Last Friday, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia after 23 years as president. He was driven out of the country by the cumulative pressure of a month of protests, sparked by a young man's economic despair and subsequent self-immolation. Much of the reporting on the demonstrations has emphasized Tunisians' economic grievances: unemployment, inflation, and the high cost of living.
But material difficulties were not the central driver in pushing Ben Ali from power. After all, economically motivated riots broke out in Tunisia in the early 1980s but did not bring down the government of then President Habib Bourguiba. And Ben Ali's promises in the middle of the most recent unrest to boost employment and cut the prices of basic goods could not stop the momentum of the protests.
On a more fundamental level, Tunisians are protesting dictatorship. They have had just two presidents since the country's independence from France in 1956. The
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