According to the Tunisian government’s website, the government upholds and supports democratic reforms, human rights, protection of civil rights, religious freedom, trade-union freedom, the right to freedom and democracy, and right to freedom of opinion and expression. However, unbeknownst to many in the world, the Tunisian government is showing that it is nothing like what it described itself as.
Starting in mid-December 2010, protests took place after the high-profile self-immolation of a 26-year old fruit-and-vegetable street vendor and graduate Mohammed Bouazizi. Bouazizi could not afford to make a decent living and so decided to sell produce, but his business was abruptly shut down in the town of Sidi Bouzid by government authorities after it was discovered he had no permit to run such a business. In response, Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and then set fire to himself and in turn, unknowingly sparked the fresh protests that are raging in Tunisia today.
News of Bouazizi’s self-immolation quickly spread throughout many Tunisian communities which provoked labor activists to flood out onto the streets. After Bouazizi’s death, thousands of Tunisians took up his name in mourning and demonstrations. In a country where the economy offers little pay, few jobs and a lot of inflation along with a government that suppresses basic freedoms such as the freedom of speech, frustration is inevitable.
Unfortunately for President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who has been in office for almost 24 years (with at least 93% of the votes every election) and is described as a tyrant, frustrated citizens are the worst of the worst. Although the Tunisian president has introduced many beneficial, economic reforms in his presidency, President Ben Ali’s regime has been particularly absent of human rights. Public criticism of the president and his administration is quite rare but whenever the Tunisian government is criticized whether in a demonstration or on an independent newspaper (if there is any by now), the author of the criticism is often “harrassed”.
Although the riots and protests are about economic troubles, some analysts have noted that there is a rapidly growing dissatisfaction with the Tunisian government as protestors get fired upon with live ammunition and as the oppression in the forms of arrests and home-raids continues.
So far, more than 30 Tunisians have died in the riots that have taken place. Defending its actions, the Tunisian government stated that the police acted in “legitimate” self-defense in separate situations.
Allegedly, the Tunisian government (much like the Chinese government with Google in 2010(allegedly)) tried to wrest private information of Tunisian activists from their email accounts. This move and its decision to censor web information including WikiLeaks information drew in the Internet group, Anonymous, which had prominently taken part in the ‘WikiLeaks cyberwar’ that took down the websites of Mastercard, the Swedish Prosecutor’s office, the Swedish government, and others.
The “hackers on steroids” as Fox News once described them, de-faced one of the Tunisian government websites and took down several others including the national stock exchange website and the website of the Interior Ministry by using DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks as the opening prelude to Operation Tunisia, a subsidary of Operation Payback.
As tensions rise, riot police has been deployed to try to contain the widespread dissidents if another outbreak of violence occurs. Other nations, among them the United States, questioned the Tunisian government’s handling of the situation and condemned the suppression of human rights.
(Cover Photo: Fethi Belaid / AFP/Getty Images)