Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Arab American callers reacted to the revolution in Tunisia, and what the overthrow of a authoritarian dictator means for the rest of the Middle East.
After 23 years of authoritarian rule, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime has been toppled in Tunisia.
Unemployment, corruption, police brutality, and general political disenfranchisement were hallmarks of Tunisia until a wave of public demonstrations, which began in December 2010, crested last week and carried Ben Ali out of the country. Given that Tunisia's problems are shared by most of the Middle East, Arabs in and outside the country have been generally ecstatic about how the revolution has renewed the prospect of widespread regional change.
David, a caller from Jersey City, said that the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" echoed the fall of communism in the late 1980s, but the character of this revolution was unprecedented in the Middle East.
In many ways it reminds me of the euphoria that people were feeling after communism in 1989, 1990. If maybe communism was the ideology, this sort of authoritarianism in the Arab world is the other ideology, and it's very refreshing. I feel like it's 1989 again...To finally watch a country in the region after so many decades of an authoritarian ruler, to finally have a movement that is also secular and, if I may say, also very much Western. And the values are different; this is not an Islamic revolution, thankfully.
Shafiq, calling from Secaucus, drew attention to the role that the internet played in organizing dissent.
I just want to recognize that this is the first cyber-revolution in history. Because of the crackdown of police in Tunisia, people couldn't do anything publicly. Everything was done by emails. We have to acknowledge that fact. It's a big lesson for Arab countries or any other people that are under a dictatorship. The internet is the new tool for freedom.
Osama, a caller from Paterson, said that something like the Jasmine Revolution was long overdue in the Arab world. He recommended that Middle East nations adopt some of the limits that Western countries set on their leaders, to guard against regimes claiming too much power in the future.
It's time, time for the Arabic leaders to wake up and stop dictating and being so selfish. It seems like when they become president, they take power and want to stay for 30, 40 years. I think there should be a term like we have in the United States. They become dictators and it's not fair for the people. The Middle East is not getting a fair break. The US should treat it a little bit better, then maybe relations will get better.
Sonia called from Westfield, but she and her family are originally from Tunisia. Her excitement was palpable, and although she was proud of her country's progress in the last month, she recognized that revolution was only the beginning.
I'm extremely happy. I can never tell you...I am about to cry right now because this is something huge for our country and for the Arab people. I was with my family two weeks ago in Tunisia for the holidays, and we were surprised. It was a country that was waiting to explode. People, they start talking, they are not scared anymore...Now what is leading is the people. People, they are tired from being dictated and now the government is scared of them. All these 23 years of dictatorship left a political void, and we need to work together to have a democratic country. It's not going to be easy, but we'll try our best to have it.