Tag Archives: Revolution

The Case for the Non-Revolutionary Ownership of Guns

Gary North writes:

There are two main extremes in the debate over guns. The gun control people are basically worshippers of the state. They grovel before the image of the state. They believe in the state. They see the state as redemptive: an agency of healing. This agency must be armed, they say, in order to collect the money necessary to fund the state’s messianic claims and programs.

A state that can heal must be a state that can kill. The gun control crowd worships a state that can heal. So, they call for the abolition of private gun ownership. This is consistent.

At the other extreme is the private militia crowd. They think that the ownership of weapons is basic to conducting a new American Revolution. They think that that their ownership of weapons will in some way slow down the state. Some day, the People will take up arms against the state.

I reject both positions.

Here is reality. The ownership of guns is mostly symbolic most of the time. The gun as a symbol says this: the state is not God. The state is not finally sovereign. Citizens are sovereign under God, and they possess the right to bear arms as a mark of this sovereignty.

The defenders of the messianic state go ballistic in the face of this claim. They do not accept popular sovereignty. They accept state sovereignty. They accept the fact that voters can elect masters, but they do not accept the fact that citizens have a right to exercise the mark of sovereignty: to defend themselves by force of arms. The statists want the state to possess a strict monopoly over life and death. They understand the meaning of the symbol of the gun. They want guns and badges linked judicially: no badge–no gun.

The weekend militia people are dangerous. Why? Because they have a romantic view of bloodshed. They think that the modern state can be successfully resisted by force of individual arms. This leads to a suicide mentality. The suicide mentality is the heart of the matter, not gun ownership.

The correct goal is to wait for the federal government to go bankrupt before it bankrupts us. It will go bankrupt. It is not God. It cannot afford to implement its programs of healing.

Continue reading…

System Reset

After the last several incredible posts about shocking brutality, abuse of power, and civil unrest we cannot help but agree on many points with Simon Black below:

From SovereignMan.com:

Date: May 18, 2011
Reporting From: Santiago, Chile

Take a moment and conduct a mini thought experiment. Imagine that you’re from the future many hundreds of years from now, researching what life was like in the early 21st century. You pull up an archive of newspaper headlines from the year 2011 and read the following:

“US Congress To Vote On Declaration Of World War 3 — An Endless War With No Borders, No Clear Enemies”

“Blackwater hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together a secret force of foreign troops”

“10 killed in US drone attacks in northern Pakistan”

“US Officials Warn Terrorism Threat Remains Post-bin Laden”

“TSA Pat Down of Suspicious Baby Is No Big Deal”

“Treasury taps federal pensions as Uncle Sam hits debt ceiling”

“Fed chief Ben Bernanke says he’s not worried about inflation”

“Global Food Prices Hit New All Time High After 8 Consecutive Months Of Gains”

“Over-50s suffer a lifestyle crash: Millions less comfortable than a year ago”

“UK And US Data Shows Stagflation Threat Deepening”

“Greek riot police, protesters clash over austerity “

“IMF: Greece needs more austerity measures”

“IMF Chief no stranger to sexual assault allegations”

“Portugal on brink of bankruptcy”

“Contagion fears high as Italy drawn into crisis”

“Italian PM Berlusconi Faces Prostitution Trial in Italy”

To an observer who is not part of our time, it must all look like a really bad joke, like it just couldn’t possibly be true.  In the same way, we look back upon history and wonder with skepticism and incredulity how our long-lost ancestors have possibly allowed the Inquisition, the Dark Ages, genocide and slavery to occur.

We fancy ourselves so advanced and enlightened… but my guess is that history will view us in the same way that we see those unfortunate brutes of medieval times: misguided, misled, and totally self-deluded.

We might not be burning each other at the stake anymore, or waging war for king and conquest, but the metaphoric comparisons run truly deep. Moreover, our story today is a similar one: there is a very small group of people in power whose decisions affect the lives of billions of people. Those of us not in the elite ruling class allow it to happen.

Their choices drive up food prices, increase war and destruction, bankrupt entire economies, reduce standards of living, degrade social stability, and force everyday people into conditions that look more and more like a police state.

Simultaneously, this elite group uses its position to shower itself with privileges and benefits at everyone else’s expense: hard-core sex parties, handing out free money to their friends, not paying their taxes, hiring private armies to protect them from their own people, etc.

It’s positively disgusting… and I have to imagine that historians of the future will scratch their heads and wonder how we allowed ourselves to be duped into such a system.

Our leaders tell us that these troubles will pass… to sit down, shut up, be patient, and put our faith and confidence in their abilities to right the ship once again. Sounds great… but there’s just one problem. Nobody’s buying it anymore.

We’re in the beginning of a period where people are finally starting to wake up and smell the fraud… and even though the establishment is furiously rearranging the deck chairs and trying desperately to maintain the status quo, the great market singularity is beginning to take hold: that which is unsustainable will not be sustained.

Glance at those headlines one more time. This system is corrupt, perverse, and wholly unsustainable. It will reset. Reasonable, sentient human beings cannot live under such a yoke in the long run.

It’s difficult to say how it will happen, when it will finish, or what it will look like at the end, but rest assured, it’s already happening, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Until tomorrow,

Simon Black
Senior Editor, SovereignMan.co

Give Peaceful Resistance a Chance

from NYT:

THE rebellion in Libya stands out among the recent unrest in the Middle East for its widespread violence: unlike the protesters in Tunisia or Egypt, those in Libya quickly gave up pursuing nonviolent change and became an armed rebellion.

And while the fighting in Libya is far from over, it’s not too early to ask a critical question: which is more effective as a force for change, violent or nonviolent resistance? Unfortunately for the Libyan rebels, research shows that nonviolent resistance is much more likely to produce results, while violent resistance runs a greater risk of backfiring.

Consider the Philippines. Although insurgencies attempted to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos during the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to attract broad support. When the regime did fall in 1986, it was at the hands of the People Power movement, a nonviolent pro-democracy campaign that boasted more than two million followers, including laborers, youth activists and Catholic clergy.

Indeed, a study I recently conducted with Maria J. Stephan, now a strategic planner at the State Department, compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; we found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.

Why? For one thing, people don’t have to give up their jobs, leave their families or agree to kill anyone to participate in a nonviolent campaign. That means such movements tend to draw a wider range of participants, which gives them more access to members of the regime, including security forces and economic elites, who often sympathize with or are even relatives of protesters.

What’s more, oppressive regimes need the loyalty of their personnel to carry out their orders. Violent resistance tends to reinforce that loyalty, while civil resistance undermines it. When security forces refuse orders to, say, fire on peaceful protesters, regimes must accommodate the opposition or give up power — precisely what happened in Egypt.

This is why the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, took such great pains to use armed thugs to try to provoke the Egyptian demonstrators into using violence, after which he could have rallied the military behind him.

But where Mr. Mubarak failed, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi succeeded: what began as peaceful movement became, after a few days of brutal crackdown by his corps of foreign militiamen, an armed but disorganized rebel fighting force. A widely supported popular revolution has been reduced to a smaller group of armed rebels attempting to overthrow a brutal dictator. These rebels are at a major disadvantage, and are unlikely to succeed without direct foreign intervention.

If the other uprisings across the Middle East remain nonviolent, however, we should be optimistic about the prospects for democracy there. That’s because, with a few exceptions — most notably Iran — nonviolent revolutions tend to lead to democracy.

Although the change is not immediate, our data show that from 1900 to 2006, 35 percent to 40 percent of authoritarian regimes that faced major nonviolent uprisings had become democracies five years after the campaign ended, even if the campaigns failed to cause immediate regime change. For the nonviolent campaigns that succeeded, the figure increases to well over 50 percent.

The good guys don’t always win, but their chances increase greatly when they play their cards well. Nonviolent resistance is about finding and exploiting points of leverage in one’s own society. Every dictatorship has vulnerabilities, and every society can find them.

Erica Chenoweth, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, is the co-author of the forthcoming “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.”

The New Geometry and the New Math – Butler Shaffer

From LewRockwell:

They [feminist groups in Iraq] are very strong. Their approach is unique because they have no leaders. They do not have a head or branch offices. . . . This movement is made even stronger by not having leaders. If one or two people lead it, the organization would weaken if these leaders were arrested. Because there is no leader, it is very strong and not stoppable.

~ Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

For a number of years, I have been writing and speaking about the decentralizing forces that are bringing about the collapse of our highly-structured, institutionalized society. Such warnings must always be listened to with skepticism, for it is the nature of any complex system to generate unpredictable outcomes.

Nonetheless, events of recent years provide confirmation of my prognostications. Alternative schooling, dispute resolution, and health-care practices; political secession and nullification movements; the decentralization of management in business organizations; news-reporting moving from the centrally-controlled, top-down model of traditional media, to the more dispersed, horizontally-networked Internet; individualized technologies such as personal computers, cell-phones, iPods, video cameras, and other innovations that enhance person-to-person communication, are just the more evident examples of how our social systems are undergoing constant centrifugation. If the successful practice, in a number of European cities, of abandoning government traffic signs in favor of a motorist-controlled system does not impress you, perhaps you will recall the collapse of the Soviet Union.

To express this phenomenon in terms of solid geometry, the pyramid is being replaced by the sphere. Plato’s hierarchically-structured world directed by philosopher-kings – long the favored model of the intellectual classes who fashioned themselves fit to sit at the institutional apex – has proven unfit for ordering the affairs of human beings. It is not better ideas that are transforming how we organize with one another, but real-world pragmatism: the life system simply cannot operate on the principle of being directed by centralized authorities!

The pyramid expresses the essence of a world premised on vertical power, in which interpersonal relationships are yoked together in systems of domination and subservience. No more poignant image of a top-down world – one in which institutional violence operates as a kind of ersatz gravitational force – exists than this. Members of the institutional hierarchy – who long ago learned that they could more readily benefit by coercing their fellow humans than by trading with them – have seen to it that others be inculcated in a belief in the necessity of pyramidalism. Our entire institutionalized world – from the more violent political organizations to more temperate ideologies – is premised on the shared assumption that only in vertically-structured institutionalized authority can mankind find conditions of peace, liberty, and order. If you doubt the pervasiveness of such thinking, recall your own learning – from childhood through adulthood – and identify any voices who tolerated, much less encouraged, your questioning of this article of faith.

The life system, itself, constantly pushes the fallacy of pyramidal thinking into our unconscious and often conscious mind. How foolishly we cling to the belief that the state, for instance, exists to protect our lives, liberty, and property interests, even as it continues to slaughter millions of people, restrain their liberties, and despoils their wealth. As we look around our communities and the rest of the world and discover how much better decentralized systems perform in providing what political agencies only promise, faith in the pyramid collapses. Not willing to allow its violence-based interests to decompose due to a change in human consciousness, the state – along with the corporate interests that have long benefited as politically-created parasites – desperately reacts to shore up its crumbling foundations. To do so requires a restoration of the falsehoods and contradictions upon which its power depends. Truth – and the free flow of information against which the state is in constant war – becomes a “security risk” or an appeal to “treason.” In one personage or another, the state calls upon its modern Joseph Goebbels who, as Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, advised:

The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.

The demonstrations that have been taking place in such Middle Eastern countries as Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, carry a much deeper meaning than what the institutionally-serving news media have expressed. When millions of men and women can peacefully come together in the center of major cities to protest the legitimacy of their being ruled by others, one ought to ask whether we might be witnessing what the pyramidalists would most fear: an open expression of the decentralization of our common interests, not as “citizens,” but as human beings. We witnessed an earlier example of this when, on the eve of the American government’s decision to wage an unprovoked war on Iraq, millions of people gathered in cities throughout the world to protest.

I long ago discovered the writings of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and the British physiologist, Rupert Sheldrake. Jung did much of the pioneering work in the study of the “collective unconscious,” wherein he posited that, in addition to the individualized content of both our conscious and unconscious minds, human beings also share an inherited – and identical – content of our unconscious minds. In an inquiry that parallels Jung’s, Sheldrake has developed the study of what he calls “morphogenetic fields,” in which members of given species connect up – both spatially and temporally – to determine subsequent biological forms and behavior. If there is validity to their respective conclusions, might their inquiries be expanded to explore the question: is it possible for humans to have unconscious channels of communication that might motivate us to express our common needs to resist the forces that war against life itself?

I must admit to having no conclusions in this regard, although I believe, given the destructive and dehumanizing history we humans have thus far generated, it is imperative that we begin expanding the range of our questioning. Perhaps it is reflective of mankind’s capacities for tool-making that, rather than plumbing the depths of our thinking, we have created technologies that allow us to share the contents of our respective conscious and unconscious minds. Our computerized technologies are not only the products of our thinking, but the means for expanding its content to exponential levels of awareness. They have done more than anything else to dismantle the pyramid and give life to the sphere. As we are rapidly discovering, there is nothing quite so liberating and life-enhancing as the free flow of information!

Not only is the geometry of our world being transformed, so is the mathematics. Decentralizing information makes it much easier for more individuals to communicate with millions of other individuals. One source estimates that the number of Internet websites in the world rose from 100,000 in 1996 to 234,000,000 by 2009. The capacity of the millions to generate information and ideas heretofore confined to the thousands, has proven discomforting to members of the institutional order. Each one of us now enjoys the technological means to directly communicate with every person on the planet, provided (a) they have a computer linked to the Internet, and (b) desire to communicate with us. In other words, mankind enjoys what the political establishment regards as that most destabilizing influence: a genuine marketplace in ideas.

What this has done is to unravel the mindset upon which the state has depended to maintain its control over people: the belief that political change could only come about through the so-called “democratic process.” “Democracy” – the illusion that my wife and I, combined, have twice the political influence of David Rockefeller! – is premised on the proposition that any meaningful political reform must secure the electoral support of tens of millions of individuals, a situation most unlikely to occur. How often have any of us given up on the prospects of “working within the [rigged] system” to bring about change, when we are reminded that we must get 51% of our neighbors to vote with us? The difficulties associated with organizing precincts, trying to get ballot-access, and as Ron Paul discovered three years ago, trying to be heard within political parties and the media bent on maintaining the status quo discourage most. We quickly discover the truth of Emma Goldman’s observation that “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

But the “law of large numbers” that keeps the powerful immune from the protestations of the subservient, loses its forcefulness in the face of the unrestrained flow of information. This is why – as Goebbels reminds us – the state has had to resort to such practices as censorship, the crushing of dissent, and the “secret” classification of documents exposing its corrupt behavior. It also explains the efforts of so many establishment politicians to control, if not destroy, the Internet; as well as their resistance to Ron Paul’s proposals to audit the Federal Reserve!

The Internet has changed the mathematics from “51%” to the lone individual as the catalyst for change. Because of the herd-oriented nature of the political mind, the state has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with an organized mass of people. In the words of Doctor Murnau, in the movie Kafka, “A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question.” The truth of Murnau’s observation was seen when Julian Assange – the founder of “Wikileaks” – used the Internet to make known to the world some of the “secrets” the state did not want revealed to its citizens. Assange was allegedly assisted in this effort by an army private, Bradley Manning, who had access to some of this information. Two individuals – not a “silent majority” or even a vocal one – not only “spoke truth to power,” but to the powerless who it has always been the state’s purpose to keep uninformed and subservient.

As members of the establishment do their best to destroy the liberating influences of the Internet, others remind us that technology, itself, may have its own immune system to protect this life-serving network from the statist virus. Columbia University law professor, Eben Mogle, advocates a more decentralized Internet technology, in which the mechanics for what has become known as the “social media” are dispersed into the hands of each of us. The current technological forms he tells us, “are too centralized; they are too vulnerable to state retaliation and control.” In words that Shirin Ebadi would welcome, Mogle adds: “It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg [of Facebook], to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse.”

As the math changes, so does the geometry by which we organize ourselves. What is almost humorous to consider is that the defenders of the dying order – be they the neo-Luddites trying to destroy the Internet, or those who would confine the Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges to a modern Tower of London – don’t grasp the reality of what confronts them. The statists operate on the notion that these two men are to blame for the revelations that are inherent in the new technology. For all of their supposed wisdom that they believe entitles them to sit atop Plato’s pyramid, they are in truth as lost as “flat-earthers” sharing their collective ignorance in trying to calculate the sun’s revolutions around the Earth!

Revolution Fever Catching On – Now Yemen

via CNN World:

Yemen protesters: “First Mubarak, now Ali”

From Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) — Hundreds of anti-government protesters marched toward a presidential palace in Yemen on Sunday, calling for regime change in the Middle Eastern country.

Some of them chanted, “First Mubarak, now Ali,” referring to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Hosni Mubarak, who recently resigned as president of Egypt after nearly 30 years in power.

Security forces put up a barbed wire barricade and blocked the protesters’ path about two miles from the palace. At that point, the situation intensified as protesters turned away and attempted to reach the palace through side streets.

The CNN crew at the scene was surrounded by security officers, who seized the journalists’ videotapes.

Nearby, a group of about 40 pro-government demonstrators chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for Ali.”

The anti-government group first gathered at the gates of Sanaa University earlier Sunday, where another group of pro-government demonstrators carried pictures of Ali.

Police tried to disperse the crowds and stepped in to prevent pro-government demonstrators from following when the anti-government group headed away from the university and toward the palace.

The group of anti-government protesters included students and rights activists. Their numbers swelled as they marched through Sanaa’s streets.

Saleh has ruled Yemen for 32 years and has pledged not to stand for re-election when his current term — which started in 2006 — ends in 2013.

Mubarak’s lengthy rule ended Friday when he stepped down after 18 days of anti-government protests rocked Egypt.

Echoes of Egypt’s revolution resonated across the region, with anti-government protests in Yemen and Algeria. Demonstrations are also planned in Libya and Iran on Monday.

Brief clashes erupted Saturday in Yemen between hundreds of pro- and anti-government demonstrators who staged rival rallies in the capital.

The clashes, which left a small number of people injured, followed an anti-government protest Friday night in which men armed with knives attacked more than a thousand demonstrators, according to human rights groups.

Algeria’s Internet, Facebook Shut Down As Unrest Intensifies [BREAKING]

From Mashable.com:

by Charlie White

Protests in Algeria intensified today, and the Algerian government responded by deleting Facebook accounts and shutting down Internet service providers across the country, according to The Telegraph.

In a volatile situation similar to that which brought down former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Algerian government has dispatched 30,000 riot police in Algiers, and is resorting to tear gas and plastic bullets to try to discourage dissent, according to The Telegraph.

Algerians are calling this uprising the “February 12 Revolution,” as they protest government corruption, massive unemployment, housing problems and poverty. They would like to oust Algerian President Abdelaziz Boutifleka, whose police forces are also trying to silence journalists, according to The Telegraph.

From what we’ve seen so far, shutting down the Internet and deleting Facebook accounts is not going to work. We’re thinking this is just one of many revolutions that are about to sweep the Middle East.

Photo courtesy The Telegraph/EPA

Mubarak shut down the internet, and the internet paid him in kind

by Alexia Tsotsis

Yesterday, after 17 days of protests, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gave a speech to the Egyptian government that made it seem like he would not be stepping down. This led to many people on the ground in Egypt and elsewhere feeling depressed, a series of humorous jokes being bandied back and forth on Facebook and Twitter and one Twitter employee commenting to me,“Well, we can only do so much.”

It has become fashionable amongst Western media and armchair foreign policy experts (hi Malcolm) to dismiss the idea that what happened in Egypt was a digital revolution mainly because most people associate Facebook and Twitter with the mundane over-sharing of what you ate for breakfast. That and the fact that its been pretty damn hard to pin down what exactly causes revolutions. This belief  isn’t helped by the truth that a ton of social media noise did not actually lead to a regime change in Iran during #IranElection.

But the many who said that social media was no match for Mubarak’s stubbornness and the fact that his dictatorship had been there for thirty years overlooked one key thing. #Egypt wasn’t just about Facebook and Twitter, it was about the Internet as a whole.

Full Story

How To Get Online in Egypt, Even with Government Blocking of the Internet

via EPJ:

How To Get Online in Egypt, Even with Government Blocking of the Internet

Steve Kovach at Business Insider says go old school. In Egypt, while internet access has been blocked, old school access via dial up through telephone lines is working.

Lifehacker suggests trying the global dialup ISP Budget Dialup or the French ISP FDN, which is providing free access to users in Egypt.

More from Kovach:

One site worth checking out is the forum OPENMESH that was just launched as a resource for finding ways to help Egyptians get back online. TechCrunch says, they’re looking for people with a tech background who may be able to skirt around the block. If you have any ideas, share them on Twitter using the #OPENMESH hashtag.


Egypt Situation Gets Worse, People Reporting Internet And SMS Shutdown

via TechCrunch:

The world is watching in shock at the moment as reports continue to flood in of Egyptian protests mounting and the government pre-emptively striking back before tomorrow’s planned demonstrations by cutting off the nation’s Internet connection, along with access to social media services like Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry.

Along with The Arabist and CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Reuters is now reporting that users in Cairo are experiencing phone and Internet shutdown. “Egypt has shut off the internet,” read one headline.

Reuters is also reporting that the Egyptian Prime Minister’s office denied that Facebook and Twitter have been shut down despite countless claims to the contrary.

Gordon Reynolds@gordon_reynolds
Gordon Reynolds

Dictating Tweet over the phone from Cairo. All internet access shut down. Feel like a captive.

about 12 hours ago via webRetweetReply

The flood of communication blackout reports on Twitter and elsewhere came shortly after a gruesome video of an Egyptian protestor being shot was posted by the AP. One source with relatives in Cairo says he is communicating with them via landline and they are confirming reports that riot police are setting cars on fire. “You can not text message in Egypt at the moment,” he said.

No one either inside or outside of the country quite understands exactly why and how the blackout is happening or how it will end but it is believed that these efforts are an attempt by a 30 year-old regime to quash protest organization by a social media and tech savvy youth  .

As TC’s Mike Butcher points out, the major service providers in Egypt are TEDATA, Egynet DSL and Vodafone. Vodafone has been quiet about the issue since it denied blocking Twitter on January 25th.

Naturally, you can follow the movement on Twitter on #Jan25 and #Egypt. Angel investor Shervin Pishevar has also conceived of an open mesh router network that could function as a backup in situations where governments try to shut off communications. Pishevar is looking for volunteers and those interested can tweet at @Shervin.

Image: Ahmed Shokeir

The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back – Front row seat to a revolution

Interesting to observe what finally triggers a popular uprising.  Kind of reminds me of “V for Vendetta“.  It is interesting to see also the power of Wikileaks in this revolt.  Do you think there is enough discontent for this to happen in the USA?:

Tunisians drive leader from power in mass uprising
Tunisians drive out strongman; 1st time in modern Arab history popular uprising ousts leader

Elaine Ganley and Bouazza Ben Bouazza, Associated Press, On Friday January 14, 2011, 8:02 pm

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — After 23 years of iron-fisted rule, the president of Tunisia was driven from power Friday by violent protests over soaring unemployment and corruption. The ouster, virtually unprecedented in modern Arab history, sent an ominous message to authoritarian governments that dominate the region: Even strongmen can be overthrown by the power of the street.

Tunisians buoyant over Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster immediately worried, however, about what’s next: the caretaker leadership of the prime minister who took control, the role of the army in the transition, and whether Ben Ali’s departure — to an as-yet unconfirmed location — will be enough to restore calm.

The upheaval followed the country’s largest protests in generations and weeks of escalating unrest, sparked by one man’s suicide and fueled by social media, cell phones and young people who have seen relatively little benefit from Tunisia’s recent economic growth. Thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life rejected Ben Ali’s promises of change and mobbed Tunis, the capital, to demand that he leave.

The government said at least 23 people have been killed in the riots, but opposition members put the death toll at more than three times that.

On Friday, police repeatedly clashed with protesters, some of whom climbed onto the entrance roof of the dreaded Interior Ministry, widely believed for years to be a place where the regime’s opponents were tortured.

With clouds of tear gas and black smoke drifting over the city’s whitewashed buildings, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to announce that he was assuming power in this North African nation known mostly for its wide sandy beaches and ancient ruins.

“I take over the responsibilities temporarily of the leadership of the country at this difficult time to help restore security,” Ghannouchi said in a solemn statement on state television. “I promise … to respect the constitution, to work on reforming economic and social issues with care and to consult with all sides.”

The prime minister, a longtime ally of the president, suggested that Ben Ali had willingly handed over control, but the exact circumstances were unclear.

In a string of last-ditch efforts to tamp down the unrest, Ben Ali dissolved the government and promised legislative elections within six months — a pledge that appeared to open at least the possibility of a new government. Before his removal of power was announced, he declared a state of emergency, including a curfew that was in effect Friday night and was to be lifted at 7 a.m. Saturday.

People in downtown Tunis appeared to be respecting the curfew, though there were isolated bursts of gunfire.

European tour companies moved thousands of tourists out of the country. Foreign airlines halted service to Tunisia, and said the country’s airspace had been temporarily shut down.

Ben Ali’s downfall sent a potentially frightening message to autocratic leaders across the Arab world, especially because he did not seem especially vulnerable until very recently.

He managed the economy of his small country of 10 million better than many other Middle Eastern nations grappling with calcified economies and booming, young populations. He turned Tunisia into a beach haven for tourists, helping create an area of stability in volatile North Africa. There was a lack of civil rights and little or no freedom of speech, but a better quality of life for many than in neighboring countries such as Algeria and Libya.

Ben Ali had won frequent praise from abroad for presiding over reforms to make the economy more competitive and attract business. Growth last year was at 3.1 percent. Unemployment, however, was officially measured at 14 percent, and was far higher — 52 percent — among the young. Despair among job-seeking young graduates was palpable.

The riots started after an educated but jobless 26-year-old committed suicide in mid-December when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit [emphasis mine]. His desperate act hit a nerve, sparked copycat suicides and focused generalized anger against the regime into a widespread, outright revolt.

The president tried vainly to hold onto power. On Thursday night he went on television to promise not to run for re-election in 2014 and slashed prices on key foods such as sugar, bread and milk.

Protesters gathered peacefully Friday in front of the Interior Ministry, but six hours after the demonstration began hundreds of police with shields and riot gear moved in. Helmeted police fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and kicked and clubbed unarmed protesters — one of whom cowered on the ground, covering his face.

An AP Television News reporter heard gunfire in the center of the Tunisian capital late Friday afternoon, in addition to the popping of tear gas pistols.

A few youths were spotted throwing stones, but most demonstrated calmly. Protesters were of all ages and from all walks of life, from students holding sit-ins in the middle of the street to doctors in white coats and black-robed lawyers waving posters.

“A month ago, we didn’t believe this uprising was possible,” said Beya Mannai, a geology professor at the University of Tunis. “But the people rose up.”

“My first reaction is relief,” said Dr. Souha Naija, a resident radiologist at Charles Nicole Hospital. “He’s gone. … I finally feel free.”

“They got the message. The people don’t want a dictator.” However, she voiced concern for the future because, officially at least, Ben Ali vacated power only temporarily.

“It’s ambiguous,” she said.

Nejib Chebbi, a founder of the main legal opposition party, said the dramatic developments do not amount to a coup d’etat.

“It’s an unannounced resignation,” Chebbi said by telephone. To declare a permanent absence of a head of state, such as in a coup, elections would have to be held within 60 days, he said. “So they declare a temporary vacating of power.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said he applauded the courage and dignity of protesting Tunisians, and urged all parties to keep calm and avoid violence.

Arabs across the region celebrated news of the Tunisian uprising on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Thousands of tweets congratulating the Tunisian people flooded the Internet, and many people changed their profile pictures to Tunisian flags.

Egyptian activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade regime looked to the events in Tunisia with hope. About 50 gathered outside the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo to celebrate with singing and dancing. They chanted, “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him, too!”

Ben Ali’s whereabouts were a mystery. “We don’t know where he is,” opposition leader Chebbi said. “The most probable thing is that he’s left the country.”

Unconfirmed rumors about Ben Ali’s location reached such a fevered pitch that the governments of France and Malta — just two of several countries where he was speculated to be heading — put out statements saying they have had no requests to accommodate him.

One French official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the French government did not want Ben Ali there.

Ghannouchi is a 69-year-old economist who has been prime minister since 1999 and is among the best-known faces of Tunisia’s government. He did not say anything about a coup or about the army being in charge.

Ben Ali, 74, came to power in a bloodless palace coup in 1987. He took over from a man called formally President-for-Life — Habib Bourguiba, the founder of modern-day Tunisia who set the Muslim country on a pro-Western course after independence from France in 1956.

Ben Ali removed Bourguiba from office for “incompetence,” saying he had become too old, senile and sick to rule. Ben Ali promised then that his leadership would “open the horizons to a truly democratic and evolved political life.”

But after a brief period of reforms, Tunisia’s political evolution stopped.

Ben Ali consistently won elections with questionable tallies: In 2009, he was re-elected for a fifth five-year term with 89 percent of the vote — and that was the lowest official percentage of any of his victories. Before that vote, he had warned opponents they would face legal retaliation if they questioned the election’s fairness.

U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have called Tunisia a “police state” and described the corruption there, saying Ben Ali had lost touch with his people. Social networks like Facebook helped spread the comments to the delight of ordinary Tunisians, who have complained about the same issues for years [emphasis mine].

Under Ben Ali, most opposition parties were illegal. Amnesty International said authorities infiltrated human rights groups and harassed dissenters. Reporters Without Borders described Ben Ali as a “press predator” who controlled the media.

There is little precedent in the Arab world for a ruler being ousted by street protests. In Sudan in 1985, a collapsing economy and other grievances sparked a popular uprising, although the government was eventually ousted by a military coup.

The closest parallel in the broader Middle East comes from Iran — which is not an Arab nation — where mass demonstrations helped topple the shah and usher in the Islamic Republic in 1979.

Tunisia’s giant neighbor Algeria saw huge protests before it was shaken by a military coup in 1992, with a five-man leadership put in place after the army canceled the nation’s first multiparty legislative elections, which a Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. The party, the Islamic Salvation Front, became a vehicle for popular dissent.

There were also massive demonstrations in Lebanon in 2005, dubbed the “Cedar Revolution,” but those were directed against Syrian influence in the country and not the Lebanese government per se. The protests led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and the resignation of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian prime minister and fresh elections.

Al-Qaida’s North African offshoot appeared to try to capitalize on the Tunisian unrest, offering its support for protesters this week. There has been no sign of Islamic extremist involvement in the rioting.

Nicolas Garriga and Oleg Cetinic in Tunis, Angela Doland, Greg Keller and Jamey Keaten in Paris and Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Cairo contributed to this report.