Endangered Species?


The Arab Spring began with the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia (a name stemming from Tunisia’s national flower). The immediate cause of the revolution in Tunisia was a tragic act of protest by Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man from a small town in the neglected interior of the country. Bouazizi lit himself on fire on December 17, 2010, after he was fined for operating an illegal vegetable cart and humiliated by the police. He died of his burns on January 4.

The protests in Tunisia were initially contained to Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi’s town, but they soon spread. As they did, they became about something more than Mohamed Bouazizi. The protesters began to cry, “The people—want—the fall of the regime!” The Young Tunisians who led the protest movement (that became known in some quarters as a “Facebook Revolution”) blamed the government for its failure to create jobs, for its refusal to tolerate opposition or free elections, and for the repeated acts of violence by its secret police. To the world’s surprise, the movement brought that government down in a matter of weeks. On January 14, Zine El Abidene Ben Ali—the “president” who had ruled Tunisia as a dictator since 1987—fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia, and was quickly replaced by a provisional government.

The success of the Jasmine Revolution was in no small part due to its spontaneous nature. There was no established organization, political party, or religious movement that Ben Ali’s secret policemen could infiltrate...

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About the Author

Gabriel Said Reynolds is professor of Islamic studies and theology at the University of Notre Dame and co-director of the International Qur'anic Studies Association.