Sidi Bou Zid: A Jasmine Revolution In Tunisia
Protests that began in mid-December when a man set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bou Zid expanded into a nation-wide revolt, ultimately leading to the ouster of President Ben Ali after more than two decades in rule. This archive documents the four weeks that shook Tunisia, becoming what some of us have referred to as the Jasmine Revolution, as the jasmine flower is a national symbol in Tunisia.
- Background information on Tunisia, President Ben Ali, and the rioting that began in Sidi Bou Zid in mid-December, spread to protests and violence around the country:
- In late November through early December 2010, Wikileaks released nine US State Department cables from their embassy in Tunis. Some of these cables described widespread corruption in Tunisia, with President Ben Ali's family as the "nexus" of it. They also described how Ben Ali's ability to spin Tunisia as a modern, open country hides a grimmer reality, where he represses free speech and free assembly, where "The rule of law is more fiction than reality." Much of this has been common knowledge in Tunisia for years; nonetheless, it gives as sense of the depth and breadth of corruption during the Ben Ali regime.
- Excerpt: Wikileaks reference ID 09TUNIS372
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
XXXXXXXXXXXX shared a rare first-hand account of
corruption from several years ago in which Ben Ali himself
was described as asking for a 50 percent stake in
XXXXXXXXXXXX private university. XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX [BOOK TITLE REDACTED]
¶2. (C) On the margins of a networking event for aspiring and
successful social entrepreneurs XXXXXXXXXXXX The
book is extremely critical of the Ben Ali regime for, among
other things, the "duality" between official discourse and
the reality on the ground. Specifically XXXXXXXXXXXX points
to the "stifling" of political liberties and "omnipotent"
controls on the media. He also charges that freedom of
association is "illusory" and assesses that "the rule of law
is more fiction than reality." XXXXXXXXXXXX
- Excerpt: Wikileaks Reference ID 08TUNIS679
SUBJECT: CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA: WHAT'S YOURS IS MINE 1
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (S) According to Transparency International's annual
survey and Embassy contacts' observations, corruption in
Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it's cash, services, land,
property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family
is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.
Beyond the stories of the First Family's shady dealings,
Tunisians report encountering low-level corruption as well in
interactions with the police, customs, and a variety of
government ministries. The economic impact is clear, with
Tunisian investors -- fearing the long-arm of "the Family" --
forgoing new investments, keeping domestic investment rates
low and unemployment high (Refs G, H). These persistent
rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and
continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with
the GOT and have contributed to recent protests in
southwestern Tunisia (Ref A). With those at the top believed
to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power,
there are no checks in the system. End Summary.
¶3. (S) President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as
the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a
quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to
indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the
Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection
through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to
have made the most of their lineage. Ben Ali's wife, Leila
Ben Ali, and her extended family -- the Trabelsis -- provoke
the greatest ire from Tunisians. Along with the numerous
allegations of Trabelsi corruption are often barbs about
their lack of education, low social status, and conspicuous
consumption. While some of the complaints about the Trabelsi
clan seem to emanate from a disdain for their nouveau riche
inclinations, Tunisians also argue that the Trabelsis strong
arm tactics and flagrant abuse of the system make them easy
to hate. Leila's brother Belhassen Trabelsi is the most
notorious family member and is rumored to have been involved
in a wide-range of corrupt schemes from the recent Banque de
Tunisie board shakeup (Ref B) to property expropriation and
extortion of bribes. Leaving the question of their
progenitor aside, Belhassen Trabelsi's holdings are extensive
and include an airline, several hotels, one of Tunisia's two
private radio stations, car assembly plants, Ford
distribution, a real estate development company, and the list
goes on. (See Ref K for a more extensive list of his
holdings.) Yet, Belhassen is only one of Leila's ten known
siblings, each with their own children. Among this large
extended family, Leila's brother Moncef and nephew Imed are
also particularly important economic actors.
- One of the first videos depicting protesters in Sidi Bou Zid on December 17, 2010:
Police in a provincial city in Tunisia used tear gas late on Saturday to
disperse hundreds of youths who smashed shop windows and damaged cars,
witnesses told Reuters....
They were angered by an incident where a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi,
had set fire to himself in protest after police confiscated the fruit
and vegetables he was selling from a street stall, the witnesses said....
Another witness, a relative of the man who set fire to himself, said
outbreaks of rioting had continued into Sunday.
"People are angry at the case of Mohamed and the deterioration of
unemployment in the region," said Mahdi Said Horchani.
Footage posted on the Facebook social network site showed several
hundred protesters outside the regional government headquarters, with
lines of police blocking them from getting closer to the building. It
did not show any violence.
- Tunisian online activists create a Facebook page, "Mr. President, Tunisians are setting themselves on fire."
- Protesters in Sidi Bou Zid, some appearing to be affected by tear gas. A body of a man is seen in the street; the crowd breaks out into singing the Tunisian national anthem, Humat Al Hima (Defenders Of The Homeland):
- Video of a lawyer and others protesting against the government. Some translated quotes:
"Watch, the oppression is visible!!"
"Down with the Doustour party!"
"Down with the torturer of the people!"
"See - the terrorism (of the police) is visible!"
"Working is a right!"
- Three videos of riot police trying to quell a protest of lawyers in Tunis, December 31, 2010: