15 Jan 2011

Is Tunisia’s social revolution over?

There are tense new beginnings for Tunisia, and its Arab neighbours are nervous of how revolutionary feelings could spread. But what role did social media play?

A new dawn for Tunisia. And across its capital, the prospect of a new beginning is clouded by a nagging sense of fear.

Tanks and armoured cars have sealed off the Interior Ministry – the scene of yesterday’s uprising which forced President Ben Ali to flee abroad.

Some of the tanks were garlanded with flowers – the army is welcome here. But faced with this show of force, yesterday’s historic display of people power may be the last.

There was a poster of the ex-President here yesterday. Now it’s just a blank. Elections have been called for 60 days time – but nobody knows quite how this space will be filled.

Last night’s nationwide curfew proved impossible to enforce. Looters took to the streets. Police arrested some of them. But many of the police were loyal to the old regime and now its gone they have disappeared.

We visited a perfume shop that was robbed overnight – eyewitnesses told us the thieves then returned later to burn it.

Parts of the capital have been vandalised and there were reports of drive by shootings today.

Outside Tunis, three prisons were attacked with in one case more than 40 people burned to death.

The army has sealed off the parliament. Today it was announced that its speaker is now President. His name is Fouad Mbazaa, and he was sworn into office this morning. And tomorrow he will try to form a coalition.

Most shops in the capital have closed for fear of being attacked. And there are shortages of bread and petrol.

This afternoon, state television showed this gang of suspected looters who had been arrested. They were forced to the ground and what they had apparently stolen was on display. And the Prime Minister has called on Tunisians to come together to stop this.

We spoke to one lawyer, who was tear-gassed yesterday, who thinks the pro-democracy protests are now over.

But in a cafe, close to yesterdays uprising, jubilation jostles with fear – that hundreds of soldiers deployed in the capital will not restore order.

Tonight it has been reported that the former presidents head of security has been arrested. And that a purge of the ancien regime is under way.

But the motto surely of any revolution – be careful what you wish for.

Tunisia flag (Reuters)

Tunisia reaction

More than a thousand British tourists caught up in the Tunisian unrest have been flown home on emergency flights – many talking about the disturbances they witnessed as they left the country.

Britain, along with other western governments has called for free and fair elections – and today demonstrations have been taking place outside Tunisia’s embassies across Europe

Interview: Dr Noureddine Miladi

Joining us in the studio was Tunisian born academic Dr Noureddine Miladi.

He said that the protests represented a “wake up call” to all the other Arab nations in the region – Egypt, Algeria, Jordan.

“I think the Tunisian people have had their say, and they say it’s a social revolution.

“It came to the conclusion by the will of the Tunisian people”.

Dr Miladi says he believes that new media played a “vital” role in the uprising. He said attempts to close down the social networks in the last few weeks didn’t work because it was “too powerful”

“The government itself didn’t know the scale of the information that was being circulated or the power of the social networks in mobilising people, in exchanging information.

“Also the ability of these young people who are university graduates, they managed to break all forms of censorship because they managed to circulate information within the country and also get their voices heard on the international scale.”

“These university graduates have proved that they know what are they doing, that they have the power, that they know what democracy means, what freedom of expression means and the power of these social networks.”