Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Upheaval Continues In Tunisia

Despite the exile of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi stepping aside so that the head of the parliament could run things, the political situation in Tunisia remains in flux.
Tunisia's new coalition government hit trouble Tuesday, with three ministers quitting and an opposition party threatening to walk out in protest at the presence of members of the party of the ousted president.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi brought opposition leaders into the coalition Monday after president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following weeks of street protests. But key figures from the old guard kept their jobs, angering many.

Police in Tunis repeatedly used teargas in an attempt to break up a protest by several hundred opposition party supporters and trade unionists who labeled the new government a "sham." Protesters would scatter, but then regroup to continue.

Several hundred people also protested against the new government in Monastir, south of Tunis.

Abid al-Briki of the Tunisian labor union UGTT said its three ministers would withdraw from the government because it included members of Ben Ali's RCD party.

"This is in response to the demands of people on the streets," Briki said.
Far too many people in the government are closely associated with Ben Ali and are seen as nothing more than a continuation of the Ben Ali government and its policies. The crackdown against protesters isn't helping matters either.

Ghannouchi was interviewed and he hoped that elections could be held so that the Tunisians could have their views aired and the government formed on that basis:

Meanwhile, the upheaval in Tunisia has brought out demonstrators in other parts of the Middle East, and several men set themselves on fire in Egypt to protest the situation.
As the leaders of the established opposition parties renounced the unity government, the revolutionary passions unleashed across the region continued to reverberate, as two more men in Egypt set themselves ablaze and a third was stopped before he could do so. Those self-immolations added to a wave of six others, all in apparent imitation of the one that set off the Tunisian uprising a month ago.

The new unity government was showing strains practically from the moment it was sworn in on Monday, with new protests focused on its links to the ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
It's no wonder that there are reports that the situation in Tunisia could be a tipping point for other autocratic and despotic regimes in the Middle East.
The “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia today may well go down in history as the Arab equivalent of the Solidarity movement in the Gdansk shipyard in Poland in 1980 that sparked wider protests that a decade later ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire. (In fairness, the Sudanese people probably should be credited with the first modern popular protest that changed their leadership, when protracted street demonstrations overthrew President Jaafar Nimeiry in 1985 – though that change did not last, and Sudan soon after found itself under military rule once again.)

2. The grievances that the Tunisian demonstrators have articulated in recent weeks – and in other forms in recent decades – are also widely shared across the entire Arab world, with the possible exception of some of the smaller wealthy countries in the Gulf. These complaints are about rising prices and job shortages, but also about the heavy-handed and condescending manner in which ruling Arab elites treat their citizens and deny them the most basic human rights of expression, credible representation, political participation, holding power accountable, and equitable access to the resources of the state and the opportunities of the free market.
That includes countries that are seen as allies and key to US foreign policy in the region like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. Expect those other regimes to learn from the mistakes of Ben Ali - and to avoid any sign of weakness, including making any form of concession to demonstrators like refusing to run for upcoming elections or telling security forces to cease firing on crowds. Once Ben Ali made those declarations, his time in power was limited.

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