The Future of Tunisia

Published January 19, 2011

Much of what’s happening in Tunisia seems good. It’s all certainly very exciting. But what will be the outcome? How complete and dramatic will Tunisia’s revolution be? How complete and dramatic should it be?

The interim government that has filled the power vacuum created when president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country last week is a coalition made up of sitting politicians and former dissidents, such as the new minister for youth and sport, Slim Amanou, who was a blogger (rather than a cowboy or a rapper, as his very-cool name would suggest) jailed for anti-government activity on Jan. 6. He was released just last Thursday. (Slim has had a very interesting two weeks!) This new government is attempting a sort of meeting halfway—creating a new, more transparent democratic system, while keeping enough of the old institutions in place to keep the country running.

The problem is many people want a fuller transition, calling for anyone involved at all with Ben Ali’s government—such as the new prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and new president, Fouad Mebazaa—to be cast out of this new one. As the New York Times reports today:

"The new government is backed by the military and a tiny group of recognized opposition leaders, but it seems caught in a war on two fronts. On one side are Mr. Ben Ali’s former security forces, which the government has accused of continued acts of violence. On the other are the protesters in the streets, who demanded a faster and more radical purge of the old government and whose loyalties the new government is struggling to maintain. 'You sympathize with the current government,' one woman shouted, expressing a common sentiment. 'How are you supposed to represent the people?'"

It’s a tough situation. Four ministers have already resigned. As Slim Amanou says, "This is a coalition government. So of course people won't be completely in agreement over the government's composition."

Further complicating things is the Islamist party, the Nahdha Movement, which was banned under Ben Ali. Its leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi (no relation to Mohamed Ghannouchi) is in London, where he has been in exile for years, but many people expect him to return and assume a role in the new government. He has promised a more open style of Islamism, one that supports freedom of expression and women’s rights. But religious governments of any kind (including Christian ones, like we have to a certain extent here in the U.S.) make me nervous.

It will be nothing if not interesting for Tunisia moving forward. Here’s wishing them as peaceful a revolution as possible.   

Written by Dave Bry

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