March 02, 2011
Returning to Tunisia, and continued resignations
As my differing evaluations of Tunisia and Egypt have been questioned in comments, some further Tunisia reflexions. First, it is my judgement that the Tunisian events were fundamentally more "real" than Egypt - in Egypt the Army has long been the power behind the throne and is intimately involved in the operations of the Mubarek system and the economy. This was not at all the case in Tunisia. Quite the contrary. In Egypt, the military moving Mubarek out of the way was the same power changing masks. In Tunisia, the army is, to an extent, a wild card actor. Second, whereas in Egypt I see basically same system just changing its mask, in Tunisia, I see a groping towards something new - from the get go, The Tunisian interim Gov had real opposition members in it, whose places have gradually expanded. That has been a good thing, however it is my judgement now that the protesting parties are trending towards "maximalism" to a destabilising extent. Not every RCD & Ben Ali collaborator was a bad fellow, and at this time, it is as - perhaps more - important to focus on preparations for elections, rather than pushing for changing faces on what is in fact an interim government that must be changed in mere months anyway. Pushing for more face changes takes energy away from badly needed other activites - inside the Gov and outside the Gov.
Now, more resignations and illustration of my concerns, 4 senior government figures in 4 days:
The minister of higher education and scientific research, Ahmad Ibrahim, and the higher education secretary, Faouzia Farida Charfi, both quit on Tuesday, Tunis Afrique Presse reported.Tunisian ministers continue to quit - Africa - Al Jazeera English
Mohamed Nouri Jouini, the planning and international cooperation minister, resigned on Monday, the agency said.
Three more ministers left Tunisia's interim government, following the resignations of the prime minister and two others, after weeks of protests about the caretaker authority.I fail to see how resigning moves the temporary status or military control issue forward re Democratic developments. Instability in the government makes it rather more likely the military says, Basta, we need stable Gov and if the opposition wants to play games...
Ahmed Ibrahim, higher education and scientific research minister, told the Reuters news agency he had resigned on Tuesday, while the departure of Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, local development minister, was announced by the official TAP news agency.
Also on Tuesday, private Tunisian radio broadcaster Shems FM reported Elyes Jouini, minister of economic reform, had resigned.
These resignations come after three other high profile politicians quit Tunisia's interim unity government since the weekend, including prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who stepped down on Sunday.
"Elyes Jouni was a member of [ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's party] the RCD and like Mohamed Ghannouchi was under pressure to leave," said Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tunisia.
After Ghannouchi resigned, he was swiftly replaced by 84-year-old Al-Baji Ca'ed al-Sebsi, a former minister who served under independent Tunisia's founding president, Habib Bourguiba.
Chebbi, who founded the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said he was not happy with the newly named prime minister, the Associated Press reported.
Chebbi said the new government measures were aimed at keeping him from seeking the presidency, AP said.
"Najib Chebbi and Ahmed Ibrahim are both opposition figures," Al Jazeera's Moshiri said. "They have resigned not because they have RCD links, but because the president Foued Mebazaa will not be renewing his temporary status as interim president which ends on March 17th."
"If this isn't resolved after that date, the military could be in charge of the country until the election," our correspondent added.
I further find Chebbi (incorrectlly rendered Chelbi) comments disturbing:
Channel 6 News » Three ministers resign from Tunisia’s interim government
"This Government which should be the subject of a national consensus and benefit of the maximum support of civil society components, constitutes the last rampart to save the country from chaos and achieve the goals of the Revolution," said Chelbi.Government created industrial jobs are terrible unsustainable policy, and beyond that, how the bloody hell does he expect the Government to fund them under the current set of circumstances?
In addition, Chelbi called for the caretaker government to safeguard around 700,000 industrial jobs and achieve tens of pending projects, notably in the interior regions, in order to ease social unrest.
I do rather hope this person does not have a real shot at the presidency.
Some analytical comments from US's National Public Radio: Tunisia Not Sudden Paradise After President's Ouster : NPR
"We have not seen regime change in Tunisia yet," says Marina Ottaway, who directs the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They have removed the president, but it's still the old regime, putting forth a more liberal facade."Eh, well yes. No magic wands to achieve 100% replacement overnight. [mm I should note that many years ago I met Ottaway at some conference. Didn't care for her]
But relative to advantages listed here, I rather agree: Tunisia Not Sudden Paradise After President's Ouster : NPR
In addition to being the first Arab country to depose a long-standing dictator, Tunisia has advantages that should help it on its path to democracy. It has a relatively large and well-educated middle class, strong and stable institutions such as its military, and a more homogenous population than some of its neighbors, such as Algeria and Bahrain, which are experiencing ethnic and religious divisions.Emphasis added. And as the folks who set this all off, they can end up being thought leaders in a positive fashion, or a negative fashion.
"There's a consensus that Tunisia ought to have the easiest time in getting it right," Alexander says, "and if they don't, it won't bode well for the region."
"There is no credible or capable opposition," says Camille Pecastaing, a professor of Middle East studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "It might take years to build a credible opposition, but there is no longer a ruling party, either. The elders of the old structure were so delegitimized that they have been eliminated one by one."
I don't think Jebnoun's advice is practicable as the opposition would go nuts. But it does highlight the need for the opposing forces to stop focusing on changing faces in what is a temporary government, and trying what is essentially unsustainable 'protest democracy' and focus on building up networks and parties that can be credible and compete.
Ottaway argues that there are still plenty of stalwarts of the old regime in place and that "weak political forces on the other side" make it easier for them to hold on to power.
But because of that very resistance to reform, elections shouldn't be rushed, says Noureddine Jebnoun, a professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
"The best thing to do is to postpone as long as possible these elections, in order to provide time and space for new parties to organize," Jebnoun says. "Otherwise, you will help the entrenched incumbents and end up with the same party [in power] with a new name."
Finally, an important note on the positive side, Tunisia Not Sudden Paradise After President's Ouster : NPR The strong institutions available (comparatively speaking):
Yet the fact that Tunisia and Egypt have strong bureaucracies and militaries should ultimately help them move toward democracy. Libya, which sits between them, lacks such institutions. That means that if Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi ultimately falls, it could lead to chaos.
I would say the Tunisian bureaucracy - in the main economic centres - is stronger than Egypt, of course easier to do in a small country.
"You have to have a functioning state to have democracy," says Ottaway, the Carnegie Endowment analyst. "Assuming Gadhafi cannot last, it's going to be extremely difficult to put together a democratic system, because the state may collapse."
Libya is really on a path to hell, however.
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Chebbi is among this "opposition" that was co-opted by Ben Ali, whose party members used to put their names on calls for the dictator to change the constitution so that he could stay longer in power.
Now, his party is a kind of populist one man show with socialist/marxist roots.
I hope/think he won't make it to the presidency. There are people more popular and less tainted than this guy.
Yes I know, however nuances around Pet Opposition critiques after a regime like Ben Ali. If one stays in country it is very hard not to have some touch that makes it easy to smear one later. Not that I like this guy, I don't - but I tend to be more forgiving of "associations" if there is not a solid reason to think the individual is dirctly corrupt.
I also have been led to understand, such petitions were often "obligatory" and one need not have taken any initiative to sign (or in fact actually sign, woe betide the persons who raised the fact they had not in fact signed on). A great way for dictators to discredit and divide is precisely such manoeuvrings.
That is one reason I am concerned about the idea of excluding people, etc. Fine line between real reasons and game playing.
Nevertheless, I don't want to see Chebbi anywhere near the presidency.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 2, 2011 10:45 AM
Janice Stein (formerly heading the Munk Centre) was even hoping for a 1.5 year delay before elections, esp. in Egypt, for stronger parties to emerge. I'm not sure I agree, because revolutionary moments come and pass, but I am also worried about who has the capacity to emerge victorious in too short a time.
Anyway, thanks for this extended analysis.
Posted by: Guybrush Threepwood at March 2, 2011 01:36 PM
L., agree on associations and you're right on the de facto obligatory character of them. Which is why my judgement of Ghannouchi is not based on him having been a servant of Ben Ali, but on his actual performance post Jan. 14.