Amplify’d from rubinreports.blogspot.com
By Barry Rubin
A popular uprising fueled by unemployment, economic suffering, and long-term discontent has overthrown the dictator--but not necessarily the dictatorship--in Tunisia. In 55 years of independence, the country has been governed by two dictators, the current--until now--one being Zine al-Abedin Ben Ali, who has been in power for 23 years and was a key power in the regime even before that.
Is this going to spread? Does it mark some new phase in Arab politics? Probably not. Tunisia is a very distinctive country. It has been the most Europeanized state in the Arab world, due in part to the secular-oriented policies of the regimes. There has been an Islamist movement but the regime has kept it weak, perhaps making Tunisia the Arabic-speaking state with the lowest proportional support for Islamism among its population.
Here's the bottom line: Statist and dictatorial policies have led to serious limits on freedom throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Economic stagnation and lagging living standards are prevalent, except in those countries that have large oil and natural gas incomes compared to small populations.
How have regimes kept in control? Through giving rewards to supporters and punishing opponents; military and police power; redirecting hostility toward other (America, Israel, the West) targets; and other means. While revolutionary Islamists have promoted rebellion, Arab nationalist regimes have opposed them with a wide arsenal of tactics. And the very fear of an Islamist transformation can also be a good tool in keeping the elite together and the masses in line.
That system got too far out of balance in Tunisia. There is a chance of parallel developments elsewhere--Algeria has also experienced riots--but it is not likely. At any rate, this issue will have to be watched closely.Read more at rubinreports.blogspot.com
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