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Terrorism & Security

Tunisian protests escalate, reflecting widespread discontent

Fourteen people were killed this weekend in protests that began last month and have broadened to include a wide cross-section of Tunisians upset about not only high unemployment, but inequality and autocratic leaders.

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"Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants," one cable from 2008 said.

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A cable from 2009 depicted the lavish mansion of Ben Ali's son-in-law and his wife, complete with an infinity pool, frozen yogurt flown in from Saint Tropez, and a caged pet tiger that consumes four chickens a day.

The US said Jan. 7 it had summoned the Tunisian ambassador in Washington to express concern over the unrest and Tunisia's crackdown on social media, according to the Associated Press.

A Le Monde interview with a member of the "Tunisian Pirate Party" referred to as "Sofiene" revealed a cat-and-mouse game between government censors and Internet freedom fighters and their foreign allies. Protesters are using Facebook mirror sites, proxy servers, and other means to outwit censors and get out their message, reported the French daily, an excerpt of which the Monitor translated for our non-francophone readers:

State censorship will increase, but counter-censorship is now strong. Tunisians are more and more informed, and demand information. Censorship only works if people self-censor and are afraid, or aren't interested in the news.

Today, that paradigm has changed. Unemployment was the main cause of protests, but the Tunisian people feel the need to free themselves, inform themselves and above all, decide their own future. They only thing that holds them back is fear.

But when one sees the symbols of courage of recent days – the self-immolation, those killed by bullets – and one realizes that we have our backs to the wall, the fear diminishes. People are protesting, daring finally to talk among themselves. And that, no censor can stop.

Gawker.com posted on how the hacker-activist group "Anonymous," which gained fame for its support of Wikileaks, has also declared info-war on Tunisia. Their antics so far have included defacing the Tunisian prime minister's website.

The Economist wrote that the current unrest was unlikely to oust Tunisia's leadership or change its political system, but could serve as a warning for Arab leaders who were increasingly "out of touch" with average citizens.

Prof. Alexander, the Tunisia expert, was also pessimistic that the current protests would lead to real change. "Another long, slow slide toward chaos could simply set the stage for another Ben Ali – another unelected president who seizes power at the top and changes little below it."

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