While Tunisians didn't need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact, said FP sources.
One, the fact that U.S. recognizes the obvious corruption of the country's government was an international embarrassment to its citizens.
Two, the cables contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back [former President] Ben Ali to the bloody end.
Three, the delegitimization of Ben Ali gave protesters strength.
Below are excerpts from the fateful Wikileaks cable:
By many measures, Tunisia should be a close US ally. But it is not.
President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic
Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.
Major change in Tunisia will have to wait for Ben Ali's departure
Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.
The problem is clear: Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years.
[Ben Ali] and his regime have lost touch with the Tunisian people.
Increasingly, [Ben Ali and his regime] rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power. And, corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising.
Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, First Lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her.
Anger is growing at Tunisia's high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime's long-term stability are increasing.