Africa: Democratic Revolutions in North Africa – An Analysis

Published on allAfrica, by Dimitris Papanikolopoulos, December 15, 2011.


After the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the subsequent lack of an economic and political antagonistic model, the western peoples’capacity to effectively challenge their native ruling elites deteriorated to a substantial degree. So did the capacity of the ruling elites in the Arab countries to exploit the competition between two Great Powers in the name of an independent policy. Since the communist threat disappeared, the ruling elites in both the Arab and the Western World searched for its new equivalent and they found it in the Islamic fundamentalist movement. 

The expansion of neoliberal policies across the world was based on the capital’s ability to abandon western developed countries for the non-democratic developing ones, where workers weren’t able to protest that easily to demand better wages and labor rights. In the past, the extreme exploitation of workers in non-democratic countries could diminish the workers’ exploitation in western developed – and in part, exactly because of this reality – democratic countries. Today, in contrast, the capital’s capacity to exploit workers in countries in development has brought about a systemic blackmail upon their western counterparts, in order for the latter to accept their increasing exploitation … //

… Just as in Heraclitus logic ‘one can both descend and ascend the very same path’, the same applies in Tilly’s conclusion: That democratisation and de-democratisation are potential outcomes of the very same political process.[3] In this sense, democracy and dictatorship are not separated by any great walls, since nowadays we notice de-democratisation processes occurring in typically democratic regimes and democratisation processes in typically dictatorial regimes. Therefore, democracy bears a big stake and can never be considered as a secured acquisition.


The democratisation process is a complex one not only in the Arab countries, but almost everywhere. The analysis of this process is something that exceeds the ambitions of this article. However, since the latter would have never been written if Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions had not occurred, I’m going to attempt to analyse the radicalisation process that took place on 14 January in Tunisia and 25 January in Egypt and turned two initially small demonstrations into key-revolutions for the democratic struggle all over the world. For this reason, I will set the issue in comparative perspective and I’ll attempt to recognise the causal mechanisms behind the radicalisation process following the theoretical and methodological framework that Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow and Doug Mc Adam introduced in the social movement research field.[4] But firstly lets focus on the empirical data.

Dhekra Haouashi, an activist who participated in the events of 14 January in Tunis, described them in a public statement[5] in the following way:

‘On January 14th a general strike had been arranged in Tunis. [...] The city was empty. Police was absent. For the first time we weren’t surrounded by thousands of policemen. [...] For the first time after December 17th there were TV cameras and we could give interviews to the journalists. [...] 200 activists who had gathered from 7am started shouting slogans. ‘Work, Freedom, Dignity’, ‘Down with the DCR’. [...] People from the poor neighborhoods of Tunis started joining the movement. In a couple of hours 500-600 protesters had already gathered. We decided to march via Habib Bourguiba. We had nothing. Neither flags nor loudspeakers nor means to defend ourselves [...]. In the first turn police blocked the street. We were wondering if the policemen would shoot at the crowd as they did in the past, but the presence of foreign media gave them little chance. We had no illusions, but it was difficult then to go back. [...] We gathered once again in order to break the blockade. We achieve this hard but quickly.

No one could stop us. Police attempted to disperse our demonstration. But in 10 minutes the number of protesters had been doubled and we were then about 1000 protestors in Habib Bourguiba. We were marching toward the Interior Ministry which was the symbol of the dictatorial regime and police oppression. [...] Since we arrived [...] we didn’t stop shouting our slogan ‘Ben Ali step down’. Hour after hour the crowd was increasing and we couldn’t believe it. Cops in civilian clothes were waiting in the side streets totally infuriated. At 1 pm we were 50.000 people from all the districts and closer cities demanding for the dictator to go. We had realised that it was over, so we were determined to stay until he leaves the country.

The willingness for the sit-in was a given. At 2 pm the funeral of a martyr who was killed a day before was passing by that place. Then the police decided to attack without any warning. Protestors were so crammed that couldn’t breathe. The [violent] reaction of the people, who were afraid that the police was shooting upon us, led to the death of one or more. A lot of tear gas thrown on our back pushed the crowd further. Tunisians are not experienced in demonstrating, so they started fleeing. However, they regrouped quickly. The repression of this demonstration included extreme violence. [...] But the dictator had already fled the country and we could continue our struggle with much more hope’. (full long text).

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