Tunisia: Bye-Bye to a Ruthless Dictator

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Dickey

He was the minor dictator of a minor North African nation that's best known for exporting workers and courting low-rent tourists. But when Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled his country on Friday, after more than 23 years of ruthlessly clenching power, the Arab world was swept by the kind of excitement that augurs epochal change. From Morocco to Egypt to Jordan and beyond, the news raced through the Internet and between cell phones, hitting these long-oppressed societies in a way that recalled the impact the fall of the Berlin Wall had on the shaky dictatorships of the decrepit Soviet empire in 1989.

The riots that toppled Ben Ali sent chills through neighboring Arab regimes: Tunisia's core problems are common to just about every country in the region--a growing population of young people who are at once educated and ambitious, unemployed and frustrated, muzzled and resentful. On Thursday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded an audience in Qatar that "a growing majority" of the people in the region are under 30. …