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How will Tunisia now find itself?

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After enduring more than two decades of Ben Ali's rule, Tunisians became fed up with the stagnant social order and the president's tight grip on power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

After enduring more than two decades of Ben Ali's rule, Tunisians became fed up with the stagnant social order and the president's tight grip on power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

The always reflective and eminently readable Al-Ahram Weekly has several commentaries on events in Tunisia. Its writers have discussed the tricky socio-political questions in Tunisia which seem to have remained unasked, they have touched upon the 20th century history of coups and uprisings (and also what the Americans are used to calling ‘regime change’), and on the difficulties of bringing democracy back to a country that has been ruled by a despot for 23 years.

“It is not so much the events leading up to this climax that are revealing as the subsequent developments, which various media personalities were perfectly prepared to ignore, caught up as they were in the “thrill” of change, revolutionary fervour and the application of the verses of Abul-Qassem Al-Shabbi,” wrote Abdel-Moneim Said. “In one television interview after the other one could not help but be struck by how familiar it all sounded. We saw it all before, in Iraq where there was an opposition that knew exactly what it opposed, which was the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, but that had no clear idea as to what should come next. Also, as was the case in Iraq, the Tunisians did not possess the means to come to terms over an undeniable fact, which was that the order whose façade had just crumbled has its roots in the nature of the Tunisian state.”

“Simply put, the revolutionaries in Tunisia did not differ greatly from their Iraqi counterparts over, firstly, what to do with the “old order”, and secondly, the need to replace it with a “new order” that would be just and democratic, even though they were far from being in one mind as to what these terms meant. What surfaced was a profound spirit of violence and vengefulness.”

“If the revolution broke out because Mohamed Bouazizi couldn’t find a job, how will the new regime create employment for men like him and the 60 others whose deaths ignited and fed the process of change that has swept Tunisia? Of course, the uprising was not only about unemployment. It was also about corruption, poverty and destitution. There were also more obscure factors, though all pointing to rights that were abused and needs that were unfulfilled by a failed regime. However, will the new revolutionaries be able to alleviate these grievances whose very real existence was confirmed by a whole month’s worth of audio-visual testimony? Curiously, no one in Tunisia seems to be asking that question, let alone venturing an answer to it. There is great euphoria because a brutal man has fled, but there is not a single guarantee that an even more brutal one will not replace him.”

Para-military was called out but the demonstrators would not budge. Instead, they demanded that their president step down from power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

Para-military was called out but the demonstrators would not budge. Instead, they demanded that their president step down from power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

“For observers chronicling revolutions, the implications of the Tunisian uprising will not be lost on other people who continue to suffer the same agonies in Arab police states, or on their tormenting regimes,” wrote Ayman El-Amir. “The first message from Tunisia was that successful revolutions are now more likely to be undertaken by the masses than by the military. When the military intervened they did so to back the people, not the regime. They better understand their role of safeguarding the country against external threats and, domestically, of preserving the established constitutional order, not to protect the dictator who abused it.”

“The Tunisian people’s revolution would have taken a different course if General Rachid Ammar, chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, had obeyed the orders of Bin Ali, the commander-in-chief, to crush the uprising. Bin Ali’s paramilitary police had already shot and killed between 60 and 90 demonstrators in different cities but failed to quell the rebellion.”

Within 29 days, Tunisians were able to force their president out of the country from a position he held on to for nearly 23 years. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

Within 29 days, Tunisians were able to force their president out of the country from a position he held on to for nearly 23 years. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

“Some political analysts wonder if the Tunisian people’s revolution could be replicated in Arab countries with similar grievances. After all, the 23 July Free Officers’ Movement in Egypt is said to have been the precursor of similar army coups in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, all embellished by the term “revolution”. Everlasting dictatorships chew on the same worries, although their surrounding cronies assure them their countries are far from it because their people enjoy freedom, stability, rising standards of living and are averse to revolutionary violence – the same slogans the Bin Ali regime fed on.”

“It’s not going to be easy to turn Tunisia from a police state into a democracy,” wrote Salah Eissa. “As we have seen in recent years, countries that get rid of their dictators don’t become democracies by default. Two things make me argue that the democratisation of Tunisia would be difficult. One is that the people that took to the streets acted voluntarily and without leadership. Their protests took place in the absence of guidance and participation on the part of organised parties and political movements. As soon as Bin Ali left the country, they went home. The protesters were common people, not versed in the art of politics. They are the average citizens of a country that hasn’t seen democracy for decades. Without the help of the country’s political parties and movements, public discontent may not turn into sustainable democracy.”

“The other thing is that the political parties and movements of Tunisia seem to be out of practice. After years of authoritarianism, Tunisian parties are disconnected from the public and estranged from each other. They need to find something in common, some goals for the entire nation to agree upon, and to pursue them. This, too, is not going to be easy.”

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