This past week all eyes turned towards the north-African nation of Tunisia as the country erupted in violent riots that culminated in the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s leader for over 23 years.
In the wake of Ben Ali’s departure, numerous voices from around the world have offered their commentary on the future of Tunisia. Yet the majority of those voices have been male. This past week, two women published columns that stood apart from the crowd: Adla Massoud in the Huffington Post, and Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post.
Massoud, a Lebanese/British journalist, published a column in the Huffington Post titled The Awakening of the Arab World, arguing that the riots in Tunisia are an indication that the educated youth of Arab nations have reached a “boiling point.”
According to Massoud, the social and political circumstances across the Arab world make the region ripe for revolution. Arab nations currently hold the highest unemployment rate in the world, and twenty five percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 are without jobs. As a large conglomeration of educated youth enter a world without job prospects and no future, Massoud argues “the Arab people are finally rising up.” Indeed, the revolution in Tunisia is believed to have been sparked by the suicide of a young man who could not find a job and was barred from selling fruit without a permit.
In contrast to Massoud’s hopeful and deterministic rhetoric, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post published a column warning against placing blind faith in the ability of the Tunisian revolution to usher in a new era of secular, democratic leadership.
Applebaum argues that although the rapid and dramatic developments in Tunisia this past week have been exhilarating, it is important to remember past consequences of similar popular uprisings. Citing the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, Applebaum warns that street demonstrations often result in continuing violence and a worsening of the political situation.
Although Applebaum, like Massoud, sees the educated youth as the leaders of the revolution, she argues that the developments in Tunisia don’t represent a democratic revolution. Instead, Applebaum argues that we are witnessing a “demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders.” Although Applebaum finds hope in the ousting of Ben Ali, she argues that a peaceful and orderly transition of power would have present a far more hopeful prospect for the future of Tunisia.
Whether Massoud’s optimism or Applebaum’s warnings prove more prophetic, it is great see two such distinct, insightful women leading the debate over the future of Tunisia on the op-ed pages. If you have a different opinion or insight on the future of Tunisia and its impact on the rest of the Arab world, take the plunge and voice it!