymaker.

I also read that Tunisia has some deposits of high quality phosphate rock. One hopes Tunisia could avoid having to sell any more of it. If they can keep it for themselves, it would translate into vastly more value restoring phosphorus to depleting soil levels on Tunisian farms than if it were all sold off leaving Tunisia with some money and some huge holes in the ground. Over its lifetime, that phosphorus could help produce food sellable for vastly more money than if the raw phosphate rock were sold directly.

CK

From Dec 2010, in re USA education:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/the-great-college-degree-scam/28067
and this piece about "jaitors with Ph.D.s"
http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/why-did-17-million-students-go-to-college/27634

Fred

pmr9

The sun shines in Sicily too. . More importantly for Tunisia is that ideas like this will create virtually no long term employment and when their economy does improve they'll want all that electricity locally, which won't go over well with the investors. Maybe you can get all those German founders to spend their money at their risk to make this happen.

The beaver

If only the govt (including the greedy wife of the ex-president) has put to good use all the funds/loans provided by the World Bank but unfortunately it was the case :(

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