The Arab spring lexicon: Tunisian revolution downgraded from revolution to turning point by way of uprising

The Tunisian Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, speaking in Berlin this week, called the events that led to former dictator Ben Ali’s departure a “turning point” – further changing the Tunisian lexicon.

What began as a revolution in Tunisia was eventually downgraded to an uprising by many Tunisian and Arab commentators. The Guardian reported that “Tunisia hovers between uprising and revolution.” Tunisian and foreign bloggers also jumped on the term revolution – with so many state actors still in place, how could it be a true revolution?

A french blogger sums it up:

To speak of popular uprising rather than revolution is a way to emphasize that the recent events in Tunisia did not abolish the Ben Ali system. They swept away the autocrat and his closest network [of family and friends], but the entire edifice on which rested its hegemony is still in place.

According to Islamist and scholar Tariq Ramadan:

No “springtime” has come; no revolution has taken place, as I have insisted ever since the very first uprisings….

…Uprisings need clear regional and international objectives in order to become revolutions. For the time-being, the United States, Europe and Israel – like China, Russia and India – are protecting their own interests, both openly and behind the scenes.

Were the Arab world to lose hope in the wake of its failed uprisings, the great powers would have lost nothing. To succeed, the revolutions of today demand nothing less than an Arab consciousness, which only the people of the region can express. If, and only if, they do not abandon the struggle.

Prime Minister Jebali seems to be further refining the terminology, downgraded from an uprising to a mere “turning point.” The continuity between past and present is assured.

Of course, whether you choose revolution, uprising, or turning point, it’s nothing compared to many Tunisians, who insist on calling it a coup d’etat. This report by France 24 explains how many Tunisian and French analysts (and the public at large), think that the departure of Ben Ali was orchestrated by the American military. Under this theory, while there was a popular uprising, there could not have been a revolution – because an outside force was the principle actor responsible for the dictator’s departure. I suppose you could call it a turning point as well.

The lexicological debate over Tunisia’s “revolution” mirrors the very public debate in the West over the term Arab Spring. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper in the States without some mention of the Arab Spring actually being and Arab Winter.

For one term, however, there is no debate. While Tunisians argue over whether it was an uprising, revolution, turning point, or coup d’etat – everyone knows it wasn’t jasmine.

Perhaps in the end the events in Tunisia last year will be known like the French or American national days, by its calendar date – January 14, 201. How does translate to the Islamic calendar?

[On a personal note: In my writings I initially referred to the overthrow as a revolution, but quickly changed course and have been (mostly) consistent in calling it an uprising.]


2 thoughts on “The Arab spring lexicon: Tunisian revolution downgraded from revolution to turning point by way of uprising

    • That’s a very interesting post, especially trying to think of what geological formation to compare Tunisia with. 🙂

      It’s also interesting that Ennahdha is downplaying what could have been its “revolutionary” card.

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