The wave of protests against high prices, and unemployment especially among the youth – sparked by a 26-year-old graduate who set himself on fire after police prevented him from selling fruits and vegetables, have been blamed on bad governance, ‘illiberal and unreformed Arab rule’ by many in western countries.
“Protests in Tunisia and Algeria are part of a rising tide of popular dissatisfaction with illiberal, unreformed Arab rule,” Simon Tisdall wrote in his article, The failure of governance in the Arab world, for the Guardian.
Tisdall cited analyst Marina Ottaway who suggested that political leadership and the will for reform was lacking as regional governments openly flouted calls for change. Tisdall noted that other experts deplored a general trend towards “authoritarian retrenchment” as Arab leaders used the west’s preoccupation with terrorism, its energy dependence and the Palestine stalemate to deflect external and internal reform pressures.”
Tisdall also referred to the 2009 Arab Knowledge survey produced by the Al Maktoum Foundation, that said “Stringent legislative and institutional restrictions in numerous Arab countries prevent the expansion of the public sphere and the consolidation of opportunities for the political participation of the citizenry in choosing their representatives … on a sound democratic basis. The restrictions imposed on public freedoms, alongside a rise in levels of poverty and poor income distribution, in some Arab countries, have led to an increase in marginalisation of the poor and further distanced them from obtaining their basic rights to housing, education and employment, contributing to the further decline of social freedoms.”
Tisdall accused the President of Tunisia Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who by the time of this article had stepped down and sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, for ordering the police to open fire on unarmed demonstrators – although the Agence France-Presse reported at the same time that the President gave the order not to shoot at people participating in mass protests.
“Police never fired on protesters, these deaths occurred during attacks and acts of vandalism against public buildings, police stations or schools,” The president had said, accusing “Islamic and left-wing extremists” of manipulating protesters.
The high unemployment rate in Tunisia has also been seen by the west as one of the most serious problems of the country, and has been attributed to governance failure in the country.
There is a problem here, with the way in which western countries and so-called analysts see the Tunisian unrests. It should be noted that many countries have experienced similar, if not worst mass riots in parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world. In March last year, Greece was rocked by riots as up to 60,000 people took to streets to protest against the government, according to Daily Mail. Youths smashed store windows, looted and caused damages of varrying degrees amid clouds of tear gas from the police. France also experienced deadly riots when the young people stormed the streets, protesting among other things, unemployment, and the retirement age issue. Recent strikes in the UK saw thousands of students in the streets protesting against fee increases. Damages had also been caused on public property.
The world financial crisis is definitely at the center of the economic downturns that have resulted to deadly riots in recent times across the globe. But Surprisingly enough, it was only Tunisia, and the the Arab world in general, whose governments were accused of bad management, plagued by illiberal and unreformed governance.
No such statements were made during the March events in Greece, or the street riots in France and the UK.
Talking about unemployment, the labor force in Tunisia that was without jobs by December 2010 was 13.30 percent, down 5.67 percent compared to the previous year.
At the same time, Bloomberg reported that Europe’s unemployment rate unexpectedly increased to 10 percent, the highest in more than 11 years, as companies cut costs in the wake of the worst recession in more than six decades.
In the meantime, according to a November 2010 report by BNO News, the highest unemployment rates were recorded in Spain (20.7 percent), Latvia (19.4 percent in the second quarter) and Lithuania (18.4 percent in the third quarter).
Even if Tunisia’s real unemployment rate is higher than stated officially, it could still compete with that of Spain. But nobody claims that the Spanish governance failed and that it is unreformed.
Although Tunisia experienced economic problems just like many countries these days, it will be bias to explain the events that occured in the north African country simply to the lack of good governance and democracy in the country.