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Tunisia: That 'WikiLeaks Revolution' meme

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia is being driven by flesh and blood and conditions on the ground, not because WikiLeaks 'revealed' to Tunisians the real face of a government they'd lived with their whole lives.

By Staff writer / January 15, 2011

1720 ET

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There's been a rather lot of, well, unsupported analysis on the internet seeking to attribute Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, which drove President Ben Ali from power yesteday, to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Uber blogger Andrew Sullivan writes: "This is a major, er, coup for Wikileaks and the transparency it promotes - especially against tyrants like Ben Ali." The theory goes that private US diplomatic cables from the Tunis embassy released via Wikileaks on December 7 revealed to Tunisians that Ben Ali was an authoritarian despot, that his family was supremely corrupt, and that life was crushingly hard for the Tunisian poor and unemployed, spurring them to take to the streets.

It goes without saying that Tunisians (thanks to the reader who pointed out my typos) were well aware of this and more, and that the spark for weeks of street protests and riots that rolled across Tunisia (and, indeed, are still rolling) was the suicide of a desperate young man in mid-December.

Exhibit A is a piece on the Foreign Policy website by Elizbeth Dickinson. She's careful to couch her claim by acknowledging that Tunisians understood the conditions they were living with, but yet ascribes an agency to the WikiLeak's cable that is, at best, both unproven and unsupported by what people on the ground in Tunis are saying.

"Tunisians didn't need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks -- food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink," Dickinson wrote.

Well, we might also ascribe what happened to the phases of the moon or to the recent revelation that astrology relies on really, really bad astronomy. Or we might not.

Ben Wedeman, probably the best TV reporter employed by an American channel (he works for CNN) when it comes to the Arab world, is in Tunis and had this to say about Ben Ali's stunning fall yesterday, the WikiLeaks theory, and the public fury that amounted to the first succesful Arab revolt in a long time: "No one I spoke to in Tunis today mentioned twitter, facebook or wikileaks. It's all about unemployment, corruption, oppression." (Monitor correspondent Kristen Chick in Cairo, who's still trying to get a flight to Tunis, writes this afternoon that countries like Egypt and Jordan are looking on nervously at events in the Maghreb.)


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