Seeing Wikileaks in Tunisia's Presidential Protests
BY Nancy Scola | Friday, January 14 2011
Over on Foreign Policy's Wikileaked blog, which has been tracking the repercussions of the leak of the State Department cables, Elizabeth Dickerson looks at the possibility that the ruling class of Tunisia's portrayal in the Wikileaks cables as sticky-fingered and power-clinging might be contributing energy to the protests in the streets of Tunisia set on overthrowing President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Has the time come to brand it a "Wikileaks revolution"?:
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."
Of course, Tunisians didn't need anyone to tell them this. But the details noted in the cables -- for example, the fact that the first lady may have made massive profits off a private school -- stirred things up. Matters got worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists on social networking sites.
It's one thing to think your government's a corrupt mess. It's another thing to see it in print in the internal documents of a world power. Wikileaks might not have produced any smoking guns (at least not yet), but you can make the argument that it's shaping the context in and around Tunisia's situation in a way that might even be more lasting. Tunisia was one of the first places to have a zoomed-in version of Wikileaks for its own cables, over at TuniLeaks.
Meanwhile, Ethan Zuckerman is continuing to wonder why the English-speaking Twitter world, at least, doesn't seem to be paying much attention to what's been happening in Tunisia for several weeks now -- at least not nearly the level of interest that flared up around Iran's anti-government "green revolution" protests in the summer of 2009. And that, despite the fact, argues Ethan, that there seems to be more actual legitimacy to the idea that social media is being used to help drive the uprising here.