Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Next Day

Juan Cole summarizes the situation in Tunisia:
"The fall of the government of dictator Zine al-Abedin Ben Ali after 23 years left behind a number of political and social vacuums. As for the security breach, it was gangs and Mafia that attempted to step into it. Friday afternoon and into the evening witnessed systematic looting in Tunis and in some other cities. Men in masks attacked civilians. Some Tunisians on the internet accused the police of going rogue. One tweeted, 'many policemen have been arrested by the army, many gunshots around presidential palace.' Some tweets are calling the rogue police 'counter-revolutionaries.'

"Aljazeera says that cars with no license plates cruised the streets looking for opportunities for larceny. Helicopters dropped paratroopers in some towns to combat the looters. One Tunisian interviewed from a quarter of Tunis said, 'There is complete disorder here. Families are afraid.' One eyewitness tweeted, '… what a night in Bourj Louzir, robbers still doing their things, and locals keep fighting them, at 3:45 am.' Some tweets report the formation of neighborhood ad hoc militias to patrol for safety. One warned that forming factious militias had been the downfall of Iraqis under US rule. (Iraq is thus a negative, not a positive, example for Tunisian oppositionists). The central train station and some supermarkets were set ablaze late Friday afternoon."

Politically, the constitutional court rejected Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi's claim to authority, which set the stage for the inauguration of Fouad Mebazza, speaker of parliament, as interim president. Constitutionally, he must call for new elections within 60 days, though it's not clear what the constitution means at this point. It provides a useful rulebook, but I'm not sure how much those involved will choose to respect it. Coverage suggests protests are now less a factor on the streets than looting, though I don't know if that's nationwide or just in Tunis. The looting does, however, probably enhance the status of the security forces. The best hope going forward is for a transitional national unity government including all major opposition parties.



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