Thousands Protest Interim Government in Tunis

Signs that the Tunisia story is by no means over emerged this weekend. Protests continued in Tunis and elsewhere against the interim prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi and the president, Fouad Mebazaa, on grounds that they were part of the ruling Rally for Constitutional Democracy.

The crowds wanted nothing to do with close associates of deposed dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali.

Aljazeera English reports on a demonstration mounted by thousands of police in downtown Tunis. They insisted that they are innocent and that they had just gone along with the orders of their superiors, who are the ones who should be punished.

Meanwhile, in rural towns the General Union of Tunisian Workers organized people to rally and walk toward Tunis to demand that Ghannouchi and Mebazaa step down. Some 500 members of the ‘Freedom Caravan’ set off from Manzil Bouzian Saturday night. Aljazeera is reporting that some of these protesters living elsewhere in Tunisia begain arriving in the capital Sunday morning–only about 1,000 of them. See also the BBC.

Small demonstrations in emulation of Tunisia were held Saturday in Algeria and in Yemen. The one in Algeria turned violent, with dozens wounded by security forces attempting to interdict it.

Having already abolished the so-called ‘Ministry of Information’ and pre-publication censorship, the Tunisian Customs administration announced Saturday that imported books, magazines, CDs, films, and other electronic media would forthwith be exempt from any requirement that the importer receive prior permission to bring them in. When I was in Tunisia a few years ago I went around looking for Arabic bookstores. Mostly I just found little stationaries with a small stock of slim books by Tunisian authors– mostly novellas as I remember. I saw an enormous Western-style book store brimming with French books, and it seemed to me that the Ben Ali regime was carefully limiting access to Arabic books for the literate middle and working classes, but was giving the Francophone educated upper middle class access to a much wider range of literature (presumably on the theory– mistaken, as it turned out– that this cosmopolitan class was anyway on the regime’s side).

The idea of books and videos just flowing into an Arab country with no let or hindrance is breathtaking (even Lebanon censors, and its censorship may be getting worse.) On the other hand, the Tunisian government will keep in place internet filters, which are after all a form of censorship.

Posted in Tunisia | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. I don’t think the people are going to believe the police and security forces that supported and or worked for Ben Ali’s government. You just have to see the reports of mass rape and mass killings since the demonstrations started to see what was happening and who was doing what.

  2. shahid shahid: are you hoping Tunisia to become another Islamic Republic of Iran? I truly hope that’s not the case.

    • There has been little indication to suggest that whatever form the next government takes will be theocratic. The assumption that there is only one way a revolution could go in the Islamic world is naive at best.

      Even if, for whatever reason, the Tunisians opted to bring an Islamic party to power that would be their decision and there’s no reason to assume pre-emptively that it would be a direct path to back dictatorship and tyranny.

      The consequences of the Western decision that an Islamic government in Somalia was unacceptable has lead to immense misery in the country in a decades long civil war that had essentially ended before we touched it off again by encouraging Ethiopia to attack. The best thing that we can do for the Tunisians, or our own interests, is to watch what is happening and hope that they make the right decisions for their own interests.

      On a related note Edward Said wrote a fascinating book called “Covering Islam : how the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world” that I read a few years ago, which among other things discussed the way that the English-speaking media (interestingly he used the French newspaper Le Monde as a contrast) dumbed down the internal workings of the Iranian revolution and how the American government involved itself in favour of the islamic faction out of knee-jerk fear that the socialist factions might come into power.

      Well worth reading even though I doubt it mentioned Tunisia at any point, it does help understand the coverage of the revolution and the concerns that colour the reaction to it.

    • JSBE:
      History of Iran does not start from 1979, with the Islamic revolution.

      Iran was the first democracy in the Middle East, but it was not the liking of UK & USA, so the government of Iran was overthrown by the UK & USA. The resulting revolution of 1979 is the direct consequence what the lovers of democracy did in Iran in 1953.

      If Iran starts obeying orders from London & Washington today, no matter what kind of government Iran has, no one will complain.

      I never hear from the lovers of democracy what kind of democracy Iran has during dictatorial kingdom of Shah of Iran that west created and supported for quarter of a century.

      Democracy everywhere is not in the best interest of the west. West has destroyed democracies many places & brought dictators like Pinochet of Chile, General Armah of Guatemala & Mobuto Sisiseko of Zaire to name a few. It is easy to bribe a single dictator than the whole country under a democracy.

      I hope to see a democratic Tunisia like present day Turkey. I wish them all the best.

      Viva Tunisia.

  3. Fredricka Whitfield, CNN Anchor lady from 1 PM on Sunday just announced while showing a pictures of Tunisia demonstrations, you should watch 5 PM what is happening in Tunisia because it directly effects what you “Pay at the Gas Station”.

    Finally, CNN has figured out that it will affect the pocket of American public so it has become a news item. If it does not hurt your pocket, it is no news. I turned the TV off in disgust.

    Demonstrations, democracy or dictatorship does not mean anything until American news media demonize, humanize, or figured out that it will affects the pocket of an American.

    Therefore, until now it was no news.

  4. .
    In the first video, what were those cards that the marchers were holding up ? Identity cards ? Cards showing that they were policemen ?

  5. Tunisian Media Experiences New Freedom
    The social and political upheaval in Tunisia has ushered in increasing press freedoms. The La Presse newspaper in Tunis has a new editor and a new outlook. The paper is now focused on reporting that is free of fear. link to

  6. Exciting! I hope all this freedom doesn’t further the penetration of radical islamists, and ends up in a teocratic dictatorship. I can’t agree whith those that think that if it is a Tunisian sharia dictatorship, we should accept it. Wasn’t Ben Ali Tunisian?

  7. The French Wikipedia says, for what it’s worth, “D’après les dernières estimations fournies par le gouvernement tunisien à l’Organisation internationale de la francophonie, le nombre de personnes ayant une certaine maîtrise du français est chiffré à 6,36 millions de personnes, soit 63,6 % de la population.”

    Admittedly the Tunisian government might well exaggerate the number of French speakers when reporting to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, but it appears that potentially subversive French books would reach a larger part of the Tunisian population than just the upper middle class. The education system moved slowly from French to Arabic after independence and science classes were still taught in French up until the 1990s, so knowledge of French was not limited to a narrow elite.

Comments are closed.