Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tunus Yanıyor

Yaklaşık bir sene yaşadım Tunus'ta... Bu sessiz sakin ülkenin insanlarının üzerlerindeki ölü toprağını atmalarının vakti çoktan gelmişti.

Önce BBC'deki şu özete bağlanalım.

Anti-government protests in Tunisia in recent weeks have led to police using lethal force to put down the unrest. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has sacked his interior minister in an attempt to calm the anger and troops have been deployed in the capital.

Demonstrations are rare in the north African nation - which is a popular tourist destination - and where there have been tight controls aimed at preventing dissent.

What sparked the unrest?

A desperate act by a young unemployed graduate on 17 December triggered a much wider series of protests and clashes with the police.

Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself when local officials in his town prevented him from selling vegetables on the streets of Sidi Bouzid without permission.

This set off protests about jobs in the town, which has an agriculture-based economy in one of the poorest regions of the country.

These unemployment demonstrations then spread elsewhere, in a move the government said was being exploited by the opposition.

But the violent response of the authorities - with the police opening fire on demonstrators - appears to have exacerbated anger and ignited further protests.

The unrest is also widely seen as drawing on deep frustration with the ruling elite and the suppression of political freedoms.

The clashes became much more deadly on the weekend of 8-9 January, and have now spread to the capital Tunis.

Officials say 23 people have died since the rioting began, but opposition activists say the death toll is at least 50.

Were the protests expected?

No, the unrest appears to have taken almost everyone by surprise, including the government.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia for 23 years, likes to portray the country as a model of economic development and stability.

But correspondents say for many Tunisians, nothing could be further from the truth.

"The government presents Tunisia as a real democracy while everybody knows that in fact it's a fake democracy, and this is a corrupted state, a police state," exiled Tunisian opposition politician Moncef Marzouki told the BBC.

"The government presents Tunisia as an economic success story, while everyone knows that we have a lot of problems, unemployment and poverty… this is why people are taking to the streets."

Unflattering Wikileaks revelations last month about corruption within the ruling elite may have exacerbated the situation, analysts say.

What has the government said?

It has denied that the police over-reacted, saying they were protecting public property against a small number of "terrorists".

They have also closed all universities and schools until further notice in a bid to keep young people at home and off the streets.

But in an attempt to calm the situation, President Ben Ali has sacked his interior minister and ordered the release of all those detained during the riots.

A special committee to investigate corruption has also been created.

There is also a promise to tackle the root cause of the problem by creating an extra 300,000 jobs.

However, no any further details were given.

What happens next?

President Ben Ali's Western allies have generally kept quiet about his unfavourable human rights record.

But the sudden eruption of unrest has forced both Washington and the European Union to speak out and demand that the police stop shooting peaceful protesters.

The unrest has now dragged on for weeks, prompting many analysts to wonder whether this could be the beginning of something far more serious.

They warn that we could be witnessing the breakdown of the tacit compact that has existed in Tunis for decades.

In return for stability and a slow but steady rise in prosperity, the majority of Tunisians have accepted restricted political rights, a police state and corrupt elite.

For foreign investors, Tunis has been a safe place to invest and a source of cheap labour.

But this model may be failing or be unsustainable over the long term - high unemployment among graduates, frustration with lack of freedoms and the excesses of the elite may be the deeper causes of the anger that will be hard to quell.

BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says Tunisians seem to have broken the barrier of fear.

If the protests continue, the Tunisian president could be facing the most serious challenge to his authority since he took power.

And the eruption of popular discontent in Tunisia and neighbouring Algeria could make authoritarian leaders across North Africa and the wider Arab region nervous.

Şimdi New York Times'daki şu yazıyı okuyalım:

Protesters swarmed this beachfront tourist (Hammemet) destination near the newly restive capital on Thursday, overwhelming the police and ransacking businesses as well as the luxurious mansion of a member of the president’s family.

Social media appeared to play a strong role in organizing the violence, as it has throughout the three weeks of demonstrations and riots that have threatened the government of the authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The unrest spread this week to the capital, Tunis.

Early on Thursday, an Arabic Facebook page called on the people of Tunisia to prepare to sacrifice their blood in Hammemet, where several members of Mr. Ali’s extended family have mansions. The page is named “The People of Tunisia are setting themselves on fire, Mr. President,” a reference to the young unemployed man who set himself on fire last month, setting off the wave of growing unrest.

By midday, hundreds of rioters were rampaging through the streets here, several banks were aflame and police officers huddled defensively, shields raised, around their station.

The rioters marauded through the beachfront mansion of a presidential relative, pulling out a television and two all-terrain vehicles and setting them aflame. A horse ran free in the mansion’s yard.

Two of the rioters said the police had directed them away from attacking the police station and toward the mansion.

The damage was evidence of deep anger at the great wealth and lavish lifestyle of President Ben Ali’s second wife, Leila Trabelsi, and their extended family, including their son-in-law, the billionaire businessman Mohamed Sakher el-Materi. There have been reports that he has fled to Montreal.

Asked why the riots broke out here on Thursday, one protester said it was because the police had killed two people here on Wednesday and a third in a neighboring town.

Overnight, at least three civilians were killed by Tunisian security forces in the south and west of the country, according to news reports on Thursday. The victims included a 38-year-old French professor of information technology, Hattem Bettahar, who was vacationing with his family and was shot dead in the city of Douz, around 330 miles south of Tunis. Tunisia, a former French colony, has a large French community, many with dual nationality.

On Tuesday night, the violence reached the capital for the first time, as hundreds of youths in the working-class suburb of Ettadamen blocked roads, hurled stones and tried to attack a government building, according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, army units and riot police officers were deployed around the city around dawn in anticipation, and they quickly dispersed protesters with billy clubs, tear gas and bullets. The government decreed a nighttime curfew. And there were reports that some relatives of the president were leaving the country for their own safety. The State Department issued a travel alert for Tunisia on Thursday and urged Americans already there to stay away from all protests.

At one of several demonstrations, witnesses reported that the security forces had shot and killed four protesters. Some said the army had used rooftop snipers to fire on the crowd. Rights groups said they had confirmed more than 30 deaths before the day began, all in skirmishes with the police over the last several days.

“How can you fire on your own people?” said a 30-year-old business owner taking refuge from the police as they broke up a protest near the French Embassy and train station downtown. “If you do that, then there is no return. Now, you are a killer.” He declined to provide his name for fear of reprisals.

Tunisia is in some ways the most European country of North Africa. It boasts a relatively large middle class, liberal social norms, broad gender equality and welcoming Mediterranean beaches. United States officials give it high marks for its aggressive prosecution of terrorism suspects.

But Tunisia also has one of the most repressive governments in a region full of police states. Residents long tolerated extensive surveillance, scant civil liberties and the routine use of torture, at least until the economic malaise that has gripped southern Europe spread here, sending unemployment and public resentment skyrocketing.

The government made some moves on Wednesday to try to placate the protesters. The prime minister announced in a televised news conference the replacement of the interior minister — the public face of the crackdown. The government pledged to release prisoners who had been arrested in the demonstrations, and to start commissions to investigate excesses by the security forces as well as corruption in the government.

But the sacrifice of the interior minister did nothing to calm the protesters, who took to the streets downtown and in working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts as well.

Even as the prime minister pledged to release prisoners, security forces were apprehending others in their homes. One was a spokesman for the outlawed Communist Party, Hamma Hammémi, who had became a voice of the protests in French news media.

“He explained that the regime has lost all legitimacy,” said his wife, Radhia Nasraoui, a human rights activist. “So we were expecting this.”

By midday Wednesday, cafes along Tunis’s main tree-lined boulevard were pulling in their tables and chairs to avoid tear-gas fumes, and pedestrians scurried in fear of brigades of riot police officers patrolling the streets.

In Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, word spread that workers had called a general strike, and violence broke out in the cities of Thala and Douz as well.

By late afternoon Wednesday, the government announced a curfew of 8 p.m., and businesses around Tunis hastily pulled down their gates as employees raced home.

President Ben Ali and other officials have sought to place blame for the unrest on foreign terrorists or Islamic radicals capitalizing on the frustrations of the unemployed. But there has been little evidence of any reference to God or Islam around the protests, and some demonstrators called the assertion insulting.

“They say the people are terrorists, but they are the real terrorists, Ben Ali and his family,” said Ala Djebali, an 18-year-old student hiding in the train station after a protest downtown on Wednesday.

Mr. Materi, the president’s son-in-law who has inspired a good deal of rage, is a member of Parliament and a prominent official in the ruling party. His company Princess El Materi Holdings includes a major newspaper here.

Like heirs to the presidents of Egypt and Libya (and the current presidents of Syria and Lebanon), Mr. Materi is also discussed as a potential successor to President Ben Ali.

A gracious dinner at Mr. Materi’s home was detailed in a cable from the American ambassador to Tunisia that was released by the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks and fueled at least some of the outrage: a beachfront compound decorated with Roman artifacts; ice cream and frozen yogurt flown from St.-Tropez, France; a Bangladeshi butler and South African nanny; and a pet tiger in a cage.

No comments: