By Mary Jantsch
Class of 2013
SPOKANE, Wash. – Tunisia and Egypt have staged successful revolutions already in this new year and a third is under way in the Middle East as Libyan rebels mirror their example and fight to overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi. This phenomenon, fueled by social media, began in Tunisia. Ines Kayel, professor of modern languages at Gonzaga, grew up in Tunisia and offers her perspective on the revolutionary drama unfolding in the Middle East.
Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down Jan. 15, followed by the Feb. 11 ouster of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarek. This domino effect of falling dictators in the Middle East continues in Libya where the United States and United Nations-backed allies support the rebels.
Kayel, who came to Gonzaga in fall 2010 as a Fulbright scholar teaching Arabic, said she lived a fairly unrestricted life in Tunisia, but was keenly aware of governmental corruption.
“Democracy? There is no real democracy,” Kayel said. “They talk about democracy . . . the government has its ways so that people get distracted from anything political.” View video interview with Kayel below:
Kayel returned to Tunisia during the past winter break and noticed a difference in people’s political participation. She believes Tunisians generally are more united, although many citizens were likely unaware of injustices that spurred the revolt. She agrees with experts who assert social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have emboldened citizens and given them powerfully strategic organizing tools. Messages are compelling, convincing and changing how citizens interact with government worldwide. Inspiring people to engage politically has evolved enormously since Thomas Paine’s American Revolution pamphlet “Common Sense” in 1776.
“I think if Ben Ali was smart, he would have deleted Facebook,” Kayel said. “People were seeing things they’d never seen before and it upset them.”
Many governments have yet to determine how to limit citizens’ use of social media short of shutting down the Internet in their countries, Kayel said.
Supporting justice-seeking revolutions also draws the Gonzaga community in solidarity with the oppressed worldwide and fits Gonzaga’s mission that encourages us to draw “closer to the human family of which we are a part.”