Home inContext Tunisians Take to the Streets

Tunisians Take to the Streets

Samara Greenberg

Widespread rioting continued in Tunisia today after Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi created a new unity government that included members of the former government loyal to ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. In response, protesters filled the streets, chanting, “No leftovers from the old regime!”

Former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled his North African country Friday after rioting continued for the fourth week, letting go of his 23 year grip on the mostly Sunni Muslim nation and marking the first time in history that an Arab dictator was forced from office by a popular revolt. The rioting began in December after a 26-year-old man with a college degree and dismal prospects committed suicide by setting himself on fire when police confiscated fruits and vegetables he was trying to sell because he did not have a permit.

Tunisians protesting against the government on January 14, 2011.

While it remains uncertain whether or not the events in Tunisia will cause a domino effect across the Arab world, the riots have resonated amongst the region’s people. Six demonstrators in North Africa have since set themselves on fire in an attempt to replicate the incident that sparked the Tunisian revolt and ended the dictator’s rule, and Middle Easterners region-wide took to the Internet over the weekend calling for copycat protests.

To its credit, unlike the White House’s response during Iran’s Green Movement uprising in the summer of 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama immediately released a statement Friday applauding “the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people” and calling “on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections” reflecting the “true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people.”

As events continue to unfold in Tunisia and perhaps across the Middle East, President Obama should reinforce the United States’ support of freedom and democracy. Not doing so would be another missed opportunity.