The dramatic developments in Tunisia in the past weeks that have seen street demonstrators send former President Zein el-Abedeen Ben Ali fleeing the country may prove to be the historic turning point that many in the Arab world have been predicting and anticipating for decades: the point at which disgruntled and often humiliated Arab citizens shed their fear and confront their leaders with demands for serious changes in how their countries are governed. The overthrow of Ben Ali by fearless citizens who were no longer intimidated by their police and army is historically significant because of four main reasons:
1715 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Mehdi Yarmohammadi, who worked for Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been sentenced to three years in prison.
1610 GMT: Energy Watch. Iranian officials said natural gas consumption had hit a record high due to cold weather, despite recent subsidy cuts.
Earlier this month, the officials had said consumption had dropped about 5% since the introduction of the cuts.
1545 GMT: Execution Watch. Kurdish detainee Hossein Khezri was executed in Oroumiyeh in northwestern Iran this morning.
Khezri was accused of being a member of the Kurdish insurgent group PJAK. He was arrested in July 2008 and sentenced to death in July 2009 for mohareb (”war against God”) and “endangering state security."
Today, as dismayed as I was, I got an answer to my question: What happens when the media ignores a revolution? Sometimes,the answer is: Nothing. The media can help mobilize support for victims of earthquakes like the one in Haiti. The media can also help create an atmosphere where people can feel that they should care about those overseas. But, when the media refuses to cover a revolution, it really does not carry any impact.
That’s what people in Tunisia proved today by forcing their dictator to jump ship and leave the country. In a few hours, those US outlets who paid no heed will tell you how important it is that, for the first time in decades, a country in the Middle East has forced out an autocrat. Then you’ll have analysts telling you how important it is for US interests that this wave continues or maybe doesn't continue. There will be cute little graphs that Anderson Cooper can pull around on those big computer screens. Hey, it’s all going to be happening!
But this will be too late. The mainstream will not be part of the global wave of online support who witnessed a ground-breakingly inspirational event that will live on in memories for years to come and that could influence views on the Middle East, democracy, and human rights for decades.
Apologies to our readers, but because of events in Tunisia, our updates on Iran will not update today. We will have a full round-up of latest events on Saturday morning.
2345 GMT: Al Arabiya reports that President Ben Ali's plane has landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
2155 GMT: President Obama has issued a statement:
I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people. The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people.
As I have said before, each nation gives life to the principle of democracy in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people, and those countries that respect the universal rights of their people are stronger and more successful than those that do not. I have no doubt that Tunisia's future will be brighter if it is guided by the voices of the Tunisian people.
I will be away in Manchester on business for the Journal of American Studies today.
EA staff have a lot for you to consider, however, with features on Belarus, Tunisia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the US.
The Iran and Tunisia LiveBlogs will resume in late afternoon. In the meantime, we we welcome latest news and comments from our readers on this thread.
For days we have held onto this document from WikiLeaks. Now, in light of events, it seems appropriate to bring it out.
In July 2009, the US Embassy in Tunis takes a long look at a "troubled" Tunisia:
President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor. Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities. Extremism poses a continuing threat. Compounding the problems, the GOT brooks no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Instead, it seeks to impose ever greater control, often using the police.
How then to achieve US goals?
The answer in the final sentence seems all too vague and perhaps now obsolete: "The US government should press for the hard work of real cooperation."
For many weeks, we have been following the battle within the Iranian establishment. One of the key fronts in that conflict, which may or may not be to the political death, is over Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, President Ahmadinejad's good friend, close advisor, and Chief of Staff.
In this week's updates alone, we have noted criticism of Rahim-Mashai by clerics, politicians, and newspapers, the announcement by a Parliamentary commission of a "special case" investigation into his activities, and even the claim that he gave away $150 vouchers to local VIPs so they would attend his speech. This, however, may be the most intriguing manoeuvre....
The "hard-line" Mashregh News alleged that Rahim-Mashai is lying when he claims to hold a degree from Chabahar University. It said he paid no fees and asked how he could have completed the studies when he holds 20 official jobs.
Tom Ricks ran a guest-post today by Paula Broadwell, a former adviser to General Petraeus [commander of US forces in Afghanistan] and current PhD candidate at King’s College London, who is touring the war on a research trip. It is, in a word, abhorrent.
Start with the title: “Travels with Paula (I): A time to build.” It’s so… hopeful. So upbeat. The soldiers and Marines are building a glorious new future! The photos and story, however, tell a different story.