Monday 26 February 2018

Con Coughlin: Arab spring protesters charmed by 'divine right of kings' to rule

Con Coughlin

HOW refreshing to see an Arab government put its hand up and actually admit that it has done something wrong. The normal custom when trouble flares is for rulers to deny any culpability and launch a crackdown against anyone foolhardy enough to raise their voice in protest.

Just think how very different the mood in the region might be today had Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian president, had the wit to admit his security forces were responsible for causing Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, to set himself alight. When thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest at the vendor's death, Mr Ben Ali's knee-jerk response was to unleash his heavies, arrest thousands of activists and shut down the internet. Within days, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution had taken root, and the president and his family were fleeing into exile in Saudi Arabia.

There was, of course, another option open to Mr Ben Ali. He could have admitted the government's persecution of Mr Bouazizi, and initiated criminal proceedings against those responsible. At a stroke the protesters' demands would have been met, and a national crisis averted. But he preferred to force them into submission, with the predictable outcome that the will of the people ultimately prevailed. It is a pattern that has been repeated throughout the region ever since, with the result that a succession of tyrants have found their repressive regimes brought to an untimely end. The latest is Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been forced to stand down after three decades in power.

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