The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Why you shouldn't call it the "Jasmine Revolution"

It's not exactly the most important thing about what's going in Tunisia right now, but on Twitter and elsewhere you see a lot of people complaining about media reporting on Tunisia describing the recent events there as a "Twitter Revolution" or even a "Wikipedia revolution" — it just really seems to make people angry. I don't think these are accurate terms, but I am more concerned — as are many Tunisians — about the enthusiasm for the name "Jasmine Revolution," which has become ubiquitous in much of the international media. 

There are several reasons this term should not be used. There's nothing wrong in flower revolutions in themselves — the term derives from the very honorable end of the fascist regime in Portugal on 25 April 1974, dubbed the Carnation Revolution. But it unfortunately echoes more recent divisive terms, notably Lebanon's 2005 Cedar Revolution, which is associated with March 14 and US propaganda by a good part of Arab (and other) opinion. Personally, I loved the Syrian pullout out of Lebanon (and its alternative name, more common in Arabic, "Independence Intifada") — but, at the same time, so much spin was put on what was not really a revolution anyway. The term is now poisoned with Lebanon's divisive politics.

Furthermore, in Lebanon — as in Georgia's Revolution of the Roses and Ukraine's Orange Revolution —you also had events that, as positive as they may have been,  are closely intertwined with Bush administration policies, making the flower revolution concept even more divisive. What I'm hearing from Tunisians these days is, "don't you go branding our revolution." For me, that's reason enough to stay away from the term.

But there's another reason to stay away from "Jasmine Revolution." It was the term that deposed President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in 1987 to describe his own takeover, in those initial years of his reign that offered some hope for a democratic transition. To reuse Ben Ali's propaganda phrase at this point seems perverse — whereas something like the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, marking ground zero of the movement that led to the dictator's downfall, seems so much more appropriate.

Update: Qifa Nakbi points out that Josh Landis used the term Jasmine Revolution to describe moves towards reform in Syria in 2005.