First of all I would like to say that I am sorry for the repression and the people who have died in Tunisia but excited about the unexpected overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by its own people.
While I am no expert on Tunisia and defer to others for an in depth analysis I have visited the country a few times as well as many other Arab/Muslim countries (Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and others). Most Muslim nations have rulers for life and I am happy to see that for once, a corrupt dictator who has been in power since 1987 was thrown out by popular rebellion. And as this article explains it took the American diplomats and Wikileaks efforts to reveal what many Tunisians suspected and that is the extent of the government’s corruption and abuse and ignite the overthrow. Now the paradox here is obvious. USA spends hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives are lost in a bloody military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq with very little success in establishing democracies. And instead, diplomats telling a detailed story about corruption in Tunisia and a group of determined journalist at Wikileaks and a hacker (Bradley Manning) accomplished what a decade of military intervention in the Middle East could not and that is a popular uprising against corruption and dictatorship. Yes, the realities of Afghanistan, Iraq and Tunisia are different but as this New York Times article explains, many in the Arab/Muslim world are watching Tunisia and wondering how long will they put up with their own “Ben Alis”. Especially in nearby Egypt.
It is interesting though that it took a combination of Wikileaks, US diplomacy and a dissident soldier to ignite the rebellion. Most likely if it had been Hillary Clinton alone telling this to the Tunisian people how corrupt Ben Ali was, it would have backfired. I think the State Department should learn a lot from Tunisia and rethink Wikileaks, cellular networks, social networks, and the power of the raw truth when dictators lose control of the popular message.
Here’s a slightly different version of this article in the Huffington Post
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars