Mar 1 2011
Chaos, militant Islam, and thousands of refugees fleeing Tunisia in the aftermath of the uprising. Thousands are flooding a tiny island off Italy. Can the Egyptian and Libyan masses be far behind?
UK DAILY MAIL —Since Tunisians ousted dictator President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14 after 23 years in power, the once-omnipotent police force has lost its grip on the throat of the people. As uncertainty reigns, the coastline has become porous. In recent weeks, 6,000 Tunisians have paid human traffickers smuggle them into Italy.
Last month Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution ignited the tinderbox of Arab anger, leading to the toppling of brutal rulers. A new cry is being carried on the desert winds: it is freedom (and free food, housing, healthcare and welfare benefits courtesy of the socialist states of the EU)
Tunisia’s ten million people are proud that a revolution that began with the self-immolation of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a poor vegetable-seller standing up for his rights in Sidi Bouzid, has grown into a regional revolt. But for some, their battle cry is different: they want jobs and a better way of life.
Illegal migration is a part of the complex picture that is unfolding here. The media caravan has moved on to new flashpoints in other parts of the region as the most momentous political change since the 1989 collapse of the European communist bloc unfolds. But what happens after the revolution is won?
The answer lies in Tunisia, which was the first North African nation to overthrow its reviled leader. What has followed is uncertainty and a political vacuum as the country struggles to build a democratic framework. Protests grip the capital Tunis, strikes cripple the country, the old power is dead and new forces are rising – including the Islamists. But while many Tunisians celebrate the downfall of Ben Ali, others are seeking to escape to the prosperity of Europe, raising the spectre of a migratory flood.
Could democracy in Tunisia lead to an Islamist party taking power – and what would that mean? It feeds into the wider question worrying minds from Washington to London and from Jerusalem to Riyadh: what will follow the old Arab order that is being overturned? Will the revolutions translate into real democracy or just another form of autocracy?
Already there are troubling signs that more extremist Islamists are asserting their authority. A Polish priest had his throat slit in a suburb of Tunis. A Catholic bishop in Tunisia said he feared Islamic extremism was to blame. American news reports said the priest’s throat was cut, but the Vatican news agency said he was beheaded.
Political analysts warn that unleashing the genie of democracy in North Africa means there will be little control over the electoral outcome. The old order of dictatorship offered the West the comfort that Islamist extremism was kept in check. Now, as the West cheers on the Arab people’s quest for freedom, we are witnessing this generation’s version of the fall of the communist bloc.