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Tunisia is a small Muslim country in North Africa located between Libya and Algeria founded in 1956 after a long period of colonial rule by the French. Its first president, Habib Bourguiba, ruled for 31 years and made Tunisia into a largely open and comparatively free society. In 1987, Zine El Adibene Ben Ali took control in a bloodless coup. He was largely seen as running a police state. With rising unemployment and governmental corruption, the Tunisian people took to the streets in rioting with eventually led to the overthrow of the ruling Tunisian government.
The riots were sparked by the suicide of a man named Muhammad Bouazizi who took his own life after being unable to find a job and denied a simple permit to sell fruit. Bouazizi publicly light himself on fire in a sign of protest against the government. The rioters and protestors used social media sites such as Twitter to organize. Some internet activists that go under the blanket name “Anonymous” assisted by launching denial of service attacks against the government websites of the Tunisian government. On January 14th, President Ben Ali was forced to step down as President. By January 15th, 2011 Tunisia had installed a new President Fouad Mebazaa who immediately called for the creation of a unity government that would include the opposition, which had been ignored under the rule of Zine El Adibine Ben Ali. Ben Ali was forced to flee the country from Saudi Arabia. There continues to be violence and clashes in the streets. Soldiers exchanged gunfire shortly after Mebazaa’s swearing in.
The US government has offered support to the new government of Tunisia to assist in transferring from the autocratic rule of a dictator to the democratic representation desired by the Tunisian people. Secretary of State Clinton was encouraged by the remarks of the new leaders and urged the government to quickly re-establish order. In his State of the Union address, President Obama noted that the American people stand with the people of Tunisia and their desire for self-rule. He stated the US stands on the side of all those wishing freedom and democracy.