2011-02-06 Tunisia's Revolution Continues

Even though Tunisia's dictator for 23 years, President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali has been forced to flee the country and is currently a fugitive from an Interpol international arrest warrant with his assets frozen in Tunisia and Europe, the very difficult task of thoroughly rooting out the old regime and building a new Tunisia continues.

While many are still troubled by the fact that long time Ben Ali crony Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi remains the head of government, there haven't been many street protests in recent days. After a major government reshuffle purged it of Ben Ali loyalists, most people seem to have adopted a wait and see attitude and started to get back to normal life.

“I think the pressure that was put on the government has borne its fruit, meaning that we have obtained good concessions,” was the way Kamel Ben Hamida, a resident of Tunis, put it. “It would be more reasonable to stop asking for the government to fall.”

However, in the past week the Tunisian government has been struggling with a wave of counter revolutionary violence that appears to be coming from some members of the government's own security forces. On Monday, youths armed with sticks and knives ran through the streets of Gassrine burning government buildings and terrorizing people according to the state news agency. A group of 2000 attacked the interior ministry. On Tuesday gangs rampaged through schools in the capital Tunis terrorizing the students. In the southern city of Gabes a synagogue was attacked. The police began a strike on Monday which didn't help matters. That was ended on Tuesday when a deal was reached to allow the security forces to form a union.

The army made a visible presence throughout the country to stop the violence and calm the fears of chaos that might create a longing for the old order. In Carthage, the army fired into the air to disperse gangs that raided two schools. Tunisia's new interior minister said on Tuesday that he thought that this violence was part of an organized plot to bring back the old regime:

"These people who came yesterday to the ministry... are the same people who went out today to scare people," Farhat Rajhi told privately-owned Hannibal TV. "There is a conspiracy against state security and there is a conspiracy in the security forces."

Peres Trabeisi, the spokesman for Tunisia's Jewish Community said he didn't know who was behind the attack on the synagogue but,

"I condemn this action and I believe those who did it want to create divisions between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia who have lived for decades in peace,"

The Interior Minister replace 34 senior security officials that he charged were involved in a "conspiracy" to undermine the state. This is seen as the first step in dealing with the network of police agents, security personnel and spies that Ben Ali had built up in two decades of running a police state. Until they are completely rooted out they can be expect to continue to make mischief in an effort to overthrow the revolution and bring back the old regime.

The UN also called for a security overhaul. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, leading an eight-member team sent to Tunisia by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tunisia's security forces must be overhauled to stop them from working against the people as they did during the uprising, in which 147 people were killed and 510 people were wounded.

Al Jazeera report on current situation in Tunisa

There was more trouble on Saturday in the northwestern town of El Kef as police fired on an angry crowd of a thousand people who were attacking the police station. The police killed 4 protesters and wounded 17 others. The crowd had turned on police after the police chief “abused” a member of the community, the official Tunisian news agency said.

A local journalist said the police chief slapped a woman during a demonstration and that triggered the violence in which the people attacked the police station with stones and small firebombs according to the interior ministry. Two cars were burned, one a police vehicle. The police first used tear gas, then fired into the air in a vain attempt to dispense the crowd before firing into it the ministry said. It also said the police chief that started the incident was under arrest and said investigators had been sent to El Kef.


A protester was also killed Saturday in the southern town of Kebili when he was hit by a tear gas canister in a clash with security forces. Several other people were hospitalized with injuries. The official TAP news agency said that security forces intervened after protesters attempted to set fire to a national guard post.

Sunday Fahrat Rajhi, the new interior minister, suspended all activities of Ben Ali's old ruling RCD Party according to a statement carried by TAP. Rajhi said he would seek the party's dissolution. Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri said that the move was made for what the government is terming "security reasons", as many "people are blaming RCD members for violence ... and looting".

Clearing out the old regime is not an easy matter. There are some 10,000 civil servants that are RCD members. The new agricultural minister Mokhtar Jalleli told AFP "People were obliged to join the party, to pay to have a job." A wholesale dismissal of that many people would further hurt the already damaged economy. The agriculture ministry accounts for 10% of Tunisian GDP and Jalleli is scrambling to get on top of the situation there. He told AFP:

"We have occupied farms, milk distribution problems: in some departments of the ministry, people are on strike for bonuses promised by Ben Ali," he said.

"In others, they are willing to resume work if their boss, from the RCD is fired...,"

According to economist Adbeljelil Bedoui for stability to return "the State has to take control or nationalize business of the Ben Ali clan." He said they would also have to tackle the black economy, which he estimates at between 10 and 15 percent of the GDP and as much as 40% of the non-farm employment.

The government has already nationalized two banks, the Zitouna and Central Bank of Tunisia, that were facing collapse and linked to the Ben Ali clan.

The European Union agreed to freeze the assets of the former Tunisian president, his wife and their associates on Monday France24 reported. On Tuesday French authorities seized a small aircraft belonging to the Ben Ali family. Ben Ali is estimate to have amassed a $50 billion USD fortune that includes banks, tuna export, hotels, construction, newspapers and pharmaceuticals during his two decade dictatorship.

Tunisia is a former French colony and France is still it's major trading partner and the seven billion USD in trade a year is crucial to the Tunisian economy. Habib Gaida, president of the Franco-Tunisia chamber of commerce, said nearly all French businesses operating in the country had gotten back to business within two days of Ben Ali's fall.

Finally free of the corruption and control of the Ben Ali mob, the mood in the business community is determinedly upbeat. Zied Lahbib, who is number two at the agency promoting foreign investment said "The Ben Ali regime was a lead jacket for the business environment."

Another thing propelling the post-Ben Ali business environment is the return of expats. "Businessmen from the diaspora are already contacting us to return, because they are Tunisians but also because they want to be the first into the markets, most of all in new technology and computer engineering," Lahbib added.

There has been a new freedom of the press since the government restrictions have been lifted. Those rules required running a picture of the ruling family on the front-page everyday for example. Interim PM Ghannouchi has lifted all restrictions on the press and abolished the hated Information Ministry. “Finally the Deliverance” ran the front page headline in the French-language daily Le Quotidien a week ago.

This North African nation is now celebrating three weeks of freedom from the iron fist of a dictator that rule them for more than two decades. They still have many challenges ahead and the forces of counter revolution are by no means spent, but the Tunisian people are now well on the way to consolidating their revolution.

Tunisia - posted by @Gsquare86 from Twitter Feb. 6, 2011

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