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Night in Tunisia

Updated on January 6, 2012

Fall of a dictatorship

So often, we spend our time worrying - about our families, our finances, our health, our jobs. And many times, when we're not fretting over our personal concerns, we turn our attention to the world - the environment, poverty, racism, homophobia and other grand mals. I am very prone to anxiety over countries subjected by dictators. Cuba, under the Castro regime and Venezuela, under the increasingly totalitarian Hugo Chávez fill many waking hours and sleepless nights where I live. The question "why?" dominates countless after dinner conversations. Why don't they let someone else rule? Why do their constituents keep them in power? Why don't the people rise up and bring them down? A more distant anguish for me has been Tunisia, in Northern Africa, for 23 years ruled by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

It seems the longer one dictator stays in power, the longer the rest of them do, too. I am blessed to live in a country which, though far from perfect, by law has pitched every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt after eight years (two terms) in office. Keeps things moving.

A New Day for Tunisia?

But in January of 2011, something that seemed impossible has taken place. On 1/14/11, we woke up to the news that the president of Tunisia, amid violent anti-government protests that drove him from power Friday after 23 years of iron-fisted rule, fled to Saudi Arabia. The citizens of Tunisia rose up against unemployment and corruption. According to news sources, "Thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life mobbed the capital of Tunis to demand Ben Ali's ouster, the culmination of weeks of protests that have swept the country." One of the forces of change? Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi (69), PM since 1999, went on state television to announce that he is assuming power in this North African nation. Prime Minister Ghannouchi has promised "to respect the constitution, to work on reforming economic and social issues with care and to consult with all sides."

The Jerusalem Post reported that at least 23 people have been killed in the riots, according to the government, and that opposition members put the death toll at more than three times the number.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer was quoted, "We condemn the ongoing violence against civilians in Tunisia, and call on the Tunisian authorities to fulfill the important commitments made by President Ben Ali in his speech yesterday to the Tunisian people, including respect for basic human rights and a process of much-needed political reform."

Time will show whether freedom will prevail, whether democracy takes hold. Far from home, but close to my heart, in Burma, Aung Sang Su Kyi has finally been freed from house arrest. Let's see if the people of Tunisia will see something new or more of the same.

Dizzy Gillespie "A Night in Tunisia"


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    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 6 years ago

      From SAVE DARFUR, January 20, 2011:

      Dear Cory,

      I have encouraging news from South Sudan, and I have troubling news from Darfur. Let’s start with the South:

      After more than 20 years of civil war and six years of intense preparation, the people of South Sudan have finally voted in a referendum to determine their own destiny. Voting ended on Saturday and according to election monitors from the European Union, the UN referendum panel, Carter Center and other observer missions, the referendum process was peaceful, free and fair.

      President Obama praised the referendum process, declaring: “The past week has given the world renewed faith in the prospect of a peaceful, prosperous future for all of the Sudanese people -- a future that the American people long to see in Sudan.”

      This moment didn’t happen by accident. It took years of hard work and cooperation among national governments, NGOs, civil society groups, and support from activists just like you.

      One monumental event set the process in motion: In 2005, the Government of Sudan and SPLM signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), creating the framework for this historic vote. It demonstrates how important a peace agreement is to allowing people to determine their own destiny.

      We haven’t crossed the finish line yet. While we celebrate the success of the referendum, we must remember that there are many more steps to reach a lasting peace.

      The official results are not expected until February 7th at the earliest, and all accounts indicate the vote was overwhelmingly for independence for South Sudan. Then we begin five long months of negotiations on critical post-referendum issues between the North and South including oil-revenue sharing, border demarcation, citizenship, and the status of the contested Abyei region. July 9th is the soonest South Sudan could declare independence.

      Now, let’s talk about what’s happening in Darfur. While the world has focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has continued to deteriorate. According to a recent UN report the conflict in Darfur claimed at least 2,300 lives in 2010. In addition, over 40,000 civilians were displaced in the last few weeks of December by government aerial attacks on villages and clashes between rebel groups and the Sudanese armed forces.

      We believe – we know – that the violence in Darfur can be stopped, once and for all. The success of the referendum in South Sudan demonstrates what is possible when there is a comprehensive peace process and just how far the people of Darfur are from being able to live and work without fear of violence. This victory for peace reinforces our call for a comprehensive peace process in Darfur.

      There is a real danger that the media, United States Government and international community will lose focus in the weeks and months ahead. During this critical time, we need your help to keep the spotlight on Sudan.

      Thank you for your continued activism and support. The conclusion of a peaceful referendum in South Sudan is a moment to celebrate, but it’s also a stark reminder of all the work we have to do before the people of Darfur are able to live in peace.


      Mark Lotwis

      Save Darfur Coalition