Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Can Tunisia happen elsewhere in the Arab world?

Tunisian uprising.jpgScience usually doesn’t mix much with politics on the Arab world, which is why there was never much politics (thankfully!) on this blog. However, with the events that happened over the past month in Tunisia being the talk of practically every person on the street in the region, it was inevitable to show up here.

And more importantly, it is showing up here because of the pivotal role that academics have played in the Tunisian uprising.When an unemployed university graduate set himself on fire to protest the unemployment university graduates face in the small Middle Eastern country, it sent shock waves through the academic community.

Students, hand in hand with professors, rose to protest conditions in their country. They were soon joined by everyone else in the country until, four weeks later, they overthrew their president for 24 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Now this is something that normally doesn’t happen in the Middle East, and all countries are eying the small nation of Tunisia, wondering if the same could happen elsewhere, such as in Algeria. Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia.

The short answer is “probably not.”

The longer answer would explain why. Tunisia is already a well-educated country. It has the best education system compared to its neighbours. That is why when the call came for a nationwide movement amongst the educated, there were enough to carry the event through.

By contrast, Egypt, a country with a president in power since 1981, has a 30% illiteracy rate. The other, educated 70% have had a very poor education that many of them are regarded as illiterate too. Calls for action in Egypt on social networks such as Facebook usually bring together a handful of people protesting the situation. This is not enough to send ripples through the rest of the country such as what happened in Tunisia. There just aren’t enough influential intellectuals to motivate people. The lack of education means academia are not likely to carry a revolt or uprising in the populous country. Others might, but not the academics.

Algeria had large street protests a couple of weeks ago, probably inspired by the Tunisian experience but these quickly died out after promises from the ruling party that the dismal conditions will change. The same happened in Jordan as well.

So should we be expecting a domino effect in the region? Most experts say no. The situation in Tunisia was very special. Even though the quality of life there was much better than its neighbours, the lack of any social liberties was much worse than other Arab countries.

At this time, there is nothing to do but wait and see.


  1. Report this comment

    Rashika El Ridi said:

    Would you retract your article now?

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    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Having been on the ground at the protests in Egypt for more than a week now, I must say I am surprised (very pleasantly too!) at what happened in Egypt.

    However, the pattern taken in Egypt is very different from that of Tunisia. This was not an uprising sparked by academics, but one sparked by middle class young people and carried and driven by poorer communities.

    Having said that, however, it is important to stress that Tunisia played a very important role in sparking the protests. What happened in Tunisia inspired the young people of Egypt to get up and take action.