The Sidi Bouzid revolution: Ben Ali flees as protests spread in Tunisia

The Sidi Bouzid revolution: Ben Ali flees as protests spread in Tunisia

Friday 14 January 2011 -- After a dramatic 24 hours when Tunisia's dictator president Ben Ali first tried promising liberalisation and an end to police shootings of demonstrators and then, this evening at 16:00, declaring martial law, he has finally fallen from office. While the rumours are still swirling, one thing is clear, Ben Ali has left Tunisia and the army has stepped in. The comments after this article contain continuous updates of the uprising.

The day began with a mass demonstration called by Tunisia's trade union federation, the UGTT, in the capital Tunis. Between 10 and 15,000 people demonstrated outside the Ministry of the Interior. The initially peaceful scene broke down at around 14:30 local time as police moved in with tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd, some of whom had managed to scale the Ministry building and get on its roof. From then on, the city centre descended into chaos with running battles between the riot police and Tunisians of all ages and backgrounds fighting for the overthrow of the hated despot.

Finally, armoured cars from the army appeared on the street and a state of emergency and curfew was declared with Ben Ali threatening the populace that the security forces had carte blanche to open fire on any gatherings of more than three people. Soon, however, he disappeared from view and the rumours began to circulate. The army seized control of the airport and there were reports of convoys of limousines racing to the airport from the Ben Ali families palace. Finally the official announcement came. Ben Ali is gone. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi appeared on state TV to announce that he was in charge of a caretaker government backed by the army.

Tonight the long-suffering people of Tunisia may rejoice that their last four weeks of heroic resistance has finally seen off the dictator who ran the most vicious police state in North Africa over them for the last 23 years.

But tomorrow morning will find the army in charge. What will happen tomorrow and the days to follow is anybody's guess. But the people now know that they have the power to overthrow a long-entrenched dictatorship, how much easier to take on a new unstable regime.

Report by Workers Solidarity Movement

Posted By

Jan 12 2011 00:41


Attached files


Jan 19 2011 01:41

BBC videos

Taking the temperature on the streets of Tunis

Will the new Tunisian national unity government be enough to satisfy people demanding complete change at the top? And will it cool the temperature on the streets?

Lyse Doucet talks to people in the shops and restaurants of the capital Tunis to find out how they feel.

Broadcast on Monday 17 January 2011

Tunisia's new national unity government in tatters

Tunisia's new National Unity government looks to be in tatters just a day after it was set up.

Several ministers resigned on Tuesday and the streets of Tunis erupted again, with protesters angry at what they see as the survival of the old regime under a new guise.

The interim president and prime minister have now said they are leaving the ruling party as Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports.

Jan 19 2011 01:53

Protest and clashes between school students and police in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania on Tuesday (machine translation).

On twitter: 'There have been protests inspired by Tunisia in Oman in front empty govt offices since bureaucrats work until 14:30.'

Also on twitter: 'Majority of European Parliament rejects resolution supporting Tunisian people.'

Jan 19 2011 10:13

Did French customs topple Ben Ali?

Did French customs topple Ben Ali?
January 19, 2011

MORE than seven tonnes of security equipment, destined to helping the former Tunisian president Ben Ali tackle riots in the country, was blocked at a Paris airport last week.

According to news website, the packages were destined for the Tunisian interior ministry, but were blocked from delivery Friday morning at Charles de Gaulle airport, hours before Ben Ali announced he was stepping down
French customs blocked the delivery in order carry out a systematic verification of each box, which was scheduled for Monday.
While such a procedure is regularly carried out on deliveries of material deemed “sensitive”, customs officers had already examined the contents once while en route to be packaged up for transport.

Defence journalist Jean-Dominique Merchet has posted on his site that the head of delivery group Hesnault had received a call from a "high authority" at the Elysée Palace that such a delivery was "out of the question".

Rue89 reports that, when asked to comment, the Ministry of Defence referred the matter to the Interior Ministry, who referred it to the Elysée, who referred it to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

First off, the answer to the question posed by the headline is - no, of course not.

A bit of contextualisation might be in order. The events in Tunisia are having some political fallout in France at the moment. Primarily this is just an excuse for another round of tit for tat in the ongoing culture war between left and right which is of no particular interest to anybody outside France (and a good number inside, tbh), apart from it will occassionally throw out numbers like the above story.

The whistlestop summary is that a couple of days before Ben Ali fell, the French foreign minister Michelle Alliot-Marie (aka MAM) announced in parliament that the French state, with its unparalleled experience in policing this sort of thing, stood ready to help Ben Ali restore order. Since Ben Ali fell the left have been calling foul on MAM, in return the right have retailiated by pointing out that a) Ben Ali and his RCD party were members of the Socialist International that the PS were part of, until a few days ago and b) the PS star mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has never said diddly about Ben Ali and the Tunisian situation, despite being Tunisian born himself, and blah, blah, blah, so it goes on...

So the above is another card in the game to prove that MAM is either a) an evil imperialist securocrat, hell-bent on parachuting the Foreign Legion into Tunis, or b) an enlightened humanitarian who exercised diplomatic discretion by holding up a vital re-up of CS through procedural means to secretly support the plucky Tunisians struggle for French-style liberal democracy.

N'importe quoi...

Jan 19 2011 10:29

too good to miss. note the date

SI decision on Tunisia

SI decision on Tunisia 17 January 2011

A decision has been taken by the President together with the Secretary General, in accordance with the statutes of the Socialist International, to cease the membership of the Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD) of Tunisia.

This decision, in extraordinary circumstances, reflects the values and principles which define our movement and the position of the International on developments in that country.

Jan 19 2011 10:49
ocelot wrote:
too good to miss. note the date

SI decision on Tunisia

SI decision on Tunisia 17 January 2011

A decision has been taken by the President together with the Secretary General, in accordance with the statutes of the Socialist International, to cease the membership of the Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD) of Tunisia.

This decision, in extraordinary circumstances, reflects the values and principles which define our movement and the position of the International on developments in that country.

still embodying the "values and principles" of the SI are e.g. Mubarak's NDP or the Mexican PRI

Jan 19 2011 11:11


Anti-govt protesters rally in Tunisian capital
(AP) – 38 minutes ago

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Hundreds of protesters marched down the main street of Tunisia's capital on Wednesday, demanding that allies of the ousted president stop clinging to power.

The demonstrators sang nationalist songs and held up signs with "RCD Out!" — referring to the former ruling party — as they walked down Avenue Bourguiba in central Tunis. White-and-blue police vans lined the route to prevent any clashes.

A spokesman for the embattled prime minister said ministers who remained in the new interim government were debating whether to hold their first meeting Wednesday or Thursday. Four new ministers resigned within 24 hours after being appointed to the unprecedented multiparty Cabinet, weakening its prospects.
An airport official said the Tunisian foreign minister, Kamal Merjan, left the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik on Wednesday before the start of an Arab League summit, without giving any reason.

Jan 19 2011 11:30
This decision, in extraordinary circumstances, reflects the values and principles which define our movement and the position of the International on developments in that country.


Jan 19 2011 11:46

Ahram online

Tunisia looms large over Arab economic summit
AFP , Wednesday 19 Jan 2011

Arab leaders met in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss economic cooperation as the Arab world feels the aftershocks of an uprising in Tunisia that emboldened the region's harried dissidents.

The summit marks the first gathering of Arab leaders since a popular uprising sparked by the self-immolation of an unemployed man forced veteran Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee his country on Friday.

The incident also sparked a rash of copycat attempted public suicides by self-immolation in Arab countries by protesters.

Arab leaders, many of whom rule over populations that share similar grievances to Tunisia's protesters, have denied any similarity with Tunisia but the comparison came up in the opening speeches of the summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa said in his speech that the economic grievances that triggered the Tunisian uprising hit close to the summit's discussion.

"The revolution that happened in Tunisia is not far from the subject of this summit," he said. "And it is not far from what is going through the minds of many...the Arab soul is broken by poverty and unemployment."

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, the country's ruler for 30 years, made no reference to the Tunisian revolt, but said tackling development and economic cooperation have become national security priorities.

"We have realised that the priority of economic cooperation and development is no longer just about progress for our people...but a basic demand of Arab national security," he said.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane, who briefed his counterparts in Sharm el-Sheikh on developments in his country, told reporters at a press conference that the protests were fuelled by political and economic grievances.

NB that last para seems to contradict the AP story about Morjane returning to Tunis before the conference.

The top most viewed stories on al ahram show the current impact of Tunisia on the arab imagination - at least in Egypt.

1. Tunisie Telecom forced to delay its initial public offering
2. Market Report: Egyptian wave of self-immolation hits Stock Exchange
3. WB: Tunisian crisis proved addressing unemployment should be top regional priority
4. Algeria buys wheat to avoid shortage and unrest
5. French industry eyes Tunisia
6. Sharm Summit: The businessmen are coming
7. Tunisian uprising impacts economy: report
8. Switzerland considers freezing Tunisian president's alleged assets

some interesting stories in that lot.

Jan 19 2011 12:00

Picking up on one of those stories...

French industry eyes Tunisia

France's industry federation chief said on Tuesday that following the expulsion of former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, he sees major possibilities for future French investment in Tunisia if corruption and nepotism are dealt with. 

Former colonial ruler France is the North African nation's top business partner with about 1,250 companies operating there. French firms invested about 139 million euros ($185.5 million) in Tunisia in 2009.

"I am extremely hopeful," MEDEF President Laurence Parisot told reporters. "There is a huge potential that was completely shackled by nepotism and corruption," she said.


"I've spoken previously to big French companies that wanted to set up in Tunisia, but they couldn't because they simply had to refuse (certain) conditions," Parisot said.

Many foreign firms that did business in Tunisia were forced to enter into partnership with relatives of Ben Ali and his wife Leila's Trabelsi family.

One question at the back of my mind has been what will happen to the large sector of the Tunisian economy that was directly owned by members of the families of Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi. Nationalisation? Sale to foreign investors? Privatisation with an asset grab by the Tunisian business and political class? Attempts at self-management?

Jan 19 2011 12:12

What Tunisia proved - and disproved - about political change in the Arab world

The Tunisian uprising raises so many questions that it is difficult to focus on only one or two, but one of the intriguing aspects of the January 2011 events is that they simultaneously strengthened and smashed several longstanding pieces of conventional wisdom about how political change might come to Arab countries.


Until the recent events in Tunisia, however, the theory went that even with all those reasons for public discontent, no Arab population could overthrow an authoritarian leader without a cohesive opposition movement. Analysts cited the weakness of political parties in the Arab world as one of the main reasons for the persistence of authoritarian governments. And yet the Tunisian opposition was among the weakest in the Arab world: none of the three small opposition parties (the Democratic Progressive Party, Renewal Movement, and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) that initially joined the transitional government, nor the exiled Islamist Renaissance (Nahda) Party, played a significant role in the uprising. They certainly did not form a cohesive front capable of putting pressure on the government, and none of their leaders are charismatic figures who inspired protestors. Nor did labor unions, professional syndicates, or other organizations fill the organizational role in a major way. And so it apparently is possible for a population to put enough pressure on an Arab authoritarian leader to step down even if it lacks strong opposition organizations and compelling leadership.          
Tunisia has its own peculiarities—a population prosperous and educated enough to have high expectations, more equality of the sexes than exists in other Arab countries, and a relatively weak Islamist political movement—that undoubtedly contributed to the fact that the Jasmine Revolution occurred there and not elsewhere, and that it had a strikingly liberal and secular countenance. It is far from certain where Tunisia will go from here, and whether the country will move smoothly from a revolution with relatively little bloodshed to a truly democratic political system.
Still, whatever happens from now on, the Tunisians have taught all observers at least three unforgettable lessons: first, widespread economic grievances such as youth unemployment can indeed quickly translate into specific demands for political change, and second, this can happen even in the absence of strong opposition organizations. The third lesson of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was perhaps the most memorable of all: when long-postponed change finally comes, it is often startling how relatively little effort and time it can take.
Michele Dunne, Arab Reform Bulletin

Jan 19 2011 12:32

Tunisia crisis: live updates (Guardian)

Tunisia liveblog

1145 GMT: AFP reports on this morning's protests in Tunis....

Demonstrators chanted, "Parliament and a new Constitution", "Revolution against the remnants of Ben Ali", "Minister of Finance [Ridha Chalghoum], Friend of Tripoli", "Ben Ali's party, go", and "Victims of police participated in the revolution" before singing the national anthem.

Security forces prevented the rally from walking along Habib Bourguiba Avenue toward the Ministry of the Interior. Police Colonel Najm al-Din Ziguli said, "Instructions have been given not to confront the protesters and not to fire tear gas. They can protest in front of the Democratic Progressive Assembly without passing near the Ministry of the Interior."


1050 GMT: Ben Wedeman of CNN writes that demonstrators are back on the main avenue in Tunis, "Big protest brewing in Habib Bourguiba but so far its peaceful." The current estimate is 700 to 800 demonstrators.


1025 GMT: Earlier this morning, we closed our analysis of the Tunisian Government's position with an observation on prominent blogger and Minister of Youth and Sport Slim Amamou: "[He] said he would resign when he decided, not when others did. But that only brought further - questions. What should he decide?"

Well, Amamou has given an immediate answer to the BBC World Service: "This is a temporary government in special conditions. The purpose is to set up elections as soon as possible. We are not the real government, we are not here to govern for a long time. It's for the good of the country just to pass this period."
He assured, "I'm free to say whatever I want, and to report what's going on in government."

Jan 19 2011 12:50

le Parisien reports that Chebbi has announced that the first Cabinet meeting of new ministers will not take place until tomorrow now.

The excuse being that as the main order of business will be the general amnesty for all political prisoners (that opposition and civil socitey groups have been demanding for decades), the ministry of justice needs the time to get the paperwork together. Also on the agenda will be the separation of state bodies from the RCD (which has been the single party of power since independance). That's if they ever get to meet, that is. 24 hours is a long time in Tunisian politics just now.

Jan 19 2011 12:52

Pues eso: revolución

One of the better reports I've seen from the ongoing protests in Tunis. In Spanish unfortunately.

Jan 19 2011 13:20

Without God on our side

One of the most refreshing things about the Tunisian uprising – and very unusual for the Middle East – has been the lack of meddling by external interests. Apart from a few mouse-like squeaks from the state department, the US stayed out of it and so too did God, along with his self-appointed representatives on earth.

In most Arab countries, Islamists are seen as the main alternative to existing regimes – which suits the regimes fine because it scares people into supporting them. In Tunisia, though, as George Joffe explained, the organisational strength of the uprising came mainly from the country's biggest trade union, the UGTT, with students and thousands of disaffected citizens also joining in. The rhetoric was broadly leftist rather than religious.

Hopefully, what Tunisia can provide for the Middle East is a new model – a secular alternative to the Iranian revolution. There are no ayatollahs waiting in the wings. The Islamists will probably resurface after two decades of suppression, but there are no indications that they have a large popular following in Tunisia and they are unlikely to play anything more than a minor role in the country's political future.

If the Tunisian revolution continues on its current path, we could even see the beginnings of a post-Islamist phase in the Arab countries.

Brian Whitaker

CEMB forum -- Ex-muslims discussing Tunisia

Jan 19 2011 21:48

Here's a report from the Telegraph that's interesting because in passing it mentions 'revolutionary committees of workers ... set to strip power from state-appointed directors'. It doesn't give any more details and there's nothing to say how widespread this is, how these committees operate or how far they are going.

Some of the reporting that has come out of Tunisia has actually been quite good after the initial delay, but I suspect journalists may be missing things which are important but don't fit in with their worldview. There's plenty been written about role of the internet and the supposed Islamist threat etc, but very little about the organisation of the uprising, the unions and the left.

It's also worth noting that not much is being written about what is happening in the back country towns where the uprising began. If you take the view that politics is about the formation of governments and what goes on in the capital city then that makes a kind of sense but I'm not sure how far it deals with what actually matters in Tunisia at the moment.

Tunisia's new government implodes on day one

The revolt against the apparatchiks who wielded unquestioned power under Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the ex-president, spread inside official buildings and institutions linked to the former dictator and his family.

Revolutionary committees of workers were set to strip power from state-appointed directors. At Presse, a French language newspaper that was the mouthpiece of Ben Ali, a faction of the workforce deposed the editor-in-chief. Ex-propagandists proclaimed their loyalty to the so-called Jasmine revolution that forced Mr Ben Ali to flee.

"The Jasmine revolution is good and we must say so," declared Souad Ben Sulieman, the culture editor. "Tunisia has no legitimate government until the revolution is won."

Mayoral offices across the country were reported to be besieged by crowds numbering up to several thousand and employees were demanding that hated local leaders step aside...

Jan 19 2011 21:47

From the New York Times

The press watchdog Reports Without Borders has repeatedly listed Ben Ali among the world's 40 top "predators" of the media.

"Journalists and human rights activists are the target of constant bureaucratic harassment, police violence and surveillance by the intelligence services," the group says in its 2010 report. Independent journalists suffered reprisals, and foreign journalists are assigned minders by a regime "almost obsessive about control of news and information."

Such pressures were a daily reality for journalists at the state-run paper La Presse. Inspired by the new climate, they revolted and dismissed their boss, Gawhar Chatty, and set up their own interim committee to run the paper.

When Chatty showed up at the office Monday after a call advising him to stay home, cartoonist Lotfi marched into his office for the final farewell.

"We informed him (by phone) that we're taking charge of the paper and if he comes in we'll break his face, excuse the expression," managing editor Faouzie Mezzi told AP Television News.

Jan 19 2011 21:46

Protests spread to the BBC?

BBC Arabic staff on strike over extra working hours (Al Arabiya)

Journalists in the Arabic section of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) went Tuesday on a two-day strike in protest of extra hours added to their working schedule with no financial compensation.


Tuesday’s strike is the first in a series of other strikes planned by NUJ members at the BBC Arabic service, said Bassem Kamel, news anchor head of NUJ at BBC Arabic. 

“NUJ members at the channel will stage several other strikes, each lasting for 48 hours, in order to put pressure on the administration to go back to the negotiating table,” Kamel told

(…) tried contacting the administration of the BBC Arabic service to gauge its reaction on Tuesday’s strike. However, the administration refused to comment and only issued a statement expressing its resentment at what it labeled an “unjustified” action…

Jan 19 2011 21:53

From the liveblog

2135 GMT: Elaph reports that about 50 people are continuing a sit-in protest on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, breaking the 8 p.m. curfew.

2045 GMT: Al Arabiya reports that 1800 political prisoners have been released in Tunisia.

1945 GMT: Tunisian TV says 33 members of deposed President Ben Ali's family arrested. It is showing seized gold, jewelry, credit cards, and property confiscated from old regime figures.

1710 GMT: Minister of Regional Development Najid Chebbi said that Tunisia has freed all remaining political prisoners, including members of the banned al-Nahda Party.

1515 GMT: Angelique Christafis of The Guardian of London reports, "Real change: peaceful protestors chant 'RCD out'. No teargas. Police letting them demonstrate."

1500 GMT: Peter Beaumont of The Observer of London writes: "In Tunis. Mood good-natured in city centre. Someone's put flowers on the tank at one end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Demo at other but no [tear] gas."

1305 GMT: Reuters reports that Switzerland is freezing the assets of deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Jan 19 2011 22:01
Jan 19 2011 22:39

Since Friday, Yemen sees daily anti-government protests (Al Arabiya)

Hundreds of Yemeni protesters inspired by the Tunisian revolution took the streets to chant anti-government slogans in a university in Sanaa, Middle East Online reported on Wednesday.

Yemeni police fired warning shots to disperse the demonstrators in Sanaa University. No injuries were reported despite the ani-riot police resorting to gunfire. Several students were also arrested, but according to a security official the arrested students were soon released.

The police failed to break the protest and were able only to contain it at the university’s campus.

Demonstrators at the university chanted in support of Tunisia in the wake of popular protests that toppled the North African's country's iron-fisted leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali .

"Revolution, revolution, people against the frightened leader," they shouted. "Liberty's Tunisia, Sanaa salutes you a thousand times," shouted the students. "Toppling the corrupt (leader) is a duty." 

Similar protests have been ongoing on a nearly daily basis in Yemen since Friday, when Ben Ali escaped to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 years in power.

Jan 19 2011 23:54
Jan 20 2011 00:56
Jan 20 2011 11:15


1050 GMT: CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from Tunis, "Shooting in air [by] soldiers blocking entrance to RCD [Party] headquarters."

1045 GMT: The first video game featuring former President Ben Ali as the target, "Mon Sniper", is now on the Internet.

1030 GMT: Hundreds of students from the University of Boukhalfa, near Tizi Ouzou in northern Algeria, marched on Thursday morning to police headquarters. They protested living conditions and chanted slogans against the Government.

The protesters, who came by bus, were blocked by a cordon of police. The demonstrators refused to divert the march as they chanted, "Stop Corruption" and "Terrorist Government", displaying a banner, "Only the struggle pays!"

0845 GMT: News is breaking that all members of the Tunisian Cabinet who were in the Constitutional Democratic Rally, which had held power since 1956, have left the party.

Al Arabiya reports that Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has turned down the request of deposed President Ben Ali to return to Tunisia, saying it is "impossible".

0825 GMT: Al Jazeera clarifies that the release of all political prisoners in Tunisia is expected today.

0750 GMT: The Tunisian Central Bank has taken control of the Zaytuna Islamic Bank, which had been owned by Sakher El Materi, the son-in-law of ousted President Ben Ali.

Materi founded the bank in 2009 and it began activities last year.

0745 GMT: The social media network of the US State Department is pushing this line via Twitter: "The people of Tunisia have spoken. The interim government must create a genuine transition to democracy. The United States will help."

0735 GMT: All appears to have been quiet overnight in Tunisia. Indeed, there was a reduction in tension throughout Wednesday, with a protest in Tunis proceeding without confrontation and with the curfew eased to 8 p.m. 


CNN, meanwhile, is looking beyond Tunis, "Jordan Protesters Inspired by Tunisian Ripple":

Long before Tunisians took to the streets, Jordan was already mired in a deep economic downturn that prompted a series of protests.

But when several hundred demonstrators peacefully gathered outside the parliament in Amman last Sunday, they added a new slogan to their often-repeated complaints about government corruption and the soaring cost of living. "A salute," they shouted, "from Amman to proud Tunis."

Jan 20 2011 11:11

Video: demonstrators demand new democracy

Mood in Tunisia lifts, but revolution may not be over (Guardian)

Welcome to post-Islamism (

Some barricades being removed

My neighbors who are relatives of Ben Ali (the ones in the nice house I mentioned earlier) supposedly got attacked today. It was nothing major though.

Rumor is that they had taken out some loans when their relative was President and never paid them back because they didn't have to. Supposedly, now that their license to steal is gone, the people who they owe money to were trying to get some of it back.

Anyways I guess the lenders punched a guy and threatened them, and now a squad of 5 or 6 military guys is posted up on my block.(unfortunately they were the first people I have met in this conflict who refused to have their pictures taken) This is a good thing, as it makes us extremely secure, and as a result we didn't even bother building the barricade on my street tonight. (we take it down every morning so people can use their cars and park for the stores and mosque)

Since our houses are safe, My neighbor invited me to come hang out at his friends barricade. His friend lives on a main street close to my house, so we grabbed our Assahs (sticks used for defense) and walked over.

On the way over, we stopped by a black market beer shop and picked up a bunch of beers. The beer dealers were operating out of a somewhat run down house and got down just like dope dealers in America...a bunch of big older guys were sitting around watching, and 14 year olds would take your money and give you the beer.

We got to the barricade and chilled out and gave beers to the guys who don't pray. We had checked about five or ten cars when a military truck came rumbling by. He said that though the situation was still not settled, things has improved enough that the Soldiers wanted us to remove the barricades on the major streets, although we could still keep them on the side streets.

We quickly removed the the main barricade but still controlled access to the side streets. The local police are driving around now, but in every car of three policemen must have one soldier in it. This is because neither the military, nor anyone I have talked to, trusts the police.

When one of these mixed cars drove by our barricade, one of my new friends yelled at it something that basically means "much respect to the soldiers, fuck the police."

Eventually I headed back towards my house and went to my other friend's corner, where practically the entire block was out drinking coffee and eating cake.

As much as I hope things get back to normal, I hope the blockparty-like atmosphere atmosphere in my neighborhood continues.

Jan 20 2011 11:14

I saw this on one of the francophone streams last night (nouvelobs?). Anyway, here's the ahram take:

33 Ben Ali relatives arrested

One day after beginning of investigation into allegations of steeling [sic] Tunisia's resources, authorities arrested 33 of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's family
AFP , Thursday 20 Jan 2011

33 relatives of Tunisia's toppled former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have been arrested in recent days, state television reported Thursday.

Television pictures showed footage of watches, jewelry and international credit cards seized during raids on the family members' properties.

Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia Friday following weeks of unrest.

On Wednesday, officials opened an investigation against the former president and his family for having allegedly plundered the country's resources.

The charges include illegal property acquisitions and currency transfers. Those targeted included Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi, her brothers and sons and their children.

Jan 20 2011 11:49

Obviously what we really want is interviews with UGTT militants and grassroots organisers, (especially, as Mark previously raised, what's really going on in the workplaces of the now fled, dead or arrested Benali - Trabelsi empire) along with news of what's happening in the interior cities like Kesserine and Sidi Bouzid. Looks like it's going to be while before any of that appears in the online anglo and euro news spheres.

In the meantime, faute de mieux, it appears that the UGTT translators have made more of an effort to translate their latest official releases into english, rather than french, contrary to what you might expect. See UGTT english statements

Obviously they're mostly predictably staid, cautious and timidly reformist. But there are still some interesting details.

For e.g. this from the first statement after the inital outbreak in Sidi Bouzid, dated December 21 -

Statement of the National Executive Bureau

The Executive Bureau of the Tunisian General Labor Union met on
Tuesday, December 21, 2010, under the chairmanship of comrade Abdessalem
Jerad the General Secretary of the Tunisian General Labor Union. The General
Secretary is following the events of Sidi Bouzid with deep concern.
First: [General Secretary] emphasizes the fact that employment is a legitimate right
guaranteed by the national constitution and by all international legislations,
charters and treaties. Dealing with the issue of employment based on justice and
equity amongst all regions represents one of the solutions for the eradication of
the feeling of unfairness, which may be manifested by spontaneous reactions
leading to social tragedies that become too hard to stop.

Second: Based on the principles that have long been called for by the
Organization and on the study about the reality of development , the general
secretary stresses the importance of the government's role in creating equity
between the different regions
and in carrying out the task of investment to create
more employment opportunities for all job seekers, especially young university
graduates, as well as the need to compel the private sector - since it enjoys many
incentives and privileges - to develop investment, especially in the internal
regions of the country.

Now I recall somewhere in the accounts I have read that Mohamed Bouzizi was not selling vegetables in Sidi Bouzid, he'd gone to one of the big towns on the coast and it was there that he was stopped by the police. Presumably he would have been unable to get a traders licence for a town he was not registered in (in the French system, your place of residence must be registered) even had he tried to. By the accounts it was after his encounter with the Police in whichever coastal town it was, that he returned to Sidi Bouzid and immolated himself in front of the local Mairie. There seems to have been a distinct regional tension underlying the origins of this intifada. All of which makes the lack of news from the interior more frustrating, but hey...

Jan 20 2011 12:13

I was going to try and just pick snippets out of this, but it has diverse points of interest, so apols for length...

Tunisia debates a future without powerful Ben Ali party

Emboldened by a popular revolt that ended president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's authoritarian rule, many Tunisians now demand the banning of his state party, a symbol of corruption and repression.

But whether the new democracy can immediately cope without the once-powerful Constitutional Democratic Rally/Assembly (RCD), which has essentially run Tunisia since independence in 1956, is a question nagging the political elite.

Every day since last Friday, when 74-year-old Ben Ali yielded to weeks of street protests and fled to Saudi Arabia with his family, huge protests have demanded the outlawing of the RCD.

To the cries of "people stand up against the remains of the dictatorship," they have condemned the awarding of plum posts in the transitional government unveiled Monday to RCD ministers.

The eight ministers concerned, who hold key posts in the government, announced Monday -- including interior, defence, finance and foreign affairs -- moved to meet these objections on Thursday.

They resigned from the RCD, following the example of prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi who had cut his links to the party on Tuesday.

In any case, some believe the north African country cannot immediately make a clean break from a party that controlled the entire administration and its staff for so long, without the risk of paralysing the state.

"At the moment, the urgency is to re-establish the authority of the state," said rights activist Larbi Chouikha, who is among those who want the RCD to maintain a presence in the new government.

"But these are technocrats who have distinguished themselves through their integrity and especially their competence, and who have not been caught up in matters of corruption," Chouikha said.

Other than preparing democratic elections within six months, the new authority has the huge task of overhauling the security forces -- some of whom are accused of a deadly crackdown on protesters.

They also have to relaunch the stalled economy.

On the other hand, Chouikha admits, "the ruling power is not alone. There is civil society, the street. At any moment they could react and say no."

Ben Ali built the RCD in 1988 out of the Neo-Destour movement, which led the country to independence from France in 1956 under the guidance of former president Habib Bourguiba.

It claims more than two million members from a population of 10 million, and has held overwhelming majorities in the parliament.

Union activist Houssine Dimassi also says the RCD is an inevitable "component of the country".

He was named as labour minister in the new government but quit over complaints from his powerful Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT) over the composition of the new cabinet.

"We cannot exclude it (the RCD) from the government. That does not make sense, but it has a place proportional to its weight," he said.

The union, the largest in the country, has insisted however it would not join a new government with "old regime" figures.

An opposition party that was holding off on joining the post-revolt government also decided to pull out of the cabinet, in which its leader had been assigned the post of health minister, and called for a new line-up.

The cabinet was to hold its first meeting Thursday.

Writer and newspaper editor Sofiane Ben Farhat argues that the RCD has to be rooted out.

"The current political situation must immediately be representative of the revolution," he said. Otherwise, "we have the impression that the RCD is trying to confiscate it."

RCD ministers in the transitional team may be competent administrators but they are, according to him, "involved -- whether it be in corruption or authoritarian rule."

Trying to present a clean slate, the RCD on Tuesday expelled Ben Ali and six of his close associates caught up in allegations of corruption and repression that have dogged the party.

The new interim president Foued Mebazaa has also meanwhile quit its ranks.

But the anger has not abated. In Ben Guerdane, southeast of Tunis, demonstrators carried coffins to celebrate the "funeral" of the RCD.

Signs of a tension there between Houssine Dimassi and other opinions within the UGTT.

Jan 20 2011 12:37

an interview with an exiled Socialist from Tunesia:

Mike Harman
Jan 20 2011 12:46

Staff kick out the CEO of an insurance company due to links with Ali's regime.

Spectacular scenes Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at the STAR. Le personnel de la société d'assurances s'est mobilisé pour exiger le départ immédiat de leur PDG Abdelkarim Merdassi.
Le PDG a essayé de les convaincre que cela n'était pas possible, qu'il fallait convoquer un conseil d'administration, qu'il fallait préserver les intérêts de la société, le personnel s'est obstiné à le renvoyer en dehors des locaux.

Finalement, et selon des témoins oculaires, M. Merdassi a dû quitter les lieux escorté par des agents de l'ordre.

Le personnel, nous dit-on, était fortement en colère.

The staff of the insurance company has mobilized to demand the immediate departure of their CEO Abdelkarim Merdassi. The CEO has tried to convince them that this was not possible, the need to convene a board of directors, the need to preserve the interests of the company, staff has determined to send it outside the premises .
Finally, and according to eyewitnesses, Mr. Merdassi had to leave escorted by officers of the order. Staff, we are told, was very angry.

Jan 20 2011 14:00

le Parisien: Warning shots fired over demonstrators

Les gestes d'apaisement du gouvernement de transition semblent ne pas suffire à calmer les attentes de la rue. Près d'un millier de personnes, qui demandent la démission du gouvernement de transition ont commencé à manifester jeudi en fin de matinée devant le siège de l'ex-parti de Ben Ali, dans le centre de Tunis. L'armée a effectué des tirs de sommation pour dissuader des manifestants d'escalader le mur d'enceinte.

Les manifestants brandissaient des pancartes proclamant notamment «On n'a plus peur de vous, traîtres» et «RCD out», en référence au Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique, le parti du président déchu Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Pourtant, un peu plus tôt dans la matinée, le gouvernement de transition avait donné des gages. Avant la tenue du premier conseil des ministres ce jeudi, une source officielle a annoncé que les ministres encore membres du parti de l'ex-président Ben Ali, le Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD), avaient démissionné de cette formation. Lors de manifestations, mercredi, des milliers de personnes avaient réclamé la dissolution du RCD. Mais ils ont également demandé le départ pur et simple du gouvernement des ministres issus de l'ancien régime.

La mainmise de membres du RCD sur les postes clés du gouvernement avait provoqué mardi la démission des trois ministres issus de l'Union générale des travailleurs tunisiens (UGTT), puis celle mercredi d'un chef de l'opposition, le président du Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés (FDTL). Jeudi matin, un cinquième ministre, issu du régime Ben Ali, Zouheir M'dhaffer, a démissionné de son poste pour «préserver l'intérêt suprême de la nation et favoriser la transformation démocratique du pays», Il avait été nommé ministre auprès du Premier ministre, chargé du Développement administratif dans le gouvernement d'union nationale.

L'amnistie générale au menu du conseil des ministres

Par ailleurs, l'amnistie générale annoncée par le Premier ministre Mohammed Ghannouchi et confirmée par le président par intérim, Foued Mebazaa sera à l'ordre du jour aujourd'hui du premier conseil des ministres . Mercredi, le gouvernement de transition avait fait un premier pas en libérant quelque 1800 prisonniers politiques, y compris les islamistes.

The gestures of appeasement of the transitional government seems not sufficient to appease the expectations of the street. Nearly a thousand people demanding the resignation of the transitional government began to demonstrate late Thursday morning outside the headquarters of the former ruling party of Ben Ali in the center of Tunis. The army fired warning shots to deter the demonstrators from climbing the wall.

The protesters carried banners saying "We no longer afraid of you, traitors" and "RCD-out", referring to the Democratic Constitutional Rally, the party of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Yet a little earlier in the morning, the transitional government had given pledges. Prior to the first cabinet meeting on Thursday, an official source said that ministers still members of the party of former President Ben Ali's Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), had resigned from this organisation. During demonstrations on Wednesday, thousands of people had called for the dissolution of the RCD. But they also called for the departure, pure and simple, of government ministers from the former regime.

The grip of the members of the RCD on key government positions provoked on Tuesday the resignation of three ministers from the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), then Wednesday of a leader of the opposition, the chairman of the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL). Thursday morning, fifth minister of the Ben Ali regime, Zuhair M'dhaffer, resigned his post to "preserve the best interests of the nation and foster democratic transformation of the country", he was originally appointed to the office of the Prime Minister as Minister for Administrative Development in the government of national unity.

General amnesty on the Cabinet menu

Moreover, the general amnesty announced by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and confirmed by the acting president, Fouad Mebazaa will be on the agenda of today's first cabinet. On Wednesday, the transitional government had taken a first step in freeing some 1,800 political prisoners, including Islamists.