The video on Aljazeera shows Tunis as a war zone on Saturday afternoon, with burned out vehicles in the streets and heavy black smoke floating over the city. Security forces loyal to deposed president Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali are alleged to be engaging in sabotage and looting, and to be coming into conflict with the regular army.
Ben Wedeman of CNN heroically managed to get to Tunis only to find a military lockdown. But it may be that the Ben Ali gangs have thrown a fright into the population and improved the image of the regular army taking them on, so that people angry with the government aren’t so sad to see tanks in the streets– if it means they aren’t about to be pillaged and assaulted by the former security police and other criminal elements.
Tunisia’s Constitutional Council appears to have reviewed Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s claim to be president and rejected it. Ghannouchi made the claim Friday on the grounds that president Ben Ali was ‘incapacitated’, in which case the prime minister takes over. But this interpretation of the situation would imply that Ben Ali is still president, a non-starter for the Tunisian public.
So the Constitutional Council instead chose as interim president Fouad Mebazza, who had been speaker of the lower house of parliament. Mebazza, from an old Tunisian aristocratic family, had been in the cabinet of Tunisia’s founding father, Habib Bourguiba, who led the country to independence from France. The holder (or in this case former holder) of that post is supposed to succeed in case the post of president is vacated, according to article 57 of the Tunisian constitution. This constitutional gesture was a declaration by the Constitutional Council that Ben Ali is well and truly gone and out of office.
But then Mebazza turned around and asked Mohamed Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity in preparation for elections in 2 months. The problem is that so far all of these measures have been taken by prominent members of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), against which the popular uprising was directed. Will the people trust that one-party state to preside over its own liquidation?
There is a controversy about the phrase ‘government of national unity.’ Ghannouchi is said to have consulted a handful of regime-recognized parties about forming an interim government. These parties are considered to only pretend to be in the opposition. He also had conversations with leaders of two genuinely oppositional parties, the Progressive Democratic Party and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties. (Don’t you wish the US had opposition parties with names like that?)
The Tunisian Communist Communist Workers Party of Hamma Hammami, the Congress for the Republic, and an-Nahda (Awakening– the Muslim fundamentalist party) have not so far been contacted. A spokesman for the Congress for the Republic said on Aljazeera that the opposition parties demanded an inclusive transitional government, not an Establishment, phony ‘government of national unity.’ The leaders of the real opposition parties are all announcing their return to the country.
Tunisian feminists are suggesting on Twitter that women greet the fundamentalist leader Rashid Ghanoushi (not connected to the prime minister) in bikinis at the airport, and many secular activists are afraid that the Nahda fundamentalists will usurp their revolution for reactionary purposes– accusing it of not even having played a significant role in the overthrow of Ben Ali. They also resent the focus on Nahda spokesmen at Aljazeera, which they say has a bias toward fundamentalist political movements.