January 2021 will mark the tenth anniversary of the massive demonstrations in Tunisia that forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile. Those demonstrations started a chain of events that shook the Arab world and came to be known as the Arab Spring. I had the privilege of serving as the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia at the time; many of us at U.S. Embassy Tunis had also served previously in Cairo.
Egyptians like to refer to their country as Um al-Dunya, or “Mother of the World,” so it came as a surprise to all of us when Egypt (home to roughly a quarter of the Arabic-speaking world) followed in the footsteps of Tunisia (whose entire population was barely more than half that of Cairo) and ousted Hosni Mubarak the following month. Soon after, many other nations in the region began to follow suit.
The political transition to democracy in Tunisia has been relatively successful, with peaceful transitions of power following fair and free national elections. (The faltering economy is another story.)