Have you ever heard of the Jasmine Revolution? Neither did I until I did my research on the article. This shows how things can happen right under our noses without noticing anything. History students are synonymous with the American and French revolutions which were key in shaping both countries’ democracies today. The same is true for the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution that took three weeks between December 2010 and January 2011. Let’s have an insight depth about what happened.
5. Origin of the name
The term Jasmine Revolution was commonly used by Western media during the coverage of events. Locally, however, it was just known as the Revolution. Others referred to it as the Sizi Bouzid Revolt (more about this later).
Tunisian intellectuals have had debates about the proper name to give this revolution. Some actually cited that the name Jasmine Revolution was used when Ben Ali rose to power in 1987. This quickly moves us to what caused the revolution in the first place.
4. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Simply put, he is the reason why the revolution came about. Isn’t it predictable? The French Revolution was because of an oppressive Monarch system. Tunisians revolted against a dictator who oppressed all forms of opposition.
It is reported that Ben Ali created laws that meant companies needed permission to invest and trade in certain sectors. This meant he shut down competition and his family businesses. However, the consequences of his selfish acts saw employment opportunities go down and new businesses fail.
Surely, this couldn’t go on for much longer.
3. Mohamed Bouazizi
To understand how the protests came about, we have to have some background knowledge about Mohamed Bouazizi (pictured above). The twenty-six-year-old had been the sole income earner in his extended family of eight. It is said that he operated a vegetable (some argue it was an apple) cart for seven years in Sizi Bouzid.
On 17th December 2010, a female officer (who was later discovered not to be an officer) confiscated his cart and produce. Since this wasn’t the first time it happened, he tried to pay the fine but the woman called the police who beat him up. He later tried to go to the provincial headquarters to complain about the matter but he didn’t get an audience.
Humiliated and battered, Mohamed returned to the headquarters, doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself on fire. His immolation and unnecessary force deployed by the police on peaceful protestors provoked riots the following day and thus the revolution began.
There are a lot of things that happened after Mohamed set himself on fire. The initial response was a protest against the treatment of Mohamed by officials. His immolation seemed to ‘inspire’ other suicides in the country.
One protester, Lahseen Naji electrocuted himself to respond to hunger and joblessness. Another protester, Ramzi Al-Abboudi killed himself because of financial difficulties arising from business debt.
The president cited the protesters as extremists and mercenaries and warned of firm punishment. What he didn’t expect is for the protests to get bigger. By the time he made that statement, protests had already reached the capital city, Tunis. The city’s residents joined the citizens of Sizi Bouzid and called for jobs.
Ben Ali responded by stating that 300,000 jobs would be created although he didn’t say how it would be achieved. Things got worse and this led to the government closing down schools and universities on January 10, 2011. Four days later, the president dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency. He then fled to Saudi Arabia on the same day.
On 15th January 2011, Tunisian State TV announced that Ben Ali had officially resigned his position. This announcement, however, did not stop the looting and the violence. It got so bad that residents barricaded their homes and armed themselves.
People were still unhappy that Mohamed Ghannouchi still retained his position as Prime Minister. Things got even worse for him when he appointed his own cabinet that had people involved in Ben Ali’s rule. This led to thousands of protesters expressing their dissatisfaction with the selection.
The cabinet was eventually reshuffled but that didn’t stop more protests from happening. What the protesters wanted was a new interim government that had no member from the previous era. This saw Ghannouchi resigning on February 21, 2011, following massive demos two days prior.
You would think that the protests would stop there but they didn’t. This time, the protesters questioned the appointment of Caid Essebsi as prime minister. Elections eventually took place on October 23, 2011, which appointed members to a Constituent Assembly charged with rewriting Tunisia’s Constitution.
What about today? The country is currently going through a democratic transition. Do you think revolutions are necessary for a country’s democratic process? Let me know in the comments below.