As the year winds down, one must wonder again about the state of the Arab street. Past years witnessed quiescence and relative calm. 2010 may stand as an exception as Tunisia is arguably enduring one of its most spontaneous revolt against the despotic regime of Ben 'Ali. For the past few weeks, the oft marginalized town of Sidi Bouzid has been under the brunt of the police assault of the Tunisian authorities. The protests were triggered by the attempted suicide by immolation on December 17 by unemployed 26-year old man Mohamed Bouazizi. The riots that followed are wholesale rejection of the socio-economic plight of millions of Tunisians lingering in poverty, unemployment and bleak future. The demonstrations are also a rejection of the corrupt and clientelistic regime of Ben 'Ali.
Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
As in various regions of the world, the Maghreb has not been immune to Wikileaks. The leaked cables provide some empirical insight into the politics of the region and the interplay of power between different states of the Maghreb. Over the next few blog posts, I will attempt to condense some of these leaks as they pertain to the Maghreb region. Today, I came across an interesting exchange during a February 2008 meeting between Tunisian President Zine al-'Abidine ben 'Ali and US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch about regional and bilateral relations in the Maghreb.
On the Western Sahara, Ben Ali said the Algerians are responsible for the ongoing impasse. Welch agreed, saying the issue was blocking progress in the region. He said the Algerians need to accept that there is not going to be an independent state in the Western Sahara. Ben Ali said the problem is complex, and will take years to resolve. He added it cannot be settled through the UN Security Council. He noted Tunisia had tried to convene a Maghreb meeting on it in Tunis. While Morocco and Libya had agreed to attend, Algeria refused, saying there was nothing to discuss.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
A recent article in the Economist on the state of the political progress in the Arab world singles out a few Maghrebi states with much consternation. Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya continue on their path of "cyclical" political reforms, introducing sheepish reforms as a safety valve to deflect mounting social unrest. As the Article states, many explanations are advanced for the democratic deficit in the region. But whether they are religious, structural or cultural, millions of Arabs still live under the yoke of autocratic regimes devoid of free, fair, competitive elections (recent farcical Egyptian elections are a case in point), rule of law, and basic individual and group liberties.