Tunisia in Turmoil: Where To Learn the Most Quickly

The president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power since 1987, has left the country amid weeks of protests, and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has assumed power in an announcement on state television, according to CNN. Before leaving, Ben Ali fired a minister and some aides, "dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency," and called for new parliamentary elections, as unrest grew stemming from information made public by WikiLeaks about widespread corruption in his regime. The internet is a good place to learn more about international politics in bite-sized pieces!

CNN reports, in part:

The incident underscored concerns among Tunisians and the in international community that security forces have been overreacting to peaceful gatherings of protesters.

Tunisia under Ben Ali has been a pro-Western state supportive of U.S. policy in the Middle East and in its efforts against terrorism.

It has been a relatively stable and more prosperous country in what diplomats call "a rough neighborhood."

The education level in Tunisia is relatively high for the Arab world, and the country is closely linked to France and French culture.

U.S. State Department officials said Friday the Obama administration was closely monitoring the situation and urging all parties to work together peacefully to resolve the political unrest.

Meanwhile, Salon has something of a history lesson, detailing the country's woes from way, way back: "The trouble started about 3,000 years ago."

Positioned at the northernmost tip of the African continent, Tunisia has always been an exceptional country. Home of the legendary city of Carthage -- home of Hannibal, the great rival of the great Caesar, and his especially great war elephants* -- present day Tunisia would become known as the "bread basket" of the Roman empire. Like many a country of rich resources, the area suffered through a long string of abusive foreign empires. After Rome fell, the Vandals occupied the nation until the Byzantine emperor reconquered the region in the sixth century until its dissolution.

At Mother Jones, a relatively simple explanation is presented in Q&A format:

What's happening? Violent riots and protests have spread across the country over the past four weeks. Now Ben Ali's totalitarian government seems to be collapsing. (Elliott Abrams, a former Bush administration official who unfortunately is rarely right about anything, thinks that if democracy can take hold in Tunisia, it could spread elsewhere in the Arab world, too.)

An AOL News article by Theunis Bates details the WikiLeaks links:

Demonstrators were whipped up by anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks' publication of cables from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, which provided a vivid insight into the luxuries enjoyed by the Ben Ali clan. A 2009 cable revealed how the "The Family" treated their dinner party guests to fruit, cakes and frozen yogurt freshly flown in on a private jet from the southern French resort of St. Tropez.

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Meanwhile, Gawker comes through with the news that the U.S. embassy will probably still take Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off: "Holidays are holidays!"

Now go forth and learn!

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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