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Tunisia: Latest developments as of January 16, 2011

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The North Africa Journal: As we release this issue in the late night in Tunis, on Sunday, January 16, 2011, emotions are running high in Tunisia with the population feeling optimistic while the security situation remains tense. Information here in Tunisia seem to indicate that the abrupt departure of Ben Ali was triggered by the refusal of the military to intervene. The decision apparently came from the top military chief General Rachid Ammar, an indication that even the military hierarchy was fed up with the irrational Ben Ali regime.

Once Ben Ali left, the military decided to step in to restore order, as the country looks for a political solution to the crisis. The military is now acting as law enforcer and is leading the efforts of cleaning up the rogue elements left behind by Ben Ali. It is still unclear what General Ammar’s intentions are, but some believe he has his own ambitions.  If that’s the case, Tunisia could run into major troubles as the last thing it needs is yet another general.

Yet we remain optimistic that a sound political solution with broad consensus will be found. Meanwhile, military troops have taken positions in the capital to avoid an out-of-control situation. Meanwhile, gun shots continued to be heard in the capital. Hiding snipers along the Bourguiba Avenue aimed at the military and police in charge of bringing order. The army also stormed the presidential Carthage palace to remove the security guards of the Ben Ali family.  Most of the day, confrontations between the official security forces and the militias loyal to the ousted president Ben Ali took place.  

Chaos: a Ben Ali Conspiracy 

All along those events, the overwhelming feeling among the Tunisians that a group of loyalists from the Ben Ali security apparatus and the ruling RCD party has conspired to derail the Jasmine Revolution. This was later confirmed by Mezri Haddad, the former Tunisian ambassador to UNESCO who resigned last week. Haddad says Ben Ali “fomented anarchy before leaving and is controlling operations remotely.” 

Indeed, the arrest on Sunday, January 16, 2011 of General Ali Seriati, head of former president’s security system is a strong indication of a conspiracy to throw Tunisia into a protracted chaos. Meanwhile, the ousted Interior Minister was also arrested, though no charges were filed against him yet. Questions around some illegal police activity, such a heavy handed crackdown of the population and deaths are casting a shadow on the police system under the oversight of the Interior Ministry. The president’s own nephew Kais Ben Ali was also arrested as he was leading a group of a dozen men to terrorize the population. Before fleeing to Dubai, Ben Ali’s wife, Leila was reported to have stolen up to 1.5 tons of gold, equivalent to €45 million. 

Meanwhile, speaker of parliament Fouad Mebazaa was appointed interim president. He is currently meeting with opposition party leaders to form a unity government, a process that apparently is denied to the communist and Islamist parties.  Mebazaa’s role is questioned by many in Tunisia given that he has been the Speaker of Parliament for some 15 years, a member of the ruling RCD party and held several ministerial positions under the Ben Ali regime. He was also the Tunisian ambassador to the UN. A great number of people see him as old, tired, and unable to follow the unfolding events as they move at a fast pace. Others are calling for a complete divorce from the RCD party and its members. Yet many Tunisians are willing to give him the opportunity to fix the situation. They see him as a technocrat who could indeed help pilot a smooth transition.  Only time will tell.

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