The first part of the answer is that what’s happening in Tunisia so far amounts to a revolt and not a revolution. The Jasmine Revolt (so called after the country’s national flower) has shaken the regime of President Ben Ali but not brought it down. The government hasn’t lost its nerve and remains in control of the streets. The President’s concessionary speech last night bought him some time.
But that isn’t really Zuckerman’s point: he’s worried that fewer people are following what’s happening in Tunisia than followed events in Iran in June 2009. Here are a few reasons for the difference:
- The difference in excitement levels is largely confined to America. There is a huge Iranian diaspora in the US and that helped to spread new of what was happening in Tehran (also less than a revolution) very fast.
- Tunisia has always belonged to the French-speaking world and not the Anglo-Saxon. The French mainstream media have covered the story.
- It’s a big story in the Middle East. I’m writing from Dubai, where the story is on the front pages and satellite channels day after day. Even in the more circumspect newspapers of Saudi Arabia (where I’ve just been), it’s still a big item.
- Working as a foreign correspondent in Tunisia is more difficult and dangerous than often supposed. As Bassam Bounenni recalls, “in 2005, on the eve of the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis, Christophe Boltanski, a reporter with the French daily Libération, was beaten and stabbed. His colleague, Florence Beaugé, from Le Monde, was luckier because she was only stopped at the Tunis airport and expelled from the country hours before the 2009 presidential election.”
- Tunisia is smaller and geopolitically less significant than Iran.
- The early days of the the Tunisian disturbances fell into the news twilight of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
- There is no Tunisian equivalent of the left’s bad conscience about Iran. When the ayatollahs took over in Iran in 1979, they were greeted in Europe and America by panegyrics from progressive opinion which look truly embarassing to read now that we know what an Islamic clerical dictatorship actually looks like. Some guilt still persists and helps to fuel interest and concern about Iran.