Jan 24, 2011
It took four weeks, from the time the residents of Sidi Bouzid first exploded in anger on December 17, for the Tunisian population to force Ben Ali, the dictator of 23 years, to leave the country.
During this time, the top layers of the state apparatus were probably deciding to get rid of the dictator, as a way to try to save the rest. Three days after Ben Ali took flight, on Monday, January 17, a transitional government was established under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. Within the new government, six members of the old government were left in place, and at key positions such as Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs or Finance. Ghannouchi assured that they all had “clean hands” and had always acted to “preserve the national interest”! Three leaders of legal opposition parties, Naguib Chebbi of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), Ahmed Brahim of Ettajdid and Mustapha Ben Jafar of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (FDTL) were all asked to participate in the provisional government, as were officials associated with the UGTT, the main union.
By the next day, the UGTT had already ordered its representatives to withdraw from the government, which it refused to recognize. Then, the health minister, Mustapha Ben Jafar of the FDTL, suspended his participation. The Minister of Culture also resigned. For its part, Ettajdid, a party that was founded in 1993 out of the former Tunisian Communist Party (PCT), also threatened to withdraw its ministers from the government, saying it would participate “to fill the political vacuum that threatens national security and to preserve the achievements of the people’s revolution” – but only if the party of Ben Ali, the RCD, is removed from power, and his ministers from the government.
The same morning, the police dispersed a demonstration in Tunis of hundreds of unionists and activists who shouted that the fall of the dictator must be just the first step, and that his party, the RCD, should be excluded from all the posts it has, beginning with the ministers of the government.
The population is relieved to have chased out the clan of Ben Ali and that of his wife, Trabelsi, who were supported up to the very last minute by the leaders of the Western countries. But the population is also legitimately proud of carrying out courageous and determined daily mobilizations as they confronted the repression that left dozens dead and many injured. And they are certainly not ready to let their victory be taken from them.
Beginning on January 14, “vigilance committees” in popular neighborhoods expanded to defend against the armed gangs formed by former supporters of Ben Ali. Young men, organized around the workers or militants of the neighborhood, took charge of the security of the inhabitants, of families and their homes. They checked cars and their occupants, and acted as strong supporters of the regular army which they considered, up to this point, as an ally.
It is in this ongoing mobilization and in this organization that the Tunisian population has the first key for the change to which it aspires. The bourgeoisie – which has for 23 years been linked to Ben Ali – remains at the head of the banks, mines, textile factories, call centers, and large landed estates. With the dictator gone, the struggle of the workers, of the youth and of the unemployed for their basic demands must continue, not ceding the ground to the supporters of the regime of Ben Ali, who are trying to set up their government.