By Joan Brodsky Schur, Village Community School
Whatever the future holds for Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution will go down in history as the first blossom of the Arab Spring – a series of revolutionary uprisings that spread from tiny Tunisia, to giant Egypt and far beyond.
In Tunisia the Jasmine Revolution (so dubbed by the Western press) is known as the Sidi Bouzid Revolt, named after the hometown of Mohamed Bouazizi, the street vendor who immolated himself to protest his thwarted dreams of making even a meager living in Tunisia. Today the news media are focused on the bigger stories of Egypt, Libya and Syria, making if difficult to get updated information about Tunisia, “the little engine that could.” But Tunisia is still far from completing its revolution, and what happens down the line will determine whether historians will call the Jasmine Revolution a true revolution or not.
Having spent two weeks in Tunisia in the summer of 2010 on a GEEO educator’s tour of Tunisia, I was surprised that this seemingly calm country erupted in a massive protest movement just months after we left. What had our group missed about what we experienced there? In our perplexity we were apparently not alone; most news commentators were also surprised. Yet in retrospect, the signs that Tunisia could harbor a revolutionary movement were there.
European thinkers laid the theoretical framework for studying revolutions primarily in response to the French Revolution. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who first observed that people exhibited the most revolutionary fervor in regions of France where the quality of life was rising--not falling, as might be expected. Regarding the Jasmine Revolution, Fatma Bouvet de la Maisonneuve commented, “It’s no coincidence that the revolution first started in Tunisia, where we have a high level of education, a sizeable middle class and a greater degree of gender equality” (New York Times of February 22, 2011). Thus it was Tunisians--primed for a better life, but thwarted by their lack of political rights and economic prospects, and aware of their “relative deprivation” vis-à-vis the Europeans who flock to Tunisia’s beautiful Mediterranean coastline--who spearheaded the Arab spring.
The following lesson plan takes the definition of revolution as its starting point, and then asks the question: When can we decide whether or not the Sidi Bouzid revolt led to a successful revolution? By engaging students in ongoing assessments of unfolding events, they must not only “stay tuned” to what happens, but also make critical judgments about their meaning.
Distribute to the class or project the following two quotations:
“Revolutions entail not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power.”
“Few revolutionary situations have revolutionary outcomes.”
Tell students that the purpose of the lesson is for them to determine whether or not Tunisia has achieved a successful revolution, using the definition of sociologist Jeff Goodwin, or other definitions they research.
4. Ask students working alone, or in small groups, to use the Jasmine Revolution Timeline and their list of terms to fill in the chart. Share results and hold an open discussion to try to reach consensus on how these terms apply or do not apply to Tunisia.
5. As events unfold, ask students to update the timelines as well as their charts. For example, six months from now we might find that Tunisia’s revolution was aborted, stolen, or completed