Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Tunisians must dismantle the monster Ben Ali built

The people have toppled a dictator. Now they have to forge a
coalition of socialists, Islamists and liberals for real change

Soumaya Ghannoushi
Tues 18 Jan 2011

Few Tunisians could have imagined that a president who had
repressed and stifled them for more than 23 years could be so
fragile, so vulnerable. As soon as the uprising that raged around the
country for just over four weeks reached its capital, Tunis – with
waves of protesters besieging the interior ministry, the seat of one
of the region's most brutal police machines, chanting "We are free,
get out!" – he fell apart like a paper tiger.

From the threatening tyrant of the early days of the rebellion, he
gradually became a pale, trembling old man begging them in his
televised speeches to keep him in the Carthage Palace for a little
longer, first for three years, then for a mere six months. Each time
Tunisians roared back from their streets "Not a day longer".
Terrified, he fled the country in the dead of night. Then, rejected
by France, which had clung to him until the last moment, his plane
roamed around helplessly before being given permission to land in

The phenomenon called "Ben Ali" was in reality an amalgam of internal
violence, deception and flagrant foreign support. For years his
backers armed him and gave him political cover to suffocate his
people. A good student of the IMF, a guarantor of "stability" and a
brave warrior against "Islamic fundamentalism", Ben Ali's Tunisia was
a shining example of "modernisation" and success. With his demise, a
model of stability which is bought at the price of a crushed people
can no longer be easily defended or propagated.

The Tunisian people's revolution, which expelled Ben Ali from their
land, did not stop at their borders. It has swept over the Arab
world, reverberating in every town and village. The sense of despair
and profound humiliation Arabs felt with the toppling of Saddam's
tyrannical regime by the US contrasts sharply with their euphoria at
the ousting of Tunisia's dictator. This is the first time an Arab
nation has succeeded in uprooting a ruthless despot by popular
protest and civil disobedience, and without foreign intervention,
coup d'etats or natural death. If Iraq offered the Arab world the
ugliest face of regime change, Tunisia shows its best.

But by toppling their dictator, Tunisians are only halfway to
realising their aspirations for genuine reform. The despot is gone,
but the gigantic police state that has grown since the country's
independence from French occupation in 1956 is still very much alive.
The apparatus of repression laid down by Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's
charismatic "founding father", was fine-tuned by the general who
inherited it. Dismantling such a monster will not be easy. That is
the challenge Tunisians have to meet to complete their revolution.

While Arabs have been celebrating in the streets, chanting the poet
Abul-Qasim al-Shabbi's words "If, one day, a people desires to live,
then fate will answer their call", their rulers are stunned by the
chilling news of their toppled fellow dictator. This is their worst
nightmare. They dread nothing more than the Tunisian infection being
passed on to their people, particularly as most have either inherited
power from their fathers, or are preparing to bequeath it to their
sons. Only Muammar Gaddafi of neighbouring Libya has interrupted
their death-like silence to speak for all the despots, threatening
Tunisians that they would live to regret what they had dared

But although Tunisia is a small country with a population of 10
million and scarce natural resources, it is better placed than most
Arab countries to undergo democratisation. Its people are socially
homogenous, largely urbanised, and highly educated compared with its
neighbours. In the aftermath of Ben Ali's era, the Tunisian scene is
divided between two strategies. The first involves a recycling of the
old regime with a few cosmetic amendments. That is the strategy of
the so-called "unity government", announced by Prime Minister
Mohammed Ghannouchi today, a man who had served for years under the
fallen dictator. It excludes the real forces on the ground, which
genuinely reflect the Tunisian political landscape: independent
socialists, Islamists and liberals. The unity government seems intent
on turning the clock back, behaving as if the revolution had never
been, reinstalling the loathed ruling party, the Constitutional
Democratic Rally (RCD), with all the same faces – bar Ben Ali's, of
course – and the same security machine. That is why protests have
erupted again in many cities, with "Ben Ali out" changed to "RCD

The alternative strategy – and the task now facing the Tunisian
people – is to build a wide coalition of the forces that can
dismantle the legacy of the despotic post-colonial state and bring
about the change their people have been yearning for decades. This
has been the driving force for the alliance being forged between the
Communist Workers' Party, led by Hamma al-Hammami, the charismatic
Moncef al-Marzouqi's Congress Party for the Republic, and Ennahda,
led by my father Rachid Ghannouchi, along with trade unionists, and
civil society activists.

Their shared bitter experience of prison and exile has made them more
pragmatic, and thus more capable of standing up to dictatorship and
building a strong alliance around the demand for real change. This
politics of partnership and consensus is what Tunisians and Arabs
need to dismantle the structures of totalitarianism which have held
them in their iron grip for generations.


The struggle for legitimacy

In Tunisia, a new government is being formed under the leadership of
the RCD ( the party of the fallen dictator) and the participation of
some legalized opposition parties. All parties that were illegal
under the old regimes are being excluded and this is steering up a
lot of controversy among parts of the Tunisian population who feel
that the Revolution is being driven away from its ideals. The main
view of the opposition is that the people who made the revolution are
not represented and that by keeping the RCD on board and even one the
steering will the former regime is perpetuating itself.

On the other hand the pro coalition voices are stressing the fact
that this is only a transition necessary to avoid plunging the
country in chaos. while some would argue that now that the revolution
deposed the tyrant the country must seek reconciliation, and they
also argue that the RCD has hundreds of thousands of members and
excluding them would exclude important segments of society.

However, most of these members were in the RCD not for an Ideology or
a vision, but because a party card was synonymous of personal
advancement under the old regime. I wonder if the RCD will have more
than few thousands hard core Benali loyalists if things are left to
take their natural course. But even if the RCD would be a real party
with real supporters and bases, it is now the duty of these people -
if they want national reconciliation- to distance themselves from the
past and its crimes by changing their parties name and going to the
opposition. Why should national reconciliation be the responsibility
of the oppressed? many rightly ask.

And they also ask that the best strategy to use now is a transitional
committee representing all currents of the people and its trade
unions and excluding the RCD as such while including some
independents who are not far from it and that this committee should
lead the country into transition towards a free and fair election
where all the chances of all the parties are equal It is in my
opinion the Americans and the French that have certainly played a
role in convincing parts of the mild opposition to support this
government in order to guarantee continuation of the old economic
structure and its integration as a service economy for France, plus
the political and military alliance with the U.S and NATO.

The risk is that this government will not be so transitory after all
and will only serve as an excuse to win more time and allow
intelligent services and regime loyalists to work on their strategy
to take back control of the country, albeit under another leader that
will govern slightly different than Benali but will be just as
autocratic and corrupt and pro-western. This is a real risk and the
people started protesting against this government today and in Tunis
the governmental police used tear gas against the demonstrators. on a
side note: 6 Algerians , 1 Egyptian and a Mauritanian burned
themselves in clear attempts to emulate the igniting act of the
Tunisian revolution.

Tunisia update: The Revolution continues?

The Regime is playings its last card today in Tunisia. That last Card
is the RCD ( the party of the former dictator). After the formation
of a so called “National Unity Government ” yesterday, and after that
the UGTT ( the largest trade union in the country) supported and even
participated in it with three ministers, alongside three opposition
ministers ( from the legalized opposition under the regime) many
thought that the Tunisian revolution ended up with a compromise.

A compromise that left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Tunisian
people and especially the youth that started this revolution and were
determined to sacrify in order to see it throug.After knowing the
composition of the government and the fact that it included even the
minister of interior of the regime who can be held responsible among
others for the killings, the revolutionary sentiment exploded again.
Arab Nationalists, Islamists and radical leftists but above all
normal tunisians with no political agenda except their determination
to have a clean break with the past of repression decided to go
challenge this government and demanded the outlawing of RCD and the
formation of a salvation government that even breaks with the
constitution and rewrites it. These are revolutionary demands by all
means and many people did not take them yesterday.

However, people who know the high level of political awareness that
the Tunisian people possesses also knew that action will follow.
Today all over the country demonstrations erupting forcing the UGTT
to retreat from the governement and to embrace the revolutionary
demands cited above.in many places the popular committees clashed
with the police and shoot outs were reported.

Tunisia will decide its direction in the coming days maybe hours,
would it be a revolution that goes all the way or a compromise
between a revolution and a regime that will keep many contradictions
under the surface and will sooner or later lead to another clash…

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