2011-01-19 Unrest in Arab States [Update 1]

"The lesson from what's happening in Tunisia is that (Arab leaders) won't be able to hide any more behind the Islamist threat argument."

-Amel Boubekeur

If Tunisians are protesting for freedom, not religion, what role did Wikileaks and online social networks play in mobilizing Arab populations to throw off the shackles of authoritarian, repressive, and corrupt regimes? Are our western institutions responsible for the waves of protest threatening to drown capitals in the Middle East?.

Self immolation has a long history as an act of faith, desperation, or protest, but the spate of copycat protests in Algeria, Egypt, and Mauritania has many Arab leaders worried that what started in Tunisia could spread to their populations. Islamist leaders have started calling "Tunisian style" suicides a sin, labeling the protestors as unbelievers, but stopping short of calling for a Fatwa (ruling) on the issue.

After Ben Ali found refuge in Saudia Arabia on January 15th, the Swiss government ordered a freeze on all funds held by him in Switzerland. on January 18th. Al Arabiya is cited claiming that Ben Ali had no intention to resign, and only "fled due to a lie by his head of security". Meanwhile, as the interim government experiences growing pains the well-known dissident Moncef Marzouki returned to a moving reception, while other opposition leaders have aired intentions to investigate anyone displaying ostentatious wealth in Tunisia. [Update 1]: When Ben Ali told Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi he was considering returning from exile after fleeing to Saudia Arabia, Ghannouchi told him that was impossible, a government minister told Reuters.

Najib Chebbi, an opposition leader who is now regional development minister in a coalition government, said the exchange happened in a telephone conversation after Ben Ali, toppled by weeks of protests, fled to Saudi Arabia last week.

"Did WikiLeaks cause a revolution? Did Twitter? Did rain in Los Angeles a couple of weeks back cause a mild spell in the UK today? Probably not, but it is impossible to tell anyway. They are all aspects of non-linear complex systems sitting on the edge of chaos, a googol of tiny threads interacting in ways that produce unpredictable and sometimes emergent outcomes."-Ben King

The Revolution in Tunisia which started in Sidi Bouzid is shaking the fabric of many Arab countries. On December 17 2010 when Mohammed Bouazizi, an unemployed 26-year-old in the town of Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide after Police had confiscated fruit and vegetables he was selling because he lacked a permit. Bouazizi's act of desperation highlighted the public's boiling frustration over living standards and a lack of human rights. His self-immolation sparked demonstrations which in the end brought down the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and the RCD party which had ruled Tunisia with an iron fist. After 1000's of protestors took to the streets in Tunis, and 300 lawyers held a rally in solidarity with protesters, things became more violent and bloody, with government security forces cracking down on protests. While accounts vary, it is estimated that more than 60 Tunisians died in clashes with the government.

A full timeline of events in Tunisia is available on Al Jazeera English.

After hacktivists acting under the name "Anonymous" announced Operation Tunisia to counter the attempts of the government to censor Tunisian's communicating and organizing via the Facebook social network, authorities arrested a group of bloggers, journalists, activists, and a rap singer, all of which were held in prison until Ben Ali departed Tunisia on January 14, 2011. One of the arrested activists, Slim Amamou, was appointed to the newly formed interim government as Secretary of Youth and Sports Amamou immediately came under fire from other activists, responding to their criticisms of complicity in a video interview.

As hacktivists call for more cyber attacks on government websites in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Libya, commentators in the west have debated back and forth whether or not Wikileaks and social networks have played a role in what started in Sidi Bouzid, Ben King cuts through the noise, making a powerful argument for the systems view, and gives an answer for who and what is responsible for the revolutionary spirit gripping the Arab world:

"Wikileaks is a node, Twitter and Facebook a network of links and people. Yet they are but parts of a larger whole, the internet. This is itself but a part of a larger network, one that encompasses all of the culture and civilization that each node experiences. To give credit to one or the other for people taking to account the previously unaccountable would be glib to the extreme. It would ignore the decades of suffering for a society who for the most part didn’t even have the internet.

"Ultimately it was the Tunisian government that was responsible for the revolution."

In the end, all governments and regimes which censor their population's free speech, distribute their wealth unequally, and fail to recognize nationalism as a 20th century paradigm ill-suited to a rapidly shrinking resource base on an ever more socially connected planet, will suffer the same fate as all other genetic and memetic life forms which fail to adapt to the ever-changing flux of evolution: extinction.