President Mohamed Nasheed has spoken to the leader of the Tunisian opposition as ripples from the fall of its deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali spread throughout the Arab world.
Speaking to Moncef Marzouki over the phone, Nasheed expressed the hope that democracy, human rights and the rule of law would prevail.
He also condemned the use of violence against civilians during the protests, and the human rights abuses that were occurring in the country.
The government in Tunisia, previously regarded as one of the Middle East’s most stable democracies and a popular tourist destination, was overthrown after widespread protests and growing street violence eventually forced Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14 after 23 years in power.
In a surreal side note, Ben Ali’s wife reportedly retrieved US$60 million worth of gold in person from the country’s central bank before fleeing to the airport with her husband. The bank has denied the reports, leaked by French security officials.
The protests were sparked after Mohamed Bouazizi, a local fruitseller, set himself on fire when police confiscated his cart. That incident sparked a national uprising that led to almost 100 deaths in clashes with security forces, and the hasty departure of the President. The government has since issued an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in absentia.
The violence triggered a wave of regional instability, particularly in Egypt, where tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Tuesday in opposition to 29 years of strict rule by President Hosni Mubarak.
Three people were reported killed, including a policeman, while three more self-immolated in imitation of Bouazizi. Protests also erupted in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.
Regional analysts such as Robert Fisk have observed that Tunsia was widely feted by the West for the stability of its autocracy: “If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can’t it? The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a ‘friend’ of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists,” Fisk wrote in UK newspaper The Independent.
Meanwhile, further revelations from al-Jazeera’s publication of controversial documents detailing 10 years of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process include details of a secret crackdown on Hamas, orchestrated by British Intelligence and executed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The 2004 plans also reveal a high degree of security cooperation between Israel and Palestinian security forces, further heightening public anger in Palestine against the PA.