Tunisians already knew about their corrupt repressive country, brave bloggers had also written extensively about it. The Tunisian WikiLeaks cables were reporting on the existing situation and personalities. It’s true that they did contribute an ‘atmospheric role’, in Issandr El Amrani’s apt phrase in his post on The Arabist blog, but that was the extent of the influence. US Ambassadors report in-country situations, they don’t initiate or innovate.
Many Tunisians could identify with the reasons behind Mohamed Bouaziz’ desperate action because they were themselves in desperate need. In the resulting reaction, Tunisians showed that they could very effectively organise themselves to take direct action without any outside help – WikiLeaks or American agents – unless twitter, facebook and SMS technology counts.
Unusually though the Wiki rumour has a start-point: a message on a high jacked Twitter account of Slim Amamou, then in jail and now part of the new Tunisian transitional government.
That the Libya leader picked up the theme and expanded it is not surprising in the search for an alternate explanation. The revolt in Tunisia was swift and successful and many in equally unpleasant regimes are nervous.
What is surprising, and inexcusable, was the sloppy uncritical article in the UK daily The Telegraph today (See 19th Jan. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8266506/WikiLeaks-Galileo-boss-the-latest-victim.html)
Certainly it’s reasonable to present Ghadafi’s alternative view, but not to give it the oxygen of being a fact.