01/18/2011 12:55 pm ET Updated 6 days ago

Tunisians Topple Tyranny: Revolution Has "Electrified People Across the Arab World"

Tunisia has announced an interim national unity government days after a popular revolt ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In what's been called the first Middle East revolution since 1979, Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Friday after a month of unprecedented protests. Thousands took to the streets to rally against unemployment, high food prices, corruption and state repression. At least 80 people were killed by government forces attempting to repress the demonstrations. On Monday, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced members of opposition parties would hold government positions for the first time. Democracy Now! spoke with four people about the Tunisian revolution.

Tunisia "has electrified people across the Arab world," says Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times based in Baghdad and Beirut. "Mainly for that prospect of change, that change can actually occur in a lot of countries that seem almost ossified at this point."

Fares Mabrouk, a Tunisian opposition activist, was interviewed via Skype from the capital city Tunis. "Is democracy possible in the Arab world? Tunisians from all around Tunisia are saying 'Yes!'," Mabrouk said. He also noted how social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, played a major role in organizing the revolution. He outlines the three stages that the Tunisian revolution must achieve in order for it to be successful.

"This is the first popular revolution since 1979," said Juan Cole, a history professor and author at the University of Michigan. "This revolution was spearheaded by labor movements, internet activists, by rural workers. It's a populist revolution, and not particularly dominated in any way by Islamic themes, it seems to be a largely secular development."

Independent political analyst and writer Issandr El Amrani, who is based in Cairo, said, "What's happening in Tunisia is having an electrifying effect, not only in Egypt, but throughout the Arab world." He runs the popular blog "The first lesson from Tunisia is that revolution is possible. You have to remember that there hasn't been anything like this in the Arab world for decades. ... And a lot of people would have said that Tunisia would have been the last country where it would happen, because it was such a tightly policed state. And this is what a lot of people have felt we needed. There's been protests in Egypt for the last five years now. But this could really give a sense that change is a real possibility. It could really drive away some of the cynicism that's dominated a lot of--even in activist circles, about the impossibility of change, of democracy."

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