The organization of the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution was an act played out online, galvanized by the frustrations of nearly all Tunisians and fuelled by the vigor of a long standing, Internet-based network of secretive activists who were united in their objection to the government's blatent Internet censorship. This network of activists, in early January, took up the cause of the up-until-then relatively contained protests, grabbing the immediate attention of the Tunisian government which was, of course, monitoring their online activity.
It was the arrests of several of these Internet activists in early January that truly ignited the Tunisian popular protests and propelled thousands onto the streets. Unemployment, high food prices and rampant corruption had been a characteristic of Tunisian life for years, but the straw that broke the Tunisian camel's back was the arrest of well-known and well-loved Internet bloggers who were a tangible symbol of freedom to the downtrodden masses.
Other Tunisians promptly took over their duties, their Websites and Facebook pages, and these deputies began spreading the viral word. Protests and blood drives were organized online, and information about street battles was exchanged between Tunisians over the Internet. Photos and videos were uploaded by outraged citizens, freshly motivated in the hope of getting the world's attention. It was a second wind.
Despite all this activity, the Tunisian events were hardly noticed until the hard news broke internationally last Friday that the Tunisian government had finally collapsed. It wasn't much of a surprise inside the country, but news anchors around the world appeared stunned. How had they missed it? Until then, three weeks of conflict and more than 70 deaths of Tunisian citizens, many shot dead by police aiming to kill not injure, had captured little attention from the Western mainstream press.
The world is certainly aware of Tunisia now. The obligatory front page headlines have indeed been written. However, the Revolution now seems to be in the hands of Tunisian government officials and the army. Until the West acknowledges the real grassroots leadership of the revolution and reaches out to provide them with support in the form of global awareness, there is a huge risk of even greater violence breaking out as Tunisians become further disillusioned in their fight for attention from the outside world that supposedly champions freedom, democracy and human rights above all other values. There is also a great risk that the entire uprising will be hijacked by extremist influences with their own ulterior motives that have little to do with these same values. Is this what the West wants?
It goes without saying that a 23-year-old, entrenched dictatorship cannot be eradicated overnight. Former President (President-for-life) Ben Ali, along with his wife, Leila Trebalsi, controlled Tunisia to the tightest extent possible by stifling all opposition, packing the various branches of government with family members, and maintaining controlling stakes in key sectors of Tunisia's economy. Although Ben Ali has been officially ousted, most of his people remain in their positions. The Ben Ali and Trebalsi families still own large chunks of Tunisia's economy, and this continues to pose a major obstacle to the ultimate goals of the real Jasmine Revolution.
At the time of this writing, the leaders of the Jasmine Revolution continue their battle on Facebook and other online sites. They have posted a manifesto at: http://www.facebook.com/Kaloutcha.Hamadi (among other places) and they are calling for mass demonstrations today, January 16th, at 11 am local time.
The Jasmine Revolution does have leaders and this is what they have to say:
"Youth Tunisia" demands:
1. dissolution of the RCD;
2. that all of those involved in the killings, torture, and corruption of RCD party are brought to justice;
3. creation of an independent constituent assembly including various shades of opposition, including unrecognized parties and associations and trade unions;
4. undertake legal declaration of a new constitution;
5. organize elections.