Tunisia Anarchy Meme
By Staff News & Analysis - January 17, 2011

Tunisia struggles to stave off anarchy … Tunisia's leaders tried to shape a new administration Saturday after the veteran president was forced from power, but they were working against a backdrop of looting and violence. Dozens of inmates were killed in mass escapes from two prisons, gangs of men fired weapons randomly from speeding cars in the capital and clouds of black smoke hung over the city from torched buildings. Is the country descending into anarchy? … Not yet, but the next 24 hours will be crucial. Everything depends on who can show they have the greater momentum behind them, the looters and violent gangs or the authorities. Saturday was the most bloody day yet in nearly a month of unrest. But by the evening, it appeared the momentum was edging toward those who want to restore order. – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: Will a great revolution lead to a more transparent, democratic government?

Free-Market Analysis: The narrative Tunisian "Jasmine" revolution has been unfolding predictably from the Anglo-American perspective. A corrupt dictator has been chased to Saudi Arabia and the "authorities" are huddled together to try to set up a government that will deliver the appropriate reforms (see above article excerpt).

The narrative in our view actually conforms to a certain kind of emergent dominant social theme – that the Internet will spark change (perhaps through WikiLeaks) and that fairer and more transparent governments will emerge as a result. Is this the narrative the power elite intends to offer to handle the clash between the new electronic communication and their fear-based promotions?

This is of not, in fact, the narrative offered by the Daily Bell, which is that the Internet will spark a variety of unexpected changes and lead to a fundamental shift in the way people regard their sociopolitical environments. Such changes need not include revolutions (of various colors and shades) or "anarchy" that needs to be dissipated by the proper approach of "authorities" to initiated "democratic change."

The Tunisian Jasmine Revolution contains all these narrative notes: anarchy, grave authority figures promising significant democratic reform and even reports that various WikiLeaks leaks memos are the reason for the rioting. Of course, the anger and unrest are real, but the narrative may not be quite so accurate. Leaving aside the raw reality of the violence and individual tragedy, it feels a bit … pat. Here's something from The Atlantic on the WikiLeaks' connection:

The country's ruling family is described as "The Family" — a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie jar in the entire economy. "President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor," a June 2009 cable reads. And to this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: "persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system." … Vikash Yadav highlights how the hacktivist group "Anonymous", which made its name targeting Mastercard and Paypay for boycotting Wikileaks, retaliated against government websites. The truth is: this is a major, er, coup for Wikileaks and the transparency it promotes – especially against tyrants like Ben Ali.

Anonymous … WikiLeaks … Apparently, the Tunisians are not able to have their own revolution. The idea that leaked cables via WikiLeaks set off the ouster of Ben Ali is an interesting one, but it seems to assume that Tunisians were not aware of the full measure of their plight until informed by Anglo-American perspectives. Here's an alternative view from Gawker on the roots of the Jasmine Revolution:

Events in Tunisia are changing by the minute, but one thing is clear: This is the first popular uprising to bring down a leader in the Arab world in recent history. Who — or what — is responsible for it? We should stop trying to fit the events in Tunisia into a Western context. It simplifies things, but it also overlooks the real forces of change at work in the North African country. This isn't about Facebook, or Wikileaks, or Twitter — it's about the people of Tunisia being fed up with decades of marginalization at the hands of a Western-backed kleptocracy, and taking charge of their own future. Among the issues that brought about the events of the last month: Low wages, few job prospects for a growing educated class, high food prices, and a heavy-handed government lead by former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Did social media have an effect on events in Tunisia? Undoubtedly, yes. Is this a social media revolution? Absolutely not.

We of course do believe that the Internet had something to do with this revolution, while noting the Tunisia's larger grievances. We don't see evidence of a Western coup to control North African oil (not now anyway); however, we also note, as mentioned above, the "neatness" of this theme – from WikiLeaks … to revolution … to democratic reforms. In the meantime, the authorities are supposed to create a new and more transparent government to ensure that "anarchy" is mitigated. See the Bell's article on anarchy, here:

We have no idea what is going to happen in Tunisia or even what truly sparked the Jasmine Revolution. We know only what we read and see. The domestic sentiments expressed seem a sincere expression of frustration and one that the Internet may have abetted. But we distrust the narrative that has been presented by the mainstream thus far.

After Thoughts

We are not sure what role if any WikiLeaks played in the current uprising; we are not sure of the cause of the continuing violence (mercenaries have been been mentioned in the alternative press) and we are not sure that the uprising can properly be called "anarchy." Finally, we are not sure that transparent democracy is the appropriate solution. Tunisia may not unwind as neatly as the narrative now predicts.