Even yesterday, it would have been too much to say that blogger, tweeters, Facebook users, Anonymous, and Wikileaks had “brought down” the Tunisian government, but with today’s news that the country’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has fled the country, it becomes a more plausible claim to make.
Of course there was more to such demonstrations than some new technology. An individual act of desperation set off the last month of rioting, as a college-educated young man set himself on fire after police confiscated his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart. Tunisia’s high unemployment rate, rampant corruption, and rising food prices added to the anger at Ben Ali’s 20+ year rule.
People risked their lives in the street, with some getting a bullet for their troubles, but the Internet played a significant role in organizing these protests and in disseminating news and pictures of them to the world.
After the worst unrest in his reign, Ben Ali this week promised not to run for “election” again and to give the country a free press and the right to assemble. He fired his cabinet. It wasn’t enough; protestors sensed weakness and today they forced Ben Ali from Tunisia, fleeing ignominiously with his family for any state that would have him.
Here’s a guide to the part of this battle fought in cyberspace over the last month.