Sunday’s Papers: Tunisia in Egypt

Tunisia dominates the front pages of Egyptian newspapers today. News updates and critical analyses of the collapse of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali’s regime takes the lion’s share of local press. Yet various dailies interpret the events in different ways. While the opposition and the privately-owned press rejoice at the ousting of the Tunisian president, government-owned papers offer flat news coverage that does not highlight the historical significance of the event, which may indeed put Tunisia on a democratic track after decades of authoritarian rule.

Al-Wafd leads with the compelling headline “The Tunisian people have won,” accompanied by a picture showing the thousands of protesters who took to the streets last week raising Tunisian flags and banners reading “Game Over.” The photo caption carries the same tone: “People’s outrage succeeded in toppling the Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali… Tunisia has been freed by the hands of its children.” The mouthpiece of the Wafd opposition liberal party dedicates a full page to answers from intellectuals and activists to the question “Can the Tunisian uprising be reproduced in other Arab countries?” The highlighted responses prove that the same scenario is likely to shake other dictatorships in the Arab world.

“If Arab rulers do not learn from this lesson, they will face the same fate as Ben Ali,” Judge Zakaria Abdel Aziz, one of the former regime's most prominent critics, tells Al-Wafd. Ahmed Mekki seconds him: “Tunisian events will encourage other Arab peoples.” For his part, Ali Al-Salmi, assistant-chairman of the Wafd party, is quoted as saying that the Tunisian uprising serves as “a warning message” to Arab regimes.

In contrast, the state-owned Al-Ahram highlights the chaos that followed the collapse of Ben Ali’s rule. Two pictures on its front page show incidents of looting and arson. One cannot help but suspect that this portrayal is intended to serve the interests of Egypt’s ruling regime, which would be expected to emphasize the ongoing violence in Tunisia as a warning to its own citizens against engaging in similar protests.

In the meantime, the semi-official press exerts maximum effort to argue against the likelihood of the Tunisian scenario recurring in other Arab countries. In his opinion column, Abdullah Kamal, editor-in-chief of Rose Al-Youssef daily, rules out the possibility that a similar uprising could topple other Arab presidents. He argues that there are no similarities between Ben Ali and other Arab regimes, contending that the exiled Tunisian president is only comparable to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. While many analysts hold that the Tunisian revolt could encourage the Egyptian opposition to oust President Hosni Mubarak, Kamal completely denies the validity of this argument. He holds that Ben Ali’s “idiocy” and his “police state” were the main reasons behind the collapse of his regime.

Meanwhile Amr Hamazawy discusses in the privately-owned Al-Shorouk the lessons that Arab rulers and publics should derive from the Tunisian experience. The uprising “reminds us that we should not undermine the ability of people crumbling under the might of authoritarian regimes to impose change through revolt and popular uprisings.”

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