Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Ali’

Mohamed Bouazizi’s Legacy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2011

A year ago today the young Tunisian itinerant fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself outside the municipal offices in the southern town of Sidi Bou Zid. He had reached the end of his tether after months of harassment and humiliation at the hands of the police and the authorities; little could he know that his act would trigger the undiginfied departure into exile of longstanding President Ben Ali and the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring (which I prefer to refer to as the New Arab Awakening). A year on, the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen have gone and Syria’s President Assad is under threat. But the democratisaton process has been neither as swift nor as smooth as that which happened in central and eastern Europe 22 years ago. People are still losing their lives, not only in the worsening civil war in Syria, but also in ongoing incidents in Egypt, notably. It is still far from clear whether Egypt’s Revolution will lead to what many of the liberal-minded demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo hoped for. Moreover, minor disturbances or marches continue in other parts of the Arab world, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is not only dictatorial presidents who are potentially at risk now but also some hereditary monarchs. But even though Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice was an act of despair, as Tunisia today leads commemorations of the first anniversary of his self-immolation, there is hope that at least in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa we are seeing the dawn of greater respect for the aspirations of ordinary people and for human rights.

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The Bell Tolls for Dictators

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd August, 2011

Like many bloggers and tweeters I stayed up late last night, transfixed by the scenes in Tripoli, where the National Liberation Army (as I prefer to call it) penetrated neighbourhoods of the city, including the iconic Green Square, which was immediately renamed Martyrs’ Square. At least two of Mouammar Gaddafi’s sons have been captured and it can only be a matter of time before Gaddafi himself is cornered. Will he do a Hitler and shoot himself, or arrange things so that he gets killed? Or will the cause of justice be served by him and some of his closest associates being taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It’s staggering to think how fast events have moved since the impoverished Tunisian fruit-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself last December. The Tunisian President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s President Mubarak was forced to resign and is now on trial, Yemen’s President Saleh was seriously injured in clashes during the uprising to oust him and remains in hospital in Saudi Arabia — which has a reputation now as the retirement home for dictators, beginning with Uganda’s Idi Amin. And now Gaddafi’s day of judgement is nigh. To remind ourselves of the speed and significance of these events, just take a look at the photo here of the four dictators looking so pleased with themselves at an African Union Summit last year. And next? Syria, inshallah.

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Self-Immolation

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd January, 2011

Hardly a day goes by in these febrile times than somebody sets fire to themselves in an act of protest or desperation, sometimes fatally, sometimes not. Either way, it’s a drastic step to take. In the case of Mohammed Bouazizi, the youth from Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, who set himself alight after police stopped him selling fruit from his cart, the action helped precipitate the public protests that led to the exile of dictatorial President Ben Ali. Copy-cat self-immolation has occurred across North Africa and beyond sine then, though so far without such a dramatic outcome. Of course, the tactic is not new. When I was a journalist in Saigon, several Vietnamese monks torched themselves in the street in protest at the oppressive South Vietnamese regime and the civil war. Whatever the political consequences of such protest action, it comes at a terrible price. Even if the person who has set fire to themselves does not die, he or she is nearly always horribly disfigured and condemned to excruciating pain. It is a testimony to the anguish within that they can put themselves through such torment.

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