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Uprising unveils a new political regime in Tunisia

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Once known as stable and relatively prosperous, Tunisia was also ruled with unforgiving authority. Despite this, no one expected the violent protests in Tunisia in December and January, changing the course and history of the nation, leading to the resignation of its leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The unrest in Tunisia has been an ongoing battle and still months after protests, which began over unemployment and government issues, there have not been any decisions. Even after the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, due to citizen’s persistence, the people of Tunisia are still waiting to know what will ultimately happen to their country.

What sparked the unrest?

A desperate act on December 17 by a young unemployed man triggered a much wider series of protests and clashes with the police.

Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself when officials prevented him from selling vegetables on the streets of Sidi Bouzid. This act of defiance and desperation set off protests about jobs in the town, based on an agriculture-based economy in one of the poorest regions of Tunisia. The unrest continued and police responded by opening fire on demonstrators, further exacerbating the already angry community of protesting citizens.

Timeline of unrest

On December 20, Tunisian Development Minister Mohammed Al Nouri Al Juwayni travelled to Sidi Bouzid to announce a $10 million employment program. Despite this announcement, unrest continued. Then, on December 22, 22-year-old Houcine Falhi committed suicide by electrocution in a demonstration over unemployment in Tunisia. As the protests escalate throughout the country, an 18-year-old protestor, Mohamed Ammari, is killed by the police during demonstrations in Menzel Bouzaiene.

Hundreds of protestors rallied in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters. Rallies and protests continue and, according to an interior minister, police were forced to shoot in self-defence after sending warning shots to protestors who were setting police cars and buildings on fire. On December 27, 1,000 Tunisians held a rally in Tunis in demonstration for jobs, supporting those protesting in poor areas of Tunisia.

On December 28, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ran a national TV broadcast saying that the protests are not acceptable and will have a negative effect on the economy, adding that law will be applied to punish protestors. Despite his efforts, protests continued into January with increasing violence.

In early January, the Tunisian Bar Association announced a strike in protest over police attacks against its members and it is reported that 95 per cent of Tunisia’s lawyers are on strike to stop police brutality.

Government response

Thousands of protestors demand that Ben Ali resign and, on January 12, he fired his interior minister and ordered those that have been detained in the rioting be released. Ben Ali promised to create an extra 300,000 jobs as protests continued and reached the centre of Tunisia.

Ben Ali announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014 and promised new legislative elections in six months. He also announced a state of emergency, firing Tunisia’s government.

After months of protests, Ben Ali announced on January 14 that he is temporarily stepping down as president. The army seized control of Tunisia’s main airport, and Ben Ali fled the country by plane. When he left Tunisia he was replaced by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. Ben Ali flew to Malta and Paris before landing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Media reports state that Nicolas Sarkozy would not allow Ben Ali to land in France.

What now?

In the Tunisian constitution, it states that the presidential election must happen within 60 days. For now, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over, forming a national unity government. In January, a new government was underway however many protestors were upset by the new ruling party with a few ministers of  the Ben Ali administration remaining in key positions.

New protests ensued over the remaining ministers from Ben Ali’s rule, while three ministers from the General Union of Tunisian Workers resigned. Health Minister Mustapha Ben Jaafar of the FDLT would not take up his post until all key posts were no longer held by anyone in Ben Ali’s ruling party. The citizens of Tunisia demanded answers and assurance that the country will foresee major political changes.

Reports in early February stated that Tunisia’s government has replaced all 24 regional governors. This effort is to demolish Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ruling party and politics. For Tunisia’s people this is ideal news as it is a clean slate and the future of a new ruling party for Tunisia. However, the new president and news of elections are still on hold and the country, though somewhat reformed, is still waiting in uncertainty as Ben Ali’s regime slowly dissipates.
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