Normally, riots in Tunisia would not warrant a note, but a friend asked me to respond about the protests, weather they were a noble people uprising for freedom or savages or what.. and since I wrote it, here it is:
President Ben Ali took the helm of his country when it was in complete mass starvation. In his 23 years of power, he kept the communists, foreign enemies and the Islamists out while moderately turning the economy around.
Like all leaders in the Arab World, there was plenty of corruption to go around, and plenty of repression, but in overall he improved the lot of his people, and was a moderate voice in world conflicts. He also as far as I can tell safeguarded the small Jewish population still left there and did not leave them to Isalmists who would massacre them. I hope they start, at least temporarily, fleeing the country and not leave their lives to chance.
Unfortunately, perhaps due to his age, content to enjoy his money and his life in exile, he did not seem to put much of a fight, and fled too quickly. I think the quick show of weakness with his early concessions at the outset of the protests gave the opposition strength and let down the army which seems to have switched sides.
As for the rabble protesting, they are just that, rabble. Marxists, criminals, Islamic extremist peasants fueled by all sorts of propaganda that allow them to blame their poverty on all sorts of powers that be. One can understand a people fighting for their freedom, but the bulk of these protesters wouldn’t know freedom if it hit them in their face. They are motivated by greed, laziness, religious fervor and simply the opportunity. In the short term at least, Tunis will take steps backwards and will most definitely not be free. It is now wide open territory for Islamists, and for other corrupt elites who think it is their turn and will now manipulate the poor in order to gain power. But the Tunisian middle class, Berbers and other non rabbles will first fight back (which is what is happening now) and though their president gave up easily, it seems they realize what their country could slip into and they are not giving up easily.
This points to the danger of having an army composed of values so different from a country’s middle class and political leaders. Of course also in the short term there is concern by those in power that this can spread to other despotic Arab countries such as Egypt. Though in the weaker N African nations (algiers, sudan) anything is possible, I don’t think this will be quite as easy to unseat say Mubarak, Assad or the Saudi Royal family.
I certainly hope not, Israel already can’t fly over Iraq to strike Iran because Saddam Hussein is gone, and the more Arab dictators they get rid of, the harder it will be for Israel to deal with them in case one day Israel gets a great leader who actually wants to do so.