Tunisia: a moment in history

In due course, every city of consequence in Tunisia will have a street or square named after Mohamed Bouazizi, the unemployed fruit-seller whose humiliation at the hands of the authorities led to a revolution. It's sad that he didn't live to see it but today's events are a fitting tribute.

It is still unclear what the future may hold for Tunisia but we can be sure that whoever takes over will have to listen far more to the voice of the people or risk the same fate as Ben Ali.

On January 7 – only a week ago, but it seems such a long time now – I discussed what impact a Tunisian revolution might have on the wider Arab world. 

Regardless of what happens next in terms of a Tunisian government, the inescapable fact is that a popular uprising has removed an Arab head of state – a truly historic event. Ben Ali has fled and he is not going to return, despite what anyone may say about whether he has formally resigned or not.

That alone is going to have a huge psychological impact throughout the region. As several people have pointed out on Twitter, while Obama says "Yes, we can", the Tunisians have said "Yes, we do."

Looking around the other Arab regimes, I can't see any of them (with the possible exception of Algeria) at risk of being toppled in the quite same way – at least, not in the immediate future. There are so many differences in the circumstances.

But – and it's a very important "but" – we can expect Arab publics to become increasingly assertive while the regimes become increasingly nervous. For the regimes, though, in the long run it's a lose-lose situation. Either they can seek to tighten their control, thus fuelling popular disaffection, or they can relax their control – which the public will duly interpret as a sign of weakness and seek to exploit. One way or another, they are going to sink deeper into the mire.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 Jan 2011.