Could Tunisia Revolt Lead To Democratic Revolution?

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The Saudi blogosphere celebrated online when Tunisia's street power ousted a repressive regime. Saudi bloggers, some of the most active in the Middle East, played a role in sending out news and videos of the events in Tunis. Their joy turned to anger when the former Tunisian president was given exile in Jeddah by the Saudi government.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

That popular revolution in Tunisia has been followed closely in the Arab world, where no one has seen anything like this before. And much of the information has circulated via social media.

The repercussions for the wider region are unpredictable, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from one of the most tightly controlled countries there, Saudi Arabia.

DEBORAH AMOS: As Saudis watch Tunisia's street protests force an unpopular ruler from office, many celebrated, mostly online. Demonstrations and public gatherings are banned here. But recently, social media postings on Facebook and Twitter reflect some measure of public opinion. Young Saudi bloggers provided non-stop coverage.

(Soundbite of cell phone video)

Unidentified Man: (Shouting in foreign language)

AMOS: This cell phone video was featured on a blog called Saudi Jeans. I don't know what's more amazing, wrote blogger Ahmed Omran: the man screaming Tunisia is free, or the women crying while shooting the video with her phone.

(Soundbite of cell phone video)

(Soundbite of woman crying)

AMOS: But celebration turned to anger when the Saudi government announced Tunisia's ousted president had been given refuge in the kingdom. And the heated debate on Saudi blogs was another indication that the anger that exploded in Tunisia was spreading, even into the repressed political landscape of Saudi Arabia.

(Soundbite of men talking in foreign language)

AMOS: Each week, this group of men gather to talk about politics. Most are activists, businessmen and academics. They're willing to speak publicly about human rights. And some have been jailed for that effort, but they say Tunisia has inspired them.

Matook Al Faleh, a political science professor, says the causes for rage and revolt are shared across the Arab world.

Professor MATOOK AL FALEH (Political Science): There is some kind of similarity - you know, for example, unemployment here, there is no participation here, no accountability for the government, all Arab countries.

AMOS: Faleh has created a Facebook page where he posts advice to Tunisians: don't kill people, use the courts to hold your leaders accountable.

With so much at stake, Faleh worries the Tunisian example could still go wrong with long-term chaos in the streets, revenge killings, or outside interference. Could a Tunisian-style revolt happen in Saudi Arabia or the other countries in the Gulf?

Prof. FALEH: Probably things in the Gulf area would take some time.

AMOS: Still, there's no doubt Arab leaders have been unsettled by events celebrated on the streets and on the Web. These activists cite reports that in Kuwait, the government has awarded cash grants to its citizens. In Syria and Jordan, austerity plans have suddenly been reversed. Measures - everyone here says - have come about because of a popular uprising in Tunisia. This is something new and exciting, says Abdul Rathman Habeeb.

Mr. ABDUL RATHMAN HABEEB: Because we are looking for some good example. We don't have it. Since hundreds of years, we haven't yet had any good example here for society or for government, leaders or people.

AMOS: Habeeb hopes that the revolt in Tunisia will become a democratic revolution.

Mr. HABEEB: Most of us happy what happened there, but some of us, like me, we are so worried. We don't know what is going to be.

AMOS: You mean if it doesn't become a better ruled place than it was.

Mr. HABEEB: We are seeing now. We don't know. It's so difficult.

AMOS: Difficult because after all the celebrations, the street revolt is just the beginning of the story in Tunisia and in the Arab world.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Riyadh.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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