Robin Yassin-Kassab

This is What Victory Looks Like

with 11 comments

photo by Hassene Dridi for AP

Written on the night of January 14th 2011

The dictator, thief and Western client Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali, beloved until a few hours ago in Paris and Washington, has been driven from Tunisia. His reign was ended not by a military or palace coup but by an extraordinarily broad-based popular movement which has brought together trades unions and professional associations, students and schoolchildren, the unemployed and farmers, leftists, liberals and intelligent Islamists, men and women. One of the people’s most prominent slogans will resonate throughout the Arab world and beyond: la khowf ba’ad al-yowm, or No Fear From Now On.

It is to be hoped that Tunisia will now develop a participatory system based on respect for citizens’ rights, that it will reclaim and develop its economy, implement social justice, and move out of the Western-Israeli embrace. The revolution, however, is beset by dangers. Although the head of the snake has been sacrificed, the conglomerate of interests behind the Ben Ali regime is largely still in place, and will be working furiously to restrict and roll back popular participation. For this reason it is of crucial importance that Tunisians are tonight raising the slogan ‘al-intifada mustamura,’ or ‘the intifada continues.’

Beyond the local Tunisian mafia, those who have every reason to wish the revolution to fail include: the terrified Arab regimes, particularly the Western clients; Israel; and sections of the American, French and other Western elites. One or more of these powers may stoop to sponsoring chaos in some form or another. But we can have a good degree of confidence. Over the last weeks Tunisians have proved themselves sufficiently courageous and open-eyed to face down all manner of threats.

Whatever happens next in Tunis, the Arab world has entered a new stage. Tunisia has shown that the ‘Arab street’ has greater potential, greater power, than many Arabs, cowed by decades of oppression, dared dream. Now we know that if Arabs are enraged by their regimes’ corruption and mismanagement, by the muzzling of dissent and debate, by the failure to build functioning health and education systems, by the craven kow-towing to Zionism and the hosting of foreign miltary bases – now we know the Arabs can coerce their regimes to change these policies, or face Ben Ali’s fate.

The Western clients in particular are in trouble. Saudi-owned media coverage of Tunisia makes their fear plain. Over the last weeks Algeria has seen demonstrations and riots. Yesterday thousands marched against economic conditions in Jordan. Tonight a demonstration outside the Tunisian embassy in Cairo congratulated the intifada, and chanted “Revolution Until Victory” (the old Palestinian battle cry), “Revolution in Egypt.”

Egypt used to be the political, cultural and military leader of the Arab world; now it bears less weight than Qatar. Most Egyptians are hungry and over a third are illiterate. Mubarak’s regime is a willing tool of Zionism and imperialism, a besieger of Palestinians. And the country’s social fabric is being ripped apart by salafism and sectarianism. If somewhere needs a dose of Tunisia, that place is Egypt. Inspiration from Tunisia is something that could raise Egypt’s confidence, halt Egypt’s decline, and give impetus to radical change. The escape route from communal hatreds and social breakdown is popular action, for all citizens, irrespective of religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe or region.

This Tunisian victory was not won by employing nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism. Tunisians held ‘Power to the People’ signs and posters of Che Guevara rather than the rulings of a cleric. This will have a long-term cultural effect on the Arab world, at least to the extent of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which has energised Arab Islamism ever since. (Here I’m remarking on the surprising fact that the first Arab revolution of the age has largely been secular in character, but I don’t wish to trot out a simplistic secular-versus-Islamist discourse. Tunisian Islamists have been as active as everyone else in the struggle, and Tunisian Islamism is very often politically pluralist and reasonably progressive. Rashid al-Ghannushi’s Nahda Party is a good example.)

Inevitably the events have exposed the continuing hypocrisy of Western governments as well as the mainstream media’s continuing adhesion to ruling class foreign policy concerns. Until the very day of the revolution’s victory the Anglosaxon media kept as quiet as it possibly could. This in marked contrast to its coverage of the Iranian Green Movement, which had a much narrower social base but was cast as a near-unanimous uprising, its martyrs were named and lionised, and reams of nonsense were written concerning the ‘twitter revolution’. Well, here was a secular mass movement calling for freedom and civil rights, using the new media, appealing to universal values, on the southern shore of the mediterranean – and nobody wanted to know.

By tonight, all of a sudden, the American position has changed from ‘we’re not taking sides’ to applauding ‘the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.’ And, in a twinkling, the media has discovered that Ben Ali was a corrupt dictator. A new story is being scribbled out, to adapt to events. That’s what you call a fait accompli. And, for once, it was the Arab people who did the deed. This is what victory looks like.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 15, 2011 at 4:09 am

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Dido Queen of Carthage will be dancing in the streets.

    Rachel Holmes

    January 15, 2011 at 5:34 am

    • When you’re saying Alshaqnnushi is pluralist and reasonable like other Tunisian Islamists I remember what it was said about Khomeini just before 1979 revolutuin in Iran.And it was exactly this viewpoint that helped him much to establish the bloody Islamic republic in Iran and destroyed all that was revolutionary and humane. You should know the result: hundreds of thousands executions, milions living under poverty line, sexual apartheid against women and a real hell for every body. People are trying with their lives in their hands to get rid of Islamism. Don’t be fool in trying this in Tunisia. Darya


      January 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      • Darya – Ghanushi’s Nahda party seemed to be pretty big in past decades, but not now. It was viciously repressed, so we’ll have to see how much popularity it garners in the coming weeks and months. But the revolution was marked by the absence of Islamist leaders. Leftist parties and trades unions are much more prominent. But even if Ghanushi were to become a player, he can’t be compared to Khomeini. Khomeini was a key leader of the revolution, and at first a symbol for millions, including secularists and leftists who, as you say, thought he would become a powerless figurehead once the revolution was won. You know that story better than I do. But Khomeini didn’t actually claim to be pluralist, not in any elaborated way, as far as I’m aware. The Islamists of the Nahda say that they will embrace secularism so long as it isn’t aggressive. I’m not an Islamist, but for analytical purposes we should recognise difference in Islamist discourse when it exists.


        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        January 18, 2011 at 11:18 pm

  2. at such moments of high drama, Asa’ad Abu Khalil’s coverage can be very good. Here http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2011/01/tunisian-police-looting.html
    and here
    http: //angryarab.blogspot.com/2011/01/fidaiyyi-bin-ali.html
    he suggests that regime thugs are behind much of the chaos in Tunisia today.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    January 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm

  3. Ben Ali was hardly “beloved” in Washington.

    Juliette sahra

    January 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    • ‘beloved’ is a metaphor. there’s no love in politics. but there are ‘interests’. Ben Ali bought into the war on terror rhetoric and used it to increase oppression of the Tunisians, secularists as much as violent Islamists. Ben Ali submitted to World Bank dictates. He was a friend of Israel. This is why the US backed him, as they back the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and elsewhere, until yesterday.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      January 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm

  4. […] generally been Ben Ali and his successor. And yet, the fact of Ben Ali’s ties to the U.S. is increasingly raised as a token of the “authenticity” of this particular Middle Eastern revolt, in […]

  5. […] East region have extolled the involvement of Tunisian trade unions and oppositions parties. As Qunfuz notes: The dictator, thief and Western client Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali, beloved until a few hours ago in […]

  6. I am happy for Tunisia, a country I lived in for 2 years and where I left good friends. I do not agree 100% with your point of view regarding Western countries, but I have to agree most of Europe viewed Ben Ali and others as the only cynic way to avoid North Africa to become some sort of Saudi Arabia. Tunisia now can prove it’s maturity and become a real democracy. I’m sure they are prepared and I’m confident islamists will play their game along with secularists, because the country will not tolerate any kind of totalitarian government.
    Mabrouk Tunisia!


    January 16, 2011 at 1:45 am

  7. […] recently, since she’s from Tunisia and has been very active on social networks following the revolution and helping people connect as regular digital communications were […]

  8. […] However it ends, Tahrir Square changed the Middle East, not only Egypt, forever, politically, geopolitically, psychologically. The revolution was not Islamist or socialist or unduly anti-American or even especially anti-Zionist. There was no utopianism, no desire for an absolute break with the past, except in one respect. No exaggeration. Not even a leader. No “nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism” (Robin Yassin-Kassab). […]

Leave a Reply to Are All (Middle Eastern) Revolutions Equal? « Qifa Nabki | A Lebanese Political Blog Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: