Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tunisia: transition to real democracy has yet to transpire

Without words....

Update:Fierce gunbattles took place Sunday at the beginning of the evening between the army and allies of former president Ben Ali. Heavy fighting was reported around the presidential palace in Carthago between the military and members of the presidential guard. Fights were even raging inside the palace, France24 reported. 

Tunisia's new political leaders have started efforts to fill the power vacuum after the street protest have chased away president Zine al-Abedin Ben Ali. Interim president Fouad Mebazaa who was sworn in on Saturday  gave orders to form a unity government. Prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi immediately started consultations with several political leaders, but it does not seem at all to be sure that the people of Tunisia will get the democratic government of their own choice, after all.
The lack of a united front of the opposition  and the fact that leaders outside Tunisia were not consulted is a reason for concern. Also it seems to be a somewhat odd situation that the same people from the Ben Ali era are the ones who are now supposed to lead Tunisia to democracy. And a third reason for concern is that they are going to prepare elections which, according to the Constitution, have to be be held within 45-60 days, which is a period far too short for the opposition parties to regroup.

Ahmed Chebbi and Maya Jribi, leaders of the PDP

Parties that were consulted so far were the Parti Démocrate Progressiste (PDP) of Ahmed Néjib Chebbi and Maya Jribi (no seats in parliament). Chebbi told France's RTL radio that he had held talks with Ghannouchi about taking part and that his main demand was that elections should be held "within six or seven months" under international supervision. The secretary general of the PDP, Maya Jribi, said that she had told Ghannouchi to be ready to take part in a government on condition that there would be a general amnesty for all people who had been arrested for political reasons or infringements of the rules of censorship and that there would be installed complete freedom of opinion. Another party was the Forum Démocratique pour le travail et les libertés (2 seats). Its leader Mustafa Ben Jaafar, told Reuters news agency that he had called for "real reforms".A third party that was invited by Ghannouchi was the leftist Ettajdid (Renewal) party., 

Parties that were not consulted however, were the (banned) Parti communiste des travailleurs tunisiens (PCOT) of Hamma Hammami, the Congrès de la République of Moncef Marzouki and the islamist An Nahda party (also banned) of Rachid Ghannouchi.
PCOT-leader Hammami has excluded the possibilty to cooperate with the old guard of Ben Ali. His wife, human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui has said that it is not in the line of logic to work totgether with the people that have condoned the misdeeds of Ben Ali's regime. Marzouki, who according to many would be a good presidential candidate, has still to  return to Tunisia, which he will do in a couple of days. Marzouki appealed to the Tunuxsian to keep up the pressure. The leader of An Nahda, Rached Ghannouchi who lives in exile in London, told the  BBC , that he would return wthing weeks. He said Tunisians had got rid of a dictator, but had still a long way to go.

Left Moncef Marzouki, right Rachid Ghannouchi

In the meantime the country appears to be mostly quiet, although gunfire was heard in Tunis during a second overnight curfew. Earlier there had been widespread violence, including looting, torching of buildings and deadly jail riots. Two people were reported to have been shot dead by soldiers near the interior ministry on Saturday. The centre of Tunis has been sealed off by tanks and troops guarding key public buildings. Army helicopters are patrolling overhead. Residents in some areas have armed themselves with sticks and clubs, forming impromptu militias and manning checkpoints to protect their homes. Many attacks targeted businesses and buildings connected with the former president and his family.French-owned supermarkets were also looted. A nephew of president Ben Ali's wife, Imed Trabelsi, died of his wounds in a hospital after having stabbed.
In many cases it appeared that acts of vandalism and fights were staged by armed gangs belonging to Ben Ali's former security services or the police. Civilians said they trusted the army more than the police and warnings circulated not to open doors when people identifyinmg themselves as police officers knocked on doors. The head of Ben Ali's presidebntial guard, general Ali Seryat, was arrested on Saturday. He wil be charged with plottinmg against ste security.The former Interior minister Rafiq Belhaj Qassim was arrested on Sunday in the northern town of Beja.
Checkpoint manned by civilians armed with iron bars.

The leader of neighbouring Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, praised Mr Ben Ali, whom he said he still considered the "legal president of Tunisia". "You have suffered a great loss... There is none better than Zine (Mr Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.On the internet circulated video's on Sunday of clashes in Libya between protesters and security forces. It was not yet clear how widespread the unrest was.  

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