2011-01-17 Comments on the new national government formed in Tunisia

The New York Times, the Guardian, and WL Central have all reported on a new national-unity government being formed in Tunisia today. However, the NYT and the Guardian have delivered notably different accounts of what is unfolding in Tunisia, with the Guardian stressing national unity and concessions, and the NYT concentrating on the continued unrest and dissatisfaction. As reported by the Guardian:

The government hopes the new coalition cabinet will help to stabilise the north African country of 10 million, which is still in turmoil after the sudden collapse of Ben Ali's rule last week amid a popular uprising. "We are committed to intensifying our efforts to re-establish calm and peace in the hearts of all Tunisians," Ghannouchi told a news conference. "Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform." He named Chebbi, founder of the opposition PDP party, as minister of regional development.

And the NYT reported:

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a close ally of Mr. Ben Ali, announced that the new unity government negotiated with the recognized opposition parties would include ministers of the interior, state, finance and defense taken from the old ruling party. Leaders of the recognized opposition parties assumed lesser posts. Najib Chebbi, the founder of the biggest and most credible recognized opposition party, the Progressive Democratic Party, was made minister of regional development.The Communist and Islamist parties, which have been outlawed, were excluded from the talks and the unity government. And their officials bitterly denounced the new coalition.

As reported by WL Central, the strife in Tunisia has been an ongoing concern. From the self-immolation on December 17 of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi to the arrest of Slim Amamou, it is clear that Tunisia has been skirting the brink for some time. Further, the Tunisian government's efforts to crack down on protests and online freedoms, with the subsequent counter-efforts by Anon, aggravated an already tense stand-off.

This all culminated in several news organizations asking "Is this the first WikiLeaks revolution?" These somewhat dubious accolades prompted US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley to issue this tweet

Tunisia is not a Wiki revolution. The Tunisian people knew about corruption long ago. They alone are the catalysts of this unfolding drama.

Perhaps Philip J. Crowley is right. It is believable that the Tunisian people did not need to read the cable that stated bluntly:

Corruption in Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.

But the rest of the world surely did. Further, it is more than likely that the Tunisians who were protesting for greater freedom of expression and association did not need to read about it in this cable:

Ambassador raised the need for more freedom of expression and association in Tunisia. El Materi agreed. He complained that, as the new owner of Dar Assaba, the largest private newspaper group in the country, he has been getting calls from the Minister of Communications complaining about articles he has been running (Comment: This is doubtful). He laughed and suggested that sometimes he wants to “give Dar Assaba back.” El Materi noted the interviews his newspapers have been running with opposition leaders (he mentioned FDTL Secretary General Mustapha Ben Jaafar). He was clearly proud of the interviews.

Again though, the rest of the world did.

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