Initial Thoughts on Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution

by Joshua Tucker on January 15, 2011 · 3 comments

in Blogs

TUNISIA.jpg

Shortly after Belarus’s recent presidential election seemed to confirm that the time of Colored Revolutions in the post-communist space had passed (see here, here, and here), news arrives of the now tenatively named Tunisian Jasmine Revolution. With the caveat that I know practically nothing about Tunisian politics, let me just offer a few quick comments about putting this in the larger context of the Colored Revolutions.

  • Unlike the typical post-communist Colored Revolution, the Jasmine Colored Revolution has not followed an allegedly fraudulent election, but rather a month of protest over what the Washington Post has described as as “a 29-day popular uprising against unemployment, police brutality and the regime’s corruption.” It is worth noting that the so called Lebanese Cedar Revolution also did not follow a fraudulent election, so we may begin to see discussion of a different type of “Middle Eastern Colored Revolution” (although of course the attempted Green Revolution in Iran did follow an allegedly fraudulent election.)
  • If “Middle Eastern Colored Revolutions” do in fact take a different path that does not involve elections as triggers, will that ultimately provide a larger obstacle to installing democratically elected governments, as their is no clear government in waiting? One of the features of the Colored Revolutions was that if you succeeded in “throwing the bums out” following a fraudulent election, there was usually a government in waiting with a claim to democratic legitimacy due to the recent election that was ready to go. Will the delay needed to get such a democratically elected government in place ultimately make democratization more difficult to achieve in these non-electoral Colored Revolutions?
  • If successful, the big question following the Jasmine Revolution is clearly going to be whether this was a one-off deal involving Tunisia for idiosyncratic reasons, or whether this potentially heralds the beginning of a more general movement against authoritarian states in the Arab world. While the tailing off of Colored Revolutions in the post-communist space suggests caution ought to be in order in this regard, it always remains possible that the correct analogy will turn out to be not the Colored Revolutions of the 2000s, but rather the actual anti-Communist revolutions of the 1989-90, which clearly ended up having a strong contagion effect. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, it is important to remember that there is as of yet no guarantee of democratic change even in Tunisia, let alone anywhere else.
  • Finally, it seems very interesting how little media coverage in the West the first 28 days of the Tunisian protest seemed to have drawn.

I do want to once again reitarate that most of what I know about Tunisian politics I’ve learned in the last hour reading news reports of the Jasmine Revolution, so I want to close this post with an open invitation to readers of the Monkey Cage who know something more substantial about Tunisian politics to submit a guest post on this topic. I would also welcome informed commentary on the final point – is this potentially a game changer in terms of regime change in the Arab world – as I am sure we are going to see a flood of these types of articles in the media in the immediate future. If you are interested in writing on either topic, please contact me directly at joshua dot tucker at nyu dot edu.

{ 3 comments }

Benjamin Geer January 15, 2011 at 6:46 am

My research has been on Egypt, not Tunisia, but here are a few thoughts in a cautious spirit:

Does the concept of “Colour Revolution” actually mean anything beyond the marketing strategy of associating a revolution with a colour? If not, it’s a mistake to try to use this concept to understand anything about why a revolution has or hasn’t happened in a particular place and time.

We can’t make comparisons with revolutions elsewhere until we know what’s actually happened in Tunisia, and we won’t know that until social scientists have done qualitative research on the ground there, e.g. by interviewing and collecting data on people who have been involved. Even then, there will mostly like be different interpretations. There are still lively debates about the reasons for the 1979 Iranian revolution. Revolutions are among the least-understood phenomena in social movement theory.

No social scientist I know had been expecting a revolution any time soon in any Arab country. I think most of us who study the Arab world will be asking ourselves: why did this happen in Tunisia and not, say, in Egypt? Both countries had very repressive, authoritarian regimes, autocratic presidents that had been in power for a long time, non-free elections, a lot of young, educated, unemployed people, and plenty of Internet users.

Millions of people all over the Arab world have undoubtedly been glued to their TV sets over the past few days, watching events unfold in Tunisia. And many people in Egypt, for instance, have been saying: “I wish that would happen here.” But will the Tunisian revolution make revolutions in other Arab countries more likely? I think nobody has any idea how to answer that question.

If you’d like to read more by a good political scientist who focuses on the Arab world, I suggest Marc Lynch: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/

Dmitry Gorenburg January 15, 2011 at 8:10 am

I have two comments, one silly and one serious.

First, the name of this revolution confirms something I’ve suspected for awhile. These are not colored revolutions — they are plant revolutions! Orange, Rose, Tulip, Cedar, Jasmine. Color is not what these names have in common. I guess plant doesn’t sound as good.

More seriously, I wanted to address Josh’s point about whether not having a government waiting in the wings makes the revolution more difficult to achieve. That may well turn out to be true, though so far in the Middle East we’ve had one election-related failure (Iran) and two non-election related successes (Lebanon, Tunisia).

But I wonder if not having a government ready to go is actually a good thing for long-term democracy prospects. It seems to me that one of the main causes of the disappointing performance of many countries after such revolutions is that governments came in on the heels of a “national unity against the oppressors” kind of campaign.

What if instead, they had a fully democratic election that distinguished among the next generation of political actors. Would that promote more competition and perhaps better outcomes for the long term? I’m not sure, but it seems to me it’s something to keep an eye on.

Tara Brabston January 21, 2011 at 2:01 am

Right now is Freedom of speech day, help wikileaks Assange. yvette

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