Why Tunisia Can But Iran Can’t

The surprising rapidity with which Tunisians unseated President Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali has been watched keenly in Iran, not least by the political opposition known as the Green Movement. 

As Iranian blogs and Facebook messages abound with the punning phrase, “Tounes tounes, Iran na-tounes” – meaning “Tunisia could, Iran couldn’t” – there has also been sober reflection on why this was the case; why the massive protests that followed the disputed presidential election of June 2009 came to nothing in the end.

At the same time as economic hardship sparked riots in Tunisia, Iran remained almost eerily calm in the wake of increases in the cost of fuel, bread, water, gas and other essentials, as the Ahmadinejad administration launched a programme of cuts to Iran’s large and costly system of subsidies. (See: .)

The Bolivian government began a similar subsidy-elimination programme at around at the same time as Iran, but was rapidly forced to retreat in the face of wide-scale protests.

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