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The Middle East Channel

A middle-class revolution

In my numerous trips to Tunisia for Human Rights Watch since the mid-1990s, I grew weary of Tunisian dissidents telling me that at any moment the people would rise up in revolt against their autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Keep dreaming, I thought. This country was not ripe for revolution. Anyone who traveled throughout ...

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

In my numerous trips to Tunisia for Human Rights Watch since the mid-1990s, I grew weary of Tunisian dissidents telling me that at any moment the people would rise up in revolt against their autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Keep dreaming, I thought.

This country was not ripe for revolution. Anyone who traveled throughout the region could see that Tunisians enjoy a relatively high standard of living and quality of life. The country’s per capita income is almost double that of Morocco and Egypt. It’s higher than Algeria’s, even though Algeria has oil and its smaller neighbor to the east has almost none. Tunisia scores high in poverty reduction, literacy, education, population control, and women’s status. It built a middle-class society by hard work rather than by pumping oil from the ground; Tunisians export clothing, olive oil, and produce, and welcome hundreds of thousands of European tourists each year.

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