Friday, January 14, 2011

Tunisia? I Hardly Know Her

I don't know anything about Tunisia, but twitter alerted me to the flight of the President and the stepping in of the military and then the Prime Minister.  Since I am pretty ignorant, I will just raise a few questions that will probably never be answer-able:
  • Is this the first government to be brought down by wikileaks?  Revelations about the President's lifestyle/corruption might have played a role as an accelerant
  • Does this prove that the key to political change is a large middle class?  Political scientists have always leaned on the middle class as the key to democracy.  Of course, we have no idea if Tunisia will get any real/sustainable democracy.
  • Was this a case of bad coup-proofing?  That is, the police seemed willing to be violent, but not the army.  Or so the reports have suggested.  The big question in these situations is always, always, always--is the army going to fire on the civilians?  In this case, the answer is no.  Thus far.
  • Which leads to the next question: will the army return to the barracks quickly and easily? 
  • If this is really the first successful mass uprising in the Mideast as my grad student averred, will it travel?  Does it mean that other less than fully democratic leaders will allow protests so that there is no violence that might spiral?  Or do they prevent protests from developing at all?  There are many lessons to learn from this event, and it is far from certain that "the right lessons" whatever they might be are the ones that travel.  While I have argued against contagion in much of my work, we may see more spread of this stuff here because the conditions are, superficially, pretty similar in other countries in the region: corrupt leaders, few real outlets of dissent, likely hamhandedness (oops, not halal) by elites, etc.  On the other hand, do other countries in the region seem to have as large a middle class?
Really too soon to speculate much, but I was short in blog posts today.

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