1. Tunisian Malaise…
Four months after Zine Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi were forced by angry protests to flee Tunisia on January 14, a complex struggle is unfolding over the country’s future, a focus of which is the upcoming election. The election is to vote for a constituent assembly which will be charged with writing a new constitution and deciding the parameters of the political system that will replace the decades of Ben Ali’s single party rule.
Some are asking: Has Tunisia’s march towards democracy “gone sour”? Is there, as some youth protesters claim, “a counter revolution” taking place in the run up to the country’s July 24 elections with a “shadow government’ made up of members of Ben Ali’s old guard, “the clique of Sahelians”, stage managing the process in a bid to retain power? That there is a power struggle shaping up over the country’s future and the extent to which the old system might be dismantled is clear enough.
Is there, as some youth protesters claim, “a counter revolution” taking place in the run up to the country’s July 24 elections with a “shadow government” made up of members of Ben Ali’s old guard, “the clique of Sahelians” , stage managing the process in a bid to retain power?
Add to that mounting economic and social challenges. The economy is still in the doldrums; it hasn’t recovered from the civil unrest with tourism, a sector that employs nearly half a million people, having been particularly hard hit. The sluggish recovery in Europe continues to hurt Tunisian exports. Unlike Algeria, Tunisia cannot expect income from oil and natural gas. It will have to borrow heavily from international institutions and the global financial sector – with the usual strings attached – to avoid complete financial collapse While it is too much to expect that the interim government could reverse the high levels of unemployment and low wage jobs, very little has been accomplished on this front to date.
To that must be added the growing refugee crisis in the south of the country. Since the civil war in Libya nearly 700,000 people have fled into the neighboring countries. As of May 4, the lion’s share of that number – more than 325,000 – have made their way into Tunisia adding dramatically to the country’s economic woes. Some of the Libyan armed conflict has also spilled over into Tunisia’s southern interior in the areas around Foum Tataouine and Dhibat Remeda. Khadaffi opposed the toppling of Ben Ali – probably because as much as anything he well understood he could be next. His forces cross board raids into Tunisia is both a punishment and a warning to the Tunisians that Khadaffi still has the ability to influence the outcome of the Tunisian events.
True enough the political map has dramatically changed. There are now at least 64 political parties (some say 70) that span a wide spectrum that come into being since the Ben Alis were forced from power. As one would expect after decades of political repression, few of them have broad constituencies or much political experience in organizing elections.
While the former ruling party, the RCD (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Demcratique) was dissolved, many of its former members that include much of the old economic and political old guard are re-organizing under new banners. There are already widespread rumors of certain parties with ties to different Western countries “buying votes”, with large cash infusions coming from unknown sources coming into the country. Comparisons are being made with recent elections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Ukraine, Georgia) where under the veil of democracy, foreign agendas are being played out.
2. Rajhi’s bombshell: “pour cashcrouttes et ashrah dinars”
The signs of increased activity by the old guard are multiplying, confirming in the minds of Tunisian democrats, that while Ben Ali and Trabelsi have left, the system that they put in place is still fighting to maintain its privileges and power. This should be no great surprise. Ben Ali had a security force of some 200,000 – and that did not include all of his paid agents. Many of these elements were active in the days just after Ben Ali’s flight, sowing violence and terror from 4-by-4 Toyota pick up trucks throughout the country. More recently, the signs of a concerted destabilization campaign are popping up everywhere.
- Last week there were major fires set in 5 prisons leading to the escape of more than 800 prisoners. Very suspicious
- Of late, the police and army have abstained from protecting demonstrators throughout the country. In the absence of the state’s security, more and more demonstrations are being attacked by provocateurs in civilian clothing, using the same disruptive tactics that Ben Ali’s (and Mubarek’s) thugs employed earlier
- In a number of Tunisian cities, Beja for one, people have been identified providing funds to provocateurs who are willing to disrupt meetings and protests `pour cashcrouttes et ashrah dinars’ (for a few crumbs of bread and 10 dinars)
- During the recent 4 days of demonstrations in Tunis, a lot of damage to property and cars took place. The demonstrators insist it is not they who turned violent, but provocateurs.
A 20 minute interview on May 4 loaded on to Facebook, triggered angry denials from two leaders of Tunisia’s transitional government and four days of angry demonstrations in Tunis and elsewhere in the country. The demonstrators, mostly the same Tunisian youth that helped topple Ben Ali in the first place, had slogans calling for the transitional government to resign. The demonstrations are met with `Ben Ali-era like’ repression from the authorities that include many arrests and at least one death. While demonstrators appear (from various press reports) small in number, their impact created a political crisis for the interim government, whose grip on power remains tentative.
“pour cashcrouttes et ashrah dinars” (for a few crumbs of bread and 10 dinars)
What lay behind this latest flare up and loss in confidence?
Although in Tunisia he’s emerging as the darling of the democratic movement in this complex “post-Ben Ali” era, Americans have hardly heard of him. Farhat Rajhi is his name. But he’s done it again – shaken the country to its core. In so doing, at the very least he’s embarrassed those who would prefer that Tunisia’s “transition to democracy” be held behind closed doors, managed if not smothered. Rajhi’s accusations reinforce the suspicions of reactionary plots afoot.
Rajhi is a highly respected judge who, for one brief shining moment in February and March of this year, was Tunisia’s Minister of Interior. During his short tenure, Rajhi sacked more than 45 former members of Ben Ali’s security police, ordered the dissolution of the former ruling party, the RCD, and was in the process of purging many more when Tunisia’s interim president, Beji Caid Essebsi, sacked him. Rajhi’s `mistake’ was failing to inform Essebi of the firings beforehand and that he was “ostracising” Tunisian police officers. Rajhi’s dismissal sent a chill through Tunisia’s democratic movement, suggesting that behind the scenes, Ben Ali’s old security network still was a potent and well connected force of reaction in the country.
More recently, on May 4, Rajhi did it again, suggesting that elements of the former elite were angling to find a way to maintain their grip on power. In a video circulated on Facebook, he accused the current interim prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi and a small “clique of Sahelians” close to him of running a shadow government bent on using whatever means possible to win power in the upcoming July 24 elections. “The Sahel” is the rich coastal region of Sousse and Monastir from where many of the Zine Ben Ali’s old guard originate. According to Rajhi, a former Ben Ali intimate, Kamel Ltaief, credited for helping Ben Ali seize power in a 1987 bloodless coup, is the country’s “shadow president”.
Rajhi also accused Essebsi and Ltaief of maintaining close contact with Tunisia’s deposed president, Ben Ali. He spoke of a recent meeting between Tunisia’s military chief of staff, General Rachid Ammar and Ben Ali in Qatar. Rajhi also warned that should Tunisia’s Islamic Movement, al-Nahda, win the elections that the shadow government would ask the military to seize power in a coup d’etat.
The targets of Rajhi’s accusations, Essebsi and Ltaief, have both angrily denied his allegations mostly by attacking Rajhi personally rather than by dealing with the charges. But he has forced them out into the public. Beyond repeating their mantras of support for the revolution, to date, they have done little to dispel the suspicions Rajhi raised. The fact that these accusations are coming from a former minister of interior with a proven track record of supporting the democratic movement (and losing his job as a result) gives added weight to his claims
3. IFES – Promoting democracy or something else?
The day after Rajhi gave his “J’accuse!” speech, the interim government was again embarrassed and found itself on the defensive concerning the new election law. Much of the process leading up to this law has been conducted in secrecy. A sub-committee of the interim government charged with coming up with the process for the July 24th elections in their few public announcements have insisted that they will put together the election law without “outside intervention”.
But lately it turns out that a U.S. based ngo – the International Foundation of Election Systems has been heavily involved behind the scenes. Well known for helping to set up election systems in “transitions to democracy”, according to well placed Tunisian sources, the IFES, has been more than marginally involved with Tunisia’s election sub-committee: it is alleged that they wrote the election law in its entirety. A number of inquiries to IFES (from Tunisians in the USA) have gone unanswered.
While internationally respected in some circles, IFES has a history of being involved in electoral campaigns that curiously produce U.S. oriented administrations, as were the cases in Ukraine and Georgia. Despite appearances of bipartisanship, its Board of Directors is heavily tilted to the right. Such figures as William Hybl (chair of the El Pomar Foundation from Colorado Springs), Leon Weil (Reagan era U.S. ambassador to Nepal), Ken Blackwell (former Ohio Secretary of State, implicated in voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election) and Colorado’s own former U.S. Senator Hank Brown (with close ties to the lobbying firm Brownstein, Farber, Hyatt and Schreck). All hail from the Republican Party’s rightwing. That the name of the most conservative, pro-U.S. Latin American president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, also appears is more than a curiosity.
Well known for helping to set up election systems in “transitions to democracy”, according to well placed Tunisian sources, the IFES, has been more than marginally involved with Tunisia’s election sub-committee: it is alleged that they wrote the election law in its entirety.
Funded in large measure with federal moneys, the organization has created a niche for itself along with organizations like the Freedom House, George Soros’ “Open Society”, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and National Democratic Institute. A more cynical observer might comment that these foundations today do legally what the C.I.A used to do under the table and illegally during the Cold War: in the name of “democracy” – buy elections and overthrow governments.
a total schlamozzle?.
we ain’t singing the blues but running for our lives from the blows
of the security forces being dished out.
the scums are doing what they know best: throw the blows.
in the name of security feel unsecure.
we are screeching and screaming blue murder.
three presidents,three swahlis and the shit can’t get any thicker.
if that’s what the sahel produces then we should cut the water
supply to the sahel and let hydromaut dehydrate with their surrounds
and stop the pests from infecting tunisia.
thanks rob prince for the output,it is always nice to see a view from non emotional outsider.
we never chose these current two old vegetables,the sahel pedlers
left them in the kasbah market without telling tunisian they were
past their user by date: mbazza and ecb
we had a clown actor in bourguiba,followed by zibla and now
two dehydrated vegetables.
the nightmare continues for tunisia,very hard to get rid of the shit
brains that we have.
any one there in tunisia that can rise and clean up the mess?.
Pour ceux qui comprennent pas bien l’anglais, vous pouvez lire ce lien http://www.mondialisation.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24733
I would like to thank this friend and all the others for your thoughtful comments.
Perhaps the piece is too pessimistic? Somewhere in it I should have made clear how impressed I am with the lucidity with which so many Tunisians see through these different cheap machinations, so typical of the tumultuous and largely positive political changes taking place in the country.
I am going to try to follow the events leading up to the elections more in the coming period, and to the degree possible that it is to write about Tunisia from Denver, Colorado, will continue to do so
My best wishes,… Rob Prince
VERY GOOD ARTICLE,
TUNISIA NEED URG a NATIONAL ORGANISATION MEETING CONGRESS (ouside tunisia) to save and GUIDANCE the demand of the REVOLUTION and to increase THE PERFORMANCE REQUIRED of the democracy and future paln
today the TUN. GOV.in cooperation with ENNAHDA to sell the REVOLUTION is a BIG PROPLEM , because ENNAHDA bay the ELECTIONS as spend from ALLAH .(zaket)
the ENNAHDA ORGANISATION BESED ON INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC FONDS .
THE BASIC NEEDS OF START TO BUILDING THE DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM IN TUN as follow:
– NO REPRESENTATIVE OR POLITICAL ACTIVITY OF RDCst, and any ISLAMIC organisation .
-GADDAFI & SON MUST GO (THEY COOPERATE WITH LEILA TRABELSI (org.TRIPOLI-LYB)
-THE CALN MUST COMDAMN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
-TUNISA musn’t payed CREDIT or DEBT .
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
and let the FREE TUNISIAN RE-BUILDING THEIR CONTRY
P.S: F.ERRAJHI helped the TUNISIAN PEOPLE he means :
IF YOU VOTE FOR ENNAHDA !!!! thats YR RESPONSABILTY AND IT WILL BE MORE DIFFICAL AND DANGEROUS .
We know your origin.. no need to hide.. looser
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The nightmare will turn into a beautiful dream when the Tunisians will be united, consolidated and more determined.
a need for speed to get to the marker date the 14 th of july
and getting there might require standing on all sorts of hurdles
like rcd rocks,the nuisance security apparatus,vane political aspirants,old bourguiba vegetables and all sorts of rats in between.
meantime the question can be asked:
what did rachid ammar do in quatar?
was he receiving his commission from zibla and the trabelsi for
letting them out scoff free?.
was he inspecting the property bought to him by the same rats?.
was he erecting the first stone for village to house all rcd corrupt
was he opening a secret account there to receive payement for staying put during the crisis?.
why didn’t the goverment and army act against kaddafi knowing well that they have unfettered access to the sky.
they could have made a harissa of his conpound even with two planes
and saved libyans the agony and countless deaths.
aren’t all arab regimes so heroic only when it comes to bash their own vitizens?.
when all is said and done: we need lots of rajhi and less of secretives dead meats.
the first act of treason is hiding from the citizens the truth,it is a first step to corruption and despotisme.
Rajhi was supposed to be the one to clean up this mess but unfortunatly, he wasn’t appreciated by those on the top.
it seems to be you.
On est en droit de se poser des questions sur le crédit à apporter à ses informations (hormis celle que nous connaissons déjà).
Serait t il possible que l’IFES joue un rôle aussi important sans que ça se sache et sans qu’aucun membre de la commission des élections n’en parle ?
They might pull their dirty tricks, use their money, call on foreign powers to help them, set the country ablaze if they like in order to keep the power . they would not succeed this time for the simple raison : the tunisians are fed up with a system similar to that the palestinians are dealing with,
a system where apartheid rules, a system where citizens are not treated equal, a system where corruption is spreading like a cancer in all sectors of the society, a system where u are not sure of the loyalty of your own and where doubt and suspicion are a daily dish, a system where u are not sure you will return when u leave home, a system that called it self democratic and was highly acclaimed by the profiteers that saw in tunisia with it’s small but literate population a mass of cheep laborers and an opportunity to exploit, a system where jailing, torturing,abusing,raping was at a daily bases, where the vaste majority of juges, lawyers, docters, landlords, actors, intellectuals and all those that called called the shots were in bed with the tyrannical regime of benali, actively an through their deafening silence were in fact contributing in the dismembering of the tunisian body.
you see, Tunisia might be a tiny country but it’s big by it’s culture, by the generosity of it’s people and by it’s patience and it’s endurance after beeing liberated from the terrible french we were invaded by a group of individuals that sought and served their own interests then came the maffia of benali who received a phd in the art of torture at the school of americas, was put in power by foreign powers and had had the green lights to impose a south american governing system where poeple were considered as cows and therefor they have to be exploited to the maximum.
after the 14th of january things have changed to a certain degree but the loosers are trying to cling to power and i honestly i think that they have lost their grip on it forever , my optimism is based on a simple fact : the vaste majority of the population have had nothing and have nothing to loose , they endured all forms of horrors and they know now that they have a choice, either to go for and make sure that what happened from the independance on will not happen again or become dedicated slaves and stop wining about it.
The new emerging political system hopefully will preserve the integrity of Tunisia as a home for all those that deserve to call it a home.
long live the revolution, long live Tunisia
nawaat cesses de jouer ammar404
A tunisian patriot says
Thank you for your mentioning This:
SOMETHING I HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR THE PAST TWENTY YEARS OR MORE, THAT THE REGIME OF TUNISIA IS AN OLIGARCHIQUE REGIME COPY OF THE SOUTH AMERICAN GOVERMENTS IN THE 60’S, 70’S AND THRU THE ENTIRE DECADE OF THE NINETIES…
“the maffia of benali who received a phd in the art of torture at the school of americas, was put in power by foreign powers and had had the green lights to impose a south american governing system where poeple were considered as cows and therefor they have to be exploited to the maximum.”
Thank you for this article that gives a summary of the situation in Tunisia, particularly of the involvement of the IFES, apparently a right wing CIA-shadow organization. I am not sure why Tunisia did not request assistance from the Carter Institute instead of the IFES. However, the summary is rather painted with an optimist brush. I see the situation more pessimist, and here is why.
The problem of Tunisia is that the rebellion that overthrew Zaba has not evolved into a fully-fledged revolution. Without leaders and a clear program, other than getting rid of Zaba, it lost momentum few weeks after Ben Ali’s flight, under the inertia of the low-key but shrewd PM Ghanouchi and the RCD barons. After Jan 14th, the ancient guard was trembling from fear, but soon, they re-gained confidence and started acting behind the scenes in an attempt to regain control of the situation. Essebsi becoming PM was the switching from the Ben Ali flavor to the original appellation-contrôlée of Bourguibism.
Later, with the authorization of too many parties, (thanks to the former minister of Interior, the same Mr. Rajhi) including of those with ideologies that oppose freedom and democracy, such as the Nahdha of its leader-for-life R. Ghannouchi, started a ferocious competition amongst the many groups. This competition took many forms: of widespread labor strikes (A. Jrad, the longtime secretary general of the UGTT, and ally of Zaba, succeeded in hijacking the political popular demands, and drowning them into corporatist demands, while the interior provinces are still jobless-depressed), sittings, the hijacking of houses of warship (mosques) into places of rallies and political propaganda, and the daily demonstrations… all that while the violence kept increasing. Today, the scene is of utter chaos: the tourism is at a stand-still, factories are stopped or closed, schools not schooling, and the police is indifferent to the ongoing daily violence of thefts, robberies, breakings, … all that on a background of a rising religious fanaticism (i.e. fascism). More recently an Islamist aggressed publicly Nouri Bouzid the dean of Tunisian movie directors. And more Islamists from the same Nahdha party are threatening with new attacks against more artists (like the movie maker Nadia Al Fani).
Some groups think that spreading more chaos would lead to making them appear more relevant and needed as saviors. This was tried by the die-hard Zaba-ists (the Seriati group during few days following Zaba’s flight) but it a dirty and dangerous game, that both, the ex-RCD and the Nahdha are trying. All the while, and as reflected in the more recent public polls, known parties and their leaders are irrelevant to middle-class Tunisians ( for instance, if R. Ghannouchi runs for president, he is credited with only four percent (4 %) of the votes. Tunisians want security (aman), work, unity, and freedom, without which, the country may sink into more chaos like Somalia.
You mentioned “large cash infusions coming from unknown sources coming into the country… foreign agendas are being played out. “, it is well known that R. Ghannouchi has always been the chou-chou of Aljazeera TV, and that today, Qatar is spending on him lavishly, which explains the large deluxe-offices Al Nahdha is opening in every big and small cities. Will Tunisia escape the fate of becoming a Somalia, or a oil-less Gulf Emirate?
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Mon espoir pour la Tunisie c’est également une Tunisie arabe tolérante, mauresque et que chacun ait sa propre vie chez lui: son culte…Seulement j’ai envie de vous dire que le problème aujourd’hui est très complexe, c’est d’abord un conflit de générations qui fait que les personnes plutôt âgées réagissent dans la réflexion et la lenteur car ils ne réalisent pas encore que les échanges se font maintenant presque en temps réel, les moyens de communications sont autrement plus divers et plus performants et c’est justement pour ça que le dialogue devrait être ramené à sa juste vitesse!! Rached Ghannouchi est un érudit de la culture islamique (incontestable) nos dictateurs en ont fait un héros à coup de répression, les opprimés des banlieues pauvres ont en fait une idole, l’absence de liberté, l’ignorance et la manipulation médiatique planétaire ont fait le reste!Il y a quelques mois on ne pensait pas du tout “au poids électoral” d’Ennahdha” aujourd’hui il faut le faire, car je vous jure que des élections libres feraient gagner Ennahdha qui est aujourd’hui le seul parti structuré, populaire et organisé: c’est un fait!!L’urgence à qq semaines du 24 Juillet c’est justement d’unir TOUS LES PARTIS DANS UN FRONT PROGRESSISTE POUR LA TUNISIE, car les partis religieux et surtout Ennahdha sont entrain de gagner du terrain à cause de la faiblesse (pour ne pas dire la petitesse) des autres partis et 80% des Tunisiens (dont la plupart ne comprennent rien à la confusion constitutionnelle qui règne en Tunisie depuis plusieurs mois) sont prêts à boycotter les élections comme pour bloquer cette politique qui ne répond pas à leurs exigences sécuritaires, économiques…Moralité pour sortir de ce piège constitutionnel, que je refuse de subir avec un certain nombre d’intellectuels patriotes nous avons 2 solutions: 1-) Résumer le débat politique entre deux fronts un civile progressiste et un religieux( car les 75 particules vont nous perdre à tous les coups),2-) Mettre en place une plate forme nationale apolitique pour reconstruire le pays et permettre aux différents partis politiques de se construire et d’avoir des programmes en connaissance de cause (cad après l’analyse de la situation de la Tunisie qui est aujourd’hui dans un chaos institutionnel, constitutionnel, économique et sécuritaire), autrement dit tous les Tunisiens devraient se mettre au travail ENSEMBLE pour:1- assainir les structures de l’état, refonder l’administration Tunisienne après des audits comptable, juridique et administratif: seul garant pour une réconciliation sociale durable et indispensable pour la relève de notre pays 2-Mettre en place les meilleurs programmes économiques, agricoles, sanitaires…après concertation entre tous les experts nationaux et internationaux ainsi que les partis politiques (qui semblent vouloir cacher leur copie, comme si on pouvait voter pour des gens qui poussent leur cupidité jusqu’à taire les programmes qui devraient être leur seule arme électorale!!) et au lieu d’attendre 1 AN ou 2 pour élire ceux qui vont nous gouverner alors que tout le monde a compris qu’il est impératif que les Tunisiens se remettent au travail, on donne l’occasion à chacun à prouver son savoir faire pour remettre la Tunisie en marche, le vote et le choix du système politique qu’on doit mettre en place deviendra une évidence!!! Le peuple n’acceptera plus de se faire enfariner par des discours “CREUX”, ne serait ce que pour éviter à la Tunisie des secousses politiques inutiles NON LA MAJORITE NE SE METTRA PAS AU SERVICE D’UNE MINORITE AUX ABOIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
admettons ennahdha gagnera les elections , je ne pige pas pourquoi on est si preocupe !!!
si c’est le choix des tunisiens, il faut respecter les regles de la democratie et juger apres.
je m’imagine pas une tunisie a l’afghanistan et s’il sera le cas rien ne peut empecher les tunisiens de contester ce qui peut toucher a leur manieres de vie.
ce qui est beaucoup plus preocupant pour la tunisie est le deracinement du systeme instaure par l’ancien regime, un systeme ou les interets sont devenue independants et beaucoup plus difficile a deraciner.