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Tunisian protests escalate, reflecting widespread discontent

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"The police opened fire in legitimate self-defense, and this led to two dead and eight wounded, as well as several wounded among police, three of them seriously," a Tunisian Interior Ministry statement said, according to Al Jazeera.

In a recent commentary for Foreign Policy, Christopher Alexander – political science professor and author of "Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb," said Tunisians had long put up with the autocratic regime of President Ben Ali because he offered stability and growth.

Authoritarian rule was the price they paid for stability that could attract tourists and investors. Ben Ali was an effective, if uncharismatic, technocratic who beat back the Islamists, generated growth, and saved the country from the unrest that plagued Algeria.

Over the last five years, however, the fabric of Ben Ali's authoritarianism has frayed. Once it became clear that the Islamists no longer posed a serious threat, many Tunisians became less willing to accept the government's heavy-handedness.

US State Department cables published by Wikileaks last month may have thrown fuel on the fire, by showing that US diplomats privately hold similar opinions of Tunisia's leadership as many Tunisians.

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