Saturday, January 22, 2011

How a man setting fire to himself sparked an uprising in Tunisia

A relatively minor incident has become the catalyst for a wave of protests that may end the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Watching events in Tunisia over the past few days, I have been increasingly reminded of an event in 1989: the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Is the Tunisian dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, about to meet a similar fate?

After 22 years in power, Ceausescu's end came suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. It began when the government harassed an ethnic Hungarian priest over something he had said. Demonstrations broke out but the priest was soon forgotten: they rapidly turned into generalised protests against the Ceausescu regime. The Romanian public, to put it mildly, had had enough.

The riots and demonstrations that have swept through Tunisia during the past 10 days also began with a small incident. Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted "no for misery, no for unemployment", then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

On Friday, rioters in Menzel Bouzaiene set fire to police cars, a railway locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling party and a police station. After being attacked with Molotov cocktails, the police shot back, killing a teenage protester.

By Saturday, the protests had reached the capital, Tunis – and a second demonstration took place there yesterday.

Reporting of these events has been sparse, to say the least. The Tunisian press, of course, is strictly controlled and international news organisations have shown little interest: the "not many dead" syndrome, perhaps. But in the context of Tunisia they are momentous events. It's a police state, after all, where riots and demonstrations don't normally happen – and certainly not simultaneously in towns and cities up and down the country.

So, what we are seeing, firstly, is the failure of a system constructed by the regime over many years to prevent people from organising, communicating and agitating.

Secondly, we are seeing relatively large numbers of people casting off their fear of the regime. Despite the very real risk of arrest and torture, they are refusing to be intimidated.

Finally, we are seeing the breakdown of a long-standing devil's compact where, in return for submitting to life under a dictatorship, people's economic and welfare needs are supposedly taken care of by the state.

Officially, unemployment levels in Tunisia are around 13% though in reality they may be higher – especially among university graduates. According to one recent study, 25% of male graduates and 44% of female graduates in Sidi Bouzid are without jobs. In effect, they are victims of an educational system that has succeeded in providing them with qualifications that can't be used and expectations that can't be met.

The regime also seems to have overdone its trumpeting of Tunisia's economic progress. If those claims are true, people ask, what happened to the money? One answer they give is that it has gone into the pockets of the Ben Ali family and their associates.

"The First Lady," Dr Larbi Sadiki of Exeter university wrote the other day, "is almost the Philippines' Imelda Marcos incarnate. But instead of shoes, Madame Leila collects villas, real estate and bank accounts". Then there's the president's son-in-law and possible successor, Mohamed Sakhr el-Matri whose OTT lifestyle and business interests were eloquently described, courtesy of WikiLeaks, by the US ambassador.

The defining moment in the Romanian revolution came when President Ceausescu and his wife held a rally – televised live – to drum up support. But instead of cheering as they had always done before, the crowd booed and heckled. Visibly stunned, the Ceausescus disappeared inside the building and the whole country knew their game was up.

President Ben Ali has so far avoided that mistake and continues to be extolled by the official media. But there was a telling straw in the wind when his Constitutional Democratic Rally party called a meeting in Sidi Bouzid last week. "The meeting, which was supposed to deliver a strong political message and calm things down, was feeble," one journalist was quoted as saying. In the event, very few party members turned up

The regime's claim that (unspecified) sinister forces lie behind the riots and demonstrations also sounds half-hearted. By hastily finding $15m (£10m) in economic aid for Sidi Bouzid it has, after all, acknowledged that the protesters have a point.

The crucial question is what members of the security forces, members of the ruling party and government officials – all those who have helped to keep the Ben Ali show on the road for the past 23 years – really think. How many of them have family members among the unemployed? And, more important, how many really believe Ben Ali is the man to lead the country out of its problems?

Most Arab regimes rely on patronage networks to keep themselves in power but Ben Ali's support base looks comparatively small and increasingly fragile, as the US ambassador noted last year in one of the WikiLeaks documents. He described a regime that has lost touch with the people, a regime that tolerates no advice or criticism and whose corruption has become so blatant that "even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it".

Ben Ali may try to cling on, but his regime now has a fin de si├Ęcle air about it. He came to power in 1987 by declaring President Bourguiba unfit for office. It's probably just a matter of time before someone else delivers that same message to Ben Ali.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



Isu pelantikan Khusrin sebagai SUK Selangor melambangkan betapa primitifnya Umno BN berpolitik. Sabotaj Kerajaan Pakatan adalah ajenda dan kerja utama Umno sejak beberapa Kerajaan Negeri jatuh ke tangan Pakatan dalam pilihan raya umum yang lalu.

Apabila Khusrin dilantik melalui kaedah pelantikan yang bertentangan dengan semangat dan roh federalisme yang merupakan ciri asas Perlembagaan Negara jelas sekali ketagihan Umno mencabul Perlembagaan sudah tidak dapat dirawat lagi.

Rakyat masih tidak lupa kerakusan kuasa Umno “merogol” bergilir-gilir Perlembagaan di Perak. Bagi menjustifikasi kudeta ( rampasan kuasa ) yang Umno lakukan di Perak , Umno membunuh doktrin “trias politica” ( pengasingan kuasa ) , doktrin raja berperlembagaan dan pemakaian konvesyen Perlembagaan iaitu Menteri Besar dan kabinetnya seharusnya dijatuhkan melalui undi tidak percaya. Adakah Umno fikir rakyat masih lupa bagaimana Umno mengganyang Speaker Perak yang sah, menyalahgunakan polis dan SPRM bagi mewujudkan ketakutan kepada Adun-Adun Pakatan di Perak dan akhirnya memanipulasi sistem kehakiman yang sudah hancur bagi mengiyakan segala “dosa” yang Umno lakukan ke atas Kerajaan Pakatan .

Jika Umno tidak ada niat untuk mensabotaj Kerajaan Pakatan di Selangor mengapakah Umno menyalahgunakan Ketua Setiausaha Negara ( yang malangnya sedia disalahgunakan ) bagi melantik Khusrin sebagai SUK Selangor.

Umno penuh sedar Khusrin telah banyak melakukan perkara yang dilihat menentang dan mencabar secara terbuka polisi Kerajaan Selangor. JAIS yang pernah dikepalai oleh Khusrin banyak melakukan tindakan-tindakan yang menyusahkan Kerajaan Selangor. Bukankan Khusrin yang telah gagal memberi nasihat dan pandangannya yang betul kepada Sultan Selangor dalam isu Ahli Parlimen DAP Serdang yang hadir di dalam Surau Al-Huda, Kajang kerana menghulurkan bantuan. Adakah Umno ingat rakyat masih lupa dengan kata-kata Khusrin bahawa “ Teo Nie Ching tidak boleh masuk ke dalam masjid kerana berhadas besar” sedangkan Nabi Muhammad sendiri membenarkan orang-orang Kristian Najran bersembahyang ( cara mereka ) di Masjid Nabi .

Adakah Umno ingat rakyat masih lupa bahawa Khusrin tidak langsung bersuara jauh sekali menggunakan “fatwa hadas besarnya” kepada Ahli Parlimen MIC dari Hulu Selangor P.Kamalanathan yang juga bukan beragama Islam apabila Ahli Parlimen tersebut berada di dalam masjid Sungai Tengi Selatan, Hulu Selangor bersama-sama Adun Umno bagi memberikan replica cek .

Adakah Umno ingat rakyat sudah lupa Khusrin adalah individu yang bersungguh-sungguh melarang tokoh-tokoh ilmuan dalam Pas seperti Tuan Guru Nik Aziz dan Tuan Guru Haji Hadi menyampaikan kuliah dan khutbah di masjid –masjid dan surau-surau di Selangor tetapi dalam masa yang sama berkempen kepada Nazir Masjid Al-Ihsan , Kampun Medan supaya membenarkan permintaan Umno untuk mengundang Presiden Umno, Najib Tun Razak berceramah di Masjid tersebut

Umno sudah tentu tahu bahawa dalam mana sistem demokrasi berparlimen ala Westminster menjadi satu prinsip yang diterima pakai secara sejagat bahawa seorang Ketua Setiausaha sama ada di peringkat pusat atau di peringkat negeri bertanggungjawab berkhidmat dengan Kerajaan semasa ( government of the day ) dengan jujur dan setia. Tidak perlu diiingatkan SUK di Negeri Selangor mestilah seorang yang bersedia secara jujur dan penuh taat setia memastikan dasar Kerajaan Pakatan di Selangor dapat dilaksanakan dengan lancar dan licin. Dengan lain perkataan SUK tersebut mestilah individu yang tidak membuat tindakan yang dilihat bertentangan dengan polisi Kerajaan Pakatan.

Bertolak dari situ , menjadi satu konvesyen Perlembagaan ( constitutional convention ) mana-mana Kerajaan Negeri di Negara ini mestilah mempunyai suara dan wajar dirunding sebelum seorang SUK ingin dilantik di Selangor . Sudah tentu mana-mana Kerajaan Negeri termasuk Selangor tidak akan mahukan SUK yang dilantik adalah individu yang mempunyai track record yang buruk kepada Kerajaan Negeri yang berkenaan. Khusrin adalah seorang kakitangan awam di Negeri Selangor yang secara jelas termasuk dalam kategori individu yang tidak dapat dan tidak bersedia melaksanakan polisi Kerajaan Pakatan di Selangor. Tagline 'khusrin anti Pakatan dan pro Umno/BN ' terpampang di dahi Khusrin.

Khusrin bukan sahaja tidak boleh diharapkan untuk melaksanakan polisi Kerajaan Selangor sebaliknya beliau telah dibuktikan secara terbuka menentang , mensabotaj dan memburukkan imej Kerajaan Selangor dengan tindakan-tindakannya yang saya telah nyatakan sebelum ini. Mungkin Khusrin sesuai berkhidmat sebagai SUK jika Kerajaan Selangor masih diterajui oleh Kerajaan bobrok Umno tetapi beliau amat tidak layak untuk berkhidmat dengan Kerajaan Pakatan yang berpegang kepada paradigma politik yang baru.

Memanglah seorang SUK pada prinsip umumnya harus bersifat berkecuali dan “apolitical” ( tidak menyebelahi ). Dengan lain perkataan seorang SUK tanpa mengira parti mana pun memerintah mesti bersedia menjalankan tugasnya membantu menjayakan misi dan visi kerajaaan yang beliau bertugas di bawahnya. Adakah ada orang yang sihat pemikirannya boleh percaya Khusrin akan bersedia menjalankan tugasnya membantu menjayakan misi dan visi Kerajaaan Pakatan di Selangor.

Mungkin ada yang berhujah kenapakah tidak diberi peluang Khusrin terlebih dahulu menjalankan tugasnya sebagai SUK Selangor . Ini hujah yang agak menarik tapi penuh dengan racun. Hakikatnya hujah ini meminta Kerajaan Selangor memberi peluang Khusrin meranapkan Kerajaan Pakatan di Selangor. Menerima hujah ini samalah ibaratnya memberi peluang kucing menjalankan tugas menjaga ikan. Kalau ikan tidak dimamah sehingga hancur itu bukan namanya kucing !

Hakikatnya Khusrin sudah pun diberi peluang berkhidmat di dalam Kerajaan Pakatan di Selangor sebagai Pengarah JAIS walaupun tidak mempunyai kelayakan tinggi dalam bidang agama bagi memegang jawatan tersebut. Adakah sikap dan tindakan Pengarah JAIS di bawah Kerajaan Umno di Selangor yang banyak menggangu autonomi masjid berbeza selepas Kerajaaan Pakatan memerintah Selangor ? Bukankah Exco Agama Selangor pun diketepikan oleh Khusrin dalam banyak tindakan beliau ?