Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben, who had ruled his country with an iron fist, is believed to have fled to France on Friday after mounting street violence and protests. The big question is how far the revolution in Tunisia will go. Is the next head on the block the prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, who declared temporary rule?
Columnist Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times writes: “(The former president) runs an autocratic, pro-western government, with a young population angered by high unemployment, corruption and police brutality. Rising food prices are also contributing to unrest.”
The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Ian Black, reports: “Bloody street clashes in Tunis trigger fears of a domino effect that could shake other authoritarian states.”
One of the shocking matters that will surprise many Westerners about these autocratic regimes is that we have been directly involved in supporting them as was the case with the coup that put the Shah of Iran in power in 1953.
The extent of the dilemma that the West faces in this region is stated by Rachman: “American policy has gone backwards and forwards. In the wake of 9/11, the Americans decided that the Saudi autocracy was thoroughly corrupt and was stoking up radicalism in the Middle East. In 2005 Condi Rice, then Secretary of State, made a famous speech in Cairo calling for democratic reforms in the region. But the election of Hamas in Gaza demonstrated to the Americans that Islamists were quite likely to win free elections. The House of Saud and Hosni Mubarak suddenly looked like quite good bets, again.