Fact Sheet: 2011, Tunisia & the Arab Spring

December 2010: Two events provide the immediate triggers for dramatic changes in Tunisia. First, WikiLeaks published stark criticism of the government by the US ambassador to the country:

"Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years. He has no successor…he and his regime have lost touch with the Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Increasingly, they rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power.

"Corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, first lady Leila Trabelsi and her family… Meanwhile, anger is growing at Tunisia's high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime's long-term stability are increasing."

The Tunisian government blocked the website of the newspaper that published the leaked diplomatic cables.

Later that month, university graduate Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated, killing himself after Tunisian police refuse to let him operate his cart, thus depriving him of the chance to obtain a meagre income. The tragedy provokes young Tunisians to protest.

As 2010 came to a close, and after 10 days of demonstrations, President Ben Ali appeared on television promising to take decisive action on job creation but threatening harsh measures against protesters and setting the stage for 2011, a dramatic year in the Maghreb country…

January 9th, 2011: 11 protesters die in clashes with security forces.

January 14th: As public opinion has turned strongly against his rule, Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia.

January 17th: In an attempt to preserve the status quo, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announces the formation of an interim unity government, but it includes figures from the previous government. People again take to the streets to reject the proposal.

February 27th – Out of moves after his initiative failed, Prime Minister Ghannouchi resigned.

March 9th: A Tunisian court ruled that the party of former President Ben Ali would be dissolved. The news is seen as the successful accomplishment of the revolution and people take to the streets to rejoice.

October 23rd: Polls opened for democratic elections in Tunisia nine months after the beginning of the popular uprising.

In January 2012, celebrations take place in Tunis to mark the first anniversary of the overthrow of Ben Ali.

Events in Tunisia had a galvanising effect across the Middle East and North Africa, but other popular uprisings were less successful, with some regimes learning from the perceived failures of the Tunisian government and suppressing opponents with harsher methods. Other movements experienced a glimmer of hope for democracy in the Arab Spring, but powerful domestic forces were able to reverse the regional trajectory, and these thwarted revolutions will be the subject of our next fact sheet.


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