The Bourgeois Roots of Tunisia’s Revolution

Unlike other African or Middle Eastern countries, post-independence Tunisia remained largely a land of free enterprise, allowing for some industrial development. As a result, a large middle class emerged, and it is this group that is driving what could turn out to be the Arab world’s first-ever “bourgeois” revolution.

PARIS – Tunisia, one of the Arab League’s 22 members, is in the throes of a severe and profound crisis, albeit possibly one with a favorable resolution. It is the smallest North African country, covering 163,000 square kilometers – more or less twice the size of Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg – and containing a population of 10.5 million.

It is also full of charm and moderation in terms of its climate, history, and culture. It once was the pillar of the cultural dynamism and influence of the Roman Republic and Empire. The first African region to be Christianized, it was the land of Saint Augustine and the main source for Catholic evangelism in Africa. Originally mainly Berber, it was conquered by the Arabs, Islamized, and became for centuries a dependency of the Sublime Porte, and therefore Turkish.

It became a French protectorate, not a colony – as in the case of neighboring Algeria – in the nineteenth century. That difference helps explain the relatively greater preservation of Tunisia’s social structures and local traditions.

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