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A few thoughts on chaos in Tunisia

The people of Tunisia have long been living under an oppressive dictator who’s an ally of the US in our ‘war on terror.’ Yesterday, after substantial loss of life, street protests drove the dictator to abdicate. There’s lots of silly technologists claiming it was twitter. A slightly more nuanced comment is in “Sans URL” Others, particularly Jillian York, said “Not Twitter, Not WikiLeaks: A Human Revolution.” Ethan Zuckerman had insightful commentary including “What if Tunisia had a revolution, but nobody watched?” and “A reflection on Tunisia.”

That conversation is interesting and in full swing. What I want to ask about is the aftermath and the challenges that Tunisia faces. After 24 years of oppression, it’s going to be hard to build the political structures needed to create a legitimate and accepted government.

The American revolution came after years of discussion of British abuses of power. American perceptions of abuses of power like the Stamp Act combined with slow communication to the King and fast local communication to create a local political class that could assemble in a continental congress. Even so, after the American revolution, we had one entirely failed government under the Articles of Confederation, which was replaced with our current Constitution. But that was followed by the whiskey rebellion.

I bring this up because it’s easy to focus on the mechanics of government while forgetting about the soil in which it grows. Perhaps the digital world, with its ability to connect Tunisians to people living in places where we’ve worked these things out, will help. (For those foreigners who speak Arabic, or those Tunisians who speak other languages.) I’m not terribly optimistic in light of the shootings in Arizona and how quickly the online discourse devolved into “why this tragedy proves I’m right.” I’m also not optimistic given our poor understanding of our history.

I am, however, hopeful that the people of Tunisia will manage to take a collective break from the violence for long enough to work out a Tunisian approach to democracy. What would that look like? Would technology play a role?

3 comments on "A few thoughts on chaos in Tunisia"

  • Beri says:

    Sadly, as we have seen in the former USSR, we get smaller versions of the old ways, not new ways. And it is unlikeley that this overthrow of the tyrant will take place in other countries. The Tunisians were successful cause the tyrant lost his nerve and left. Had he turned out the Army in full force, their “revolution” would have failed, as did the one in Iran.

  • “it’s going to be hard to build the political structures needed to create a legitimate and accepted government”

    Are you saying this as an absolutist or a relativist? It is always hard, or Tunisia is going to have it harder than others?

    Either way it would be interesting to hear reasons why Tunisia will have a hard time to build the political structures. The comparison to America’s dispute with the British seems very dissimilar for a number of reasons, not least of all because it was a colonial independence fight instead of regime change.

    Consider India’s ability to elect a very diverse set of leaders to their highest office in just 50 years from *independence*, whereas America still makes a big deal out of electing a woman or a non-Christian to be President after more than 200 years.

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