Could the collapse of Tunisia’s autocratic government create a domino effect across the Arab world? The popular uprising witnessed throughout the country was a first in North Africa and some fear contagion across the region and even beyond with many of Tunisia’s neighbours also suffering similar economic problems.
Up until recently Arab states have proved remarkably resilient at stifling internal pressure to reform. But, like Tunisia, Algeria has been forced to respond to weeks of violent protests over unemployment, housing shortages, and high food prices. So far, authorities have been able to contain the unrest by cutting the cost on some basic food items.
In Yemen’s capital, Sanna, at the weekend, students also took to the streets in solidarity with the protests in Tunisia with many Yeminis sharing similar economic and political grievances.
“We have a message to all oppressors, we say: leave before you are forced out! Make concessions to the people before you have to offer it to them during your escape,” one protester in Yemen said.
While such a potential domino effect is impossible to predict, on the face of it, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan all face similar economic problems to Tunisia. They are also run by leaders or family dynasties often accused of lacking serious democratic credentials.
In Jordon, where the royal family has ruled for 60 years, opposition parties and unions seized on events in Tunisia. They took to the streets to protest against high prices and government repression.
For the moment, Libya and Syria appear immune to the discontent experienced by their neighbours. Nevertheless, events in Tunisia are likely to mean many Arab leaders will be weighing up whether they can keep a lid on dissent or have to finally start a slow process of reform.