Juan Cole: Tunisia Uprising “Spearheaded by Labor Movements, by Internet Activists, by Rural Workers; It’s a Populist Revolution” (Democracy Now!)

My interview on Tunisia on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, which aired on Tuesday, is on the Web. A transcript is here.

Here is the YouTube video:

Excerpt:

‘ AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Ben Ali has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia. And if you heard Fares Mabrouk, they are calling for him to be extradited back to Tunisia to be tried.

JUAN COLE: Well, Saudi Arabia has long served as a kind of asylum or refuge for deposed politicians. Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan went there when he was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf. Idi Amin went there. This is nothing new.

One thing to keep in mind is that Tunisia is not an oil state. And it suffered from a kind of nepotism that was extreme. I mean, the U.S. leaked cables from WikiLeaks suggest that 50 percent of the economic elite of that country was related in one way or another to the president or to the first lady, Leila Ben Ali, and her Trabelsi clan. So, the combination of not having any extra resources to bribe people and buy them off and also of monopolizing the country’s economic resources in the hands of a few relatives was unique to Tunisia. I mean, there are similar situations, but the Tunisians took it to an extreme—

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, you say this is not—

JUAN COLE:—the Tunisian regime did.

AMY GOODMAN: You say this is not a WikiLeaks revolution, but a hunger revolution.

JUAN COLE: Well, it’s a revolution—you know, all revolutions are multiple revolutions happening at the same time. So there’s a strong element of economic protest. There’s a class element. Twenty percent of college graduates are unemployed. There’s extreme poverty in the rural areas. And the regime was doing things that interfered with economic development. They would use the banks to give out loans to their cronies, and then the cronies wouldn’t pay back the banks, so they were undermining the financial system. And that made it—and the extremeness of the dictatorship, the demands constantly for bribes, discouraged foreign investment. So the regime was all about itself. It was doing things that were counterproductive. And it injured the interests of many social groups—the college-educated, the workers. Now, the three ministers that pulled back out of the national unity government today were from the General Union of Tunisian Workers, which is an old, longstanding labor organization. So, it was a mass movement; it included people from all kinds of backgrounds. ‘

Read the whole thing.

6 Responses

    • The first link is to Democracy Now! as a courtesy. The second link, to the transcript, goes to my video segment.

  1. This revolution is a good inspiration for Pakistanis who are in a worst situation even compared to the Tunisians.All the Arab nations should follow now.The student community of the UK too can learn a thing or two from this. There is a saying :’Where there is no submission there can be no authority’. Never give up the fight against injustice.

  2. I think that there is another important element at work in the Tunisian revolution : demography. Usually revolution are lead by young men, especially if they see their future as blocked (be it because the economic situation prevents them of finding employement or because an older reactionnary elite is seen as blocking their future).

    And most of the North African countries are in that situation. I’ve checked the demographic data published by the UN and they are eloquent. In some situation the data are rather old alas, probably still collected during the last census around 2000. Here is what I’ve found concerning these countries :

    Percentage of young men aged 15-29 years in the total male population (year) :

    USA : 20.97% (2005)
    Tunisia : 28.93% (1998 too bad there is nothing more recent)
    Algeria : 32.21% (2003)
    Morocco : 28.9% (2004)
    Egypt : 27l56% (2000)
    Iraq : 27.95% (2006)
    Iran : 31.81% (2005)
    Switzerland : 18.4% (2009)

    I’m not a determinist and don’t think that the mere fact that there are a lot of hopeless young men would inevitably result in a revolution. However I think that the demographic conditions existing in North Africa added to more or less dire economic situation are creating the favorable conditions for a revolution.

    Hopefully nobody will steal the Tunisian revolution from the people who did it !

    Here is a rap

  3. You’re right. You can’t get this information from the US capitalist, corporate media.

    Thank you for your intelligent, factual and informed analysis.

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