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 15 2011 23:24

More from

The Left in Tunisia

I should be writing something on the map of Leftist and communist parties in Tunisia. The left (especially the underground) has always been vibrant: there are Leninist and Trotskiest and Anarchist factions.

This is a mature movement in Tunisia, and it knows what it wants

This is indeed a mature movement. Yesterday, I was relaying to Tunisian comrades my concerns that their movement would be aborted by a theatrical and cosmetic change of power which would not uproot the regime. Today, I woke up to the news that the activists know what they want and will not stop merely because someone in France or US or Israel or Saudi Arabia decided to remove Bin `Ali but keep the regime and army behind power.

House of Saud and Tunisia

All the work I do and I will do against the reactionary government of Saudi Arabia is dwarfed by the work that Saudi Arabia does sometimes on behalf of all those of us who campaign against it.

I mean, the hosting of  Bin `Ali confirms the status of House of Saud as the haven for all dethroned dictators around the world. Western media are not appreciating the extent to which there are Arab popular celebrations around the world regarding Tunisia: and here comes Saudi government to offer a slap on the face of Arab popular opinion. This is significant.

There are calls for demonstrations against Saudi embassy in all Arab countries although it is doubtful that the Arab governments will allow it. House of Saud decided to fly against the enthusiasm of Arab public opinion. What do you expect: ousted dictators since the days of Hamid Ad-Din, Sanusis, Idi Amin, Numayri, and many others always find home in the Kingdom of Horror.

Yesterday, when the president of Bin `Ali was flying, Saudi media were hoping and praying that it was going to Qatar, just to embarrass Aljazeera and the Qatari government. In fact, for the record, the private station of King Fahd's brother-in-law actually announced that the plane was going to Qatar. And when the news came and an official statement from the House of Saud was issued in which Bin `Ali was officially welcomed "with his family" to Saudi Arabia, Saudi media tried to ignore the news altogether.

Jan 16 2011 00:23


The sudden flight of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has left a mood of confusion and fear. Soldiers and tanks controlled central Tunis but armed gangs continued to loot and burn amid fears that the ex-dictator's militia were behind the violence


In the capital, Tunis, and other areas of the country, residents reported knife-wielding and balaclava-clad gangs attacking flats and houses. Organised groups were said to be attacking shops and factories. Many had piled into stolen hire cars and careered around the city and suburbs, stopping only to smash and burn. One young lawyer who hastily left his office in the centre of Tunis for the quieter southern suburbs said:

There's complete confusion and everyone is trying to understand who is behind this, whether it's Ben Ali's militia clinging on. Yes, there has been isolated looting of shops. But the gangs seem organised; they are inciting thieves.

They seem to be making trouble to convince public opinion that things were better under the dictatorship. Joy has turned to extreme caution and fear for people's safety.

Throughout the day, sporadic gunfire was heard in Tunis, while the main train station was torched and smoke billowed over a supermarket as it was burned and emptied. Groups of Tunisia's notoriously brutal plain-clothes police, described as a kind of "north African Stasi", barricaded the Avenue Bourguiba near the Interior Ministry and stood guard on corners swinging clubs and batons. More than 40 people died in a fire at a prison in Monastir. One Tunisian prison director let 1,000 inmates escape after protests.

As military helicopters hovered over Tunis and soldiers manned checkpoints on roads out of the city, intellectuals wondered how great a role the army was playing behind the scenes and whether there was a standoff between them and the police.

"We don't know if the army are in total control; we don't understand if there are altercations between security forces or if there could be an insurrection," said Sana Ben Achour at the offices of the democratic women's movement...

Jan 16 2011 11:54

Sky News

Several hundred soldiers are patrolling the streets of the capital, while army roadblocks have stopped access to Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis' main thoroughfare and scene of angry clashes.

Overnight, there have been more reports of gunmen firing at random from cars and a second curfew was held in the capital to combat looting.

It is not clear who the squads of gunmen are - but a senior military source said that people affiliated to ousted president Zine al Abidine Ben Ali were behind the attacks.

In some Tunis neighbourhoods, residents set up barricades and organised their own overnight patrols, armed with baseball bats and clubs, to deter looters.


But Mr Ben Ali's overthrow has reverberated around other countries in the Arab world with long-serving leaders.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said: "I am very pained by what is happening in Tunisia.

"Tunisia now lives in fear... Families could be raided and slaughtered in their bedrooms and the citizens in the street killed as if it was the Bolshevik or the American revolution."

It was not clear if protesters would accept the new power arrangement because of Mr Mebazaa and Mr Ghannouchi's links to Mr Ben Ali's rule...

Jan 16 2011 11:53

statement by the post-hoxhaite PCOT with introduction by the AWL: ... as far as I know, the PCOT is the strongest of the illegal leftist groups with some influence among students and academics

Jan 17 2011 00:18

Yes that's the impression I've got from what I've read so far. I was wondering what tendency they were, but I don't think I'd ever have guessed at 'post-hoxhaite' - must be some kind of history there...

PCOT wrote:
Tunisia needs a new democratic government which represents the national and popular will of the people and represents its own interests. And a system of this type cannot emerge from the current system and its institutions or its constitution and its laws, but only on its ruins by a constituent assembly elected by the people in conditions of freedom and transparency, after ending the tyranny.

The task of a People’s Council is to draft a new constitution that lays the foundations of democratic republic, with its institutions and its laws. The popular protests are still ongoing. No one can predict either their duration or their development. Tunisia has entered a new phase in its history characterized by the rise of its people and their desire to recover their freedom, rights and dignity.

This raises the responsibilities of the opposition, especially its most radical wing, to find new policy solutions that place as an immediate priority the requirements of the Tunisian people for a program providing a plan for overall change in Tunisia.The opposition, consisting of all the forces involved in the intifada, has been invited to close ranks for Democratic Change and to form an alternative to tyranny and dictatorship.

The Workers’ Communist Party renews its invitation to convene a national assembly of the Tunisian opposition in order to confront the issue as quickly as possible.Also renewed has been an invitation to come together to coordinate at national and local level support for the popular movements, and to work towards a set of concrete demands so that the movement does not run out of steam...

Edited to add this from angryarab.blogspot

Tunisian political parties: The case of Tunisian Communist Workers Party

This party is very involved among workers and students in Tunisia and has been very involved in the uprising (it is too early to refer to what is happening as a Revolution--that depends on the outcome). The party is very courageous on matters of gender and about secularism (although it refers to it by the French word in order to avoid association between the standards Arabic word and atheism). When Bin `Ali came to power, he issued a "national" document for all parties in Tunisia to sign. To its credit, it was the only party that did not sign (even some underground parties signed). It is fiercely anti-Israel and calls for the liberation of all of Palestine. I can quibble with the party's ideology: it sticks to a Stalinist version of Marxism-Leninism and has historically been attached to Enver Hoxa's version of communism...
Jan 16 2011 12:25

Tunisia liveblog

1150 GMT: Ben Wedeman of CNN reports via Twitter:

At Monoprix in Cartage [Carthago, east of Tunis]. Looters interrupted by soldiers who fire in air. Then let looting continue.

Middle aged doctors dentists engineers protesting neighbourhoods in cartage with baseball bats

1130 GMT: A French photojournalist, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, who was wounded by a tear gas canister on Friday, has died.

1120 GMT: Ahmed al-Khadrawi, an officer in the Tunisian National Guards, said that the military's Chief of Staff, General Rachid Ammar, who was removed by President Ben Ali on Wednesday, received last-minute instructions from the US Embassy to take charge of Tunisian affairs if the situation was out of control.

Al-Khadrawi told Al-Jazeera on Saturday that he has documents backing up his statement. Asked why Ammar has not taken control and declared military rule, al-Khadrawi said that the sudden popular uprising had shocked both the political and military institutions.

1050 GMT: The BBC's headline coverage this morning of Tunisia, including an interview with the daughter of opposition leader Rached Ghanoucchi (see 0915 GMT), has now been put on-line. The item starts just after the 6:00 mark.

0950 GMT: Reports indicate that Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of the wife of ex-President Ben Ali, died from a knife wound on Friday. It is still unclear whether the stabbing was connected to the ransacking of the Trabelsi family's residences on Friday afternoon.

0940 GMT: Reports from Tunis are that the city is relatively quiet, with a significant Army presence in the centre. The state of emergency is still in effect.

0915 GMT: The BBC's flagship radio programme, which led with Tunisia this morning, has interviewed the daughter of Rached Ghanoucchi, head of the opposition Ennadha movement. After reviewing the current situation --- including concern that the "old guard" has merely made surface changes to hold on to power --- Ghanoucchi's daughter said her father, who went into exile in 1989, is hoping to return to Tunisia soon. She added that he had been in consultation with other opposition leaders on Saturday about the timing of next moves.

0850 GMT: Al Jazeera reviews the current political situation and offers a concise summary, "With leadership changing at dizzying speed what is certain is the constitution favours those belonging to ousted regime."

0840 GMT: Yesterday we posted the photo of President Ben Ali's name being taken down from Tunisia's new airport in Enfidha. This morning we get the photograph which claims that the airport has been renamed to honour Mohammaed Bouazizi, whose attempted suicide on 17 December sparked the protests that brought down Ben Ali ... The official website for the airport has not changed the name, so we wait to see if this is the outcome of political change or of Photoshop.

0805 GMT: Al Jazeera has now posted an article on the storming of residential units by "thousands" of Libyans protesting poor housing. The protesters took over new apartments in a Benghazi project.

The article claims that troops and police withdrew from the area, allowing the protest to take place.

0745 GMT: Many in the international media are now captivated by the possibility that protest will escalate in other parts of the Arab world. Thousands have demonstrated in Jordan (more on that later on EA), there have been rallies in Egypt, and there is even video of a street protest in Libya. (Less than an hour after footage appeared, it was reported that the Libyan Government has blocked YouTube.)

Jan 16 2011 12:48

Trouble in Libya (

Just two days after the overthrow of President Ben Ali in Tunisia, videos are circulating of disturbances in neighbouring Libya. Needless to say, this is causing a good deal of excitement on Twitter…

Tunisia seeks to form unity cabinet (BBC)

The leader of neighbouring Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, praised Mr Ben Ali, whom he said he still considered the "legal president of Tunisia".

"You have suffered a great loss... There is none better than Zine (Mr Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Tunisia revolts and the view from Jordan (Black Iris)

It may go without saying that in the past 48 hours, a great number of Jordanians have been glued to their television screens, watching Al Jazeera detail the fall of the Tunisian regime, the assumed exile of its leader, and the rise of the youth voice in the streets of Tunis. The view from Jordan has been interesting…

Will revolt in Tunisia inspire others? (LA Times)

Hours after riots forced Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali to flee his country, hundreds of Egyptians poured into the streets of Cairo with a warning to their own authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak.

"Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him too!" they chanted late Friday night. "We are next. Listen to the Tunisians; it's your turn, Egyptians!" ...

Jan 16 2011 12:58

Also from the BBC report

Residents in some areas have armed themselves with sticks and clubs, forming impromptu militias to protect their homes.

A resident of Nabeul, south of Tunis, Haythem Houissa, told the BBC that he had joined a volunteer group "to help clean up and guard our city".

"The security situation is much better since yesterday," he added.

Some of the violence is being blamed on supporters of Mr Ben Ali.

However many attacks appeared to target businesses and buildings connected with the former president and his family.

Tunisia gripped by uncertainty (Al Jazeera)

Armed militias have taken to the streets of Tunisia following the toppling of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sowing fear among the population as the country's new leadership attempts to bring order and form a coalition government.


"There is a real sense of fear right now on the streets," said Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, the capital.

Many residents, running out of bread, milk and petrol, have decided to arm themselves and barricade their homes, Moshiri said. Some are forming local groups to defend their own neighbourhoods.

Three different armed groups appear to be attempting to assert power, she said: Police, security forces from the interior ministry, and irregular militias allied with Ben Ali's former regime. Among Tunisia's population of roughly 10 million people, 250,000 are in the police force, she said.

"People are telling us right now they trust the army far more than they do the police," Moshiri said.

Jan 16 2011 13:07
Jan 16 2011 13:22

Looks like the rest of the Arab leaders, including Ghaddafi, are incredibly nervous about this spreading to their own doorsteps.

I must confess I know very little about the Arab world. To those that know more, what would you say the likelihood is of another one of these regimes toppling in the near future?

Jan 16 2011 13:46

I'm not an expert but I've seen suggestions that Algeria might be vulnerable, though really it's anyone's guess. It's starting to look like a 'Berlin wall coming down' moment but maybe I'm being far too optimistic.

Libya protest over housing enters its third day (ahramonline)

Protests in several cities in Libya continued for a third day over the late completion of government subsided housing.

Last night hundreds of people broke into vacant houses and took over about 800 vacant units in Bani Walid city (180 kilometres south east from the capital, Tripoli).

Several activists on social network sites reported that over 600 units in similar projects in Benghazi were taken over yesterday by protesters that have been waiting for years to move in to their homes.

The Libyan government has run subsided housing projects for poor families in several cities for years. However local authorities in some projects postponed the delivery of hundreds of housing units to the owners who have already signed contracts and paid most of the installments.

A statement released by the National Front for Salvation of Libya, an opposition movement established in 1981, described the frustration of the protesters in Bani Walid: “Bani Walid has no basic services; thousands of people are without houses and the local authority is corrupted, it only delivers services with bribes. Nothing will make Bani Walid calm but freedom, justice and transparency.”

Witnesses said that hundreds of policemen were observing the protests but did not intervene, even when hundreds of people broke in to some buildings under construction.

Information and videos posted on Twitter and YouTube show hundreds of Libyans protesting in the east of the country in the cities of Bidaa, Darna and Sabhaa late Saturday.

Qourina, an independent news website, reported several lootings during the protests in Darana city.

Qourina also reported that two of its reporters were beaten by protesters on Saturday.

There are no reports of injuries or clashes with the police.

Al Jazeera TV network reported that police have been instructed by the government to avoid any clashes with protesters and to only protect government buildings and contain the protesters' anger ...

Jan 16 2011 16:40

I welcome the information collated by Mark and Ocelot above.

There's a lot about the consequences on the "Arab world". This seems to be based on the premise that Tunisians are "Arab" and other countries, Libya and Egypt for example, also have "Arab" populations. But, as important as these events are for countries around the Middle East this is not a question about race but class. The events in Tunisia are also important for the working class of western Europe as we can see for the blackout that has been in operation in the "free press" of Europe for the last weeks. It's for this reason, ie, possible contagion, that the French bourgeoisie, despite offering police support for Ben Ali about a week ago, refused him permission to land in France. The overthrow of the western-backed Tunisian mafia is also a blow to the imperialisms of France, GB, the United States.

As to Egypt specifically, the numbers coming onto the streets are minimal and the state hasn't altered the status of its super-saturated organs of repression. If there was an attempt at an uprising in this country American imperialism would not sit idly by.

Jan 16 2011 17:41

Interesting developments...

The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has condemned the uprising in neighbouring Tunisia amid reports today of unrest on the streets of Libya.

Article on the Grauniad

There were reports today, backed up by video evidence, of protests in the Libyan city of al-Bayda, according to the Guardian's Middle East specialist Brian Whitaker, writing on his blog Protesters clashed with police and attacked government offices, in a demonstration about housing conditions, according to an opposition website.

Video here

Blog and article about al-Bayda here

Jan 16 2011 17:51
"There isn't really a single, main, unified opposition movement ... So you have a real variety -- the secularists, the leftists, the democracy and human rights people, the Islamists in different forms. It's going to take a little time for the opposition to coalesce. Probably there will be two main groups -- an Islamist-led one that will probably end up being Turkish-style Islamists, more pragmatic, and a leftist, secular, nationalist, progressive-type group.

"The process will probably take weeks at least and then you have to sort out the logistics of the interim government, the unity cabinet ... you have never had an Arab country where the people can suddenly start from scratch.

Jan 16 2011 21:29
Echoes of the unrest were also heard from Algeria, where a man burned himself to death in an apparent copycat suicide that echoed the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, whose death sparked off the trouble in mid-December.

Algeria's El Khabar newspaper reported that Mohsen Bouterfif set himself alight last Thursday after failing to find a job and a house. Riots erupted after he died of his burns on Saturday. A second, failed, attempted suicide by self-immolation was reported from Mostaganem, according to El Watan. In the past few weeks, Algerian towns have seen rioting over unemployment and a sharp rise in food prices. Two people were killed and scores injured during unrest which unfolded in parallel to the violence in Tunisia.

Jan 16 2011 23:55

Some more extracts from the Tunisia liveblog

2050 GMT: Around 1,500 protesters held a peaceful rally in the central Tunisian town of Regueb, condemning political talks because the new government would not be truly democratic. A local trade union leader said, "We didn't rise up for the formation of a unity government with a fake opposition."

The army broke up the rally as protests are banned under the State of Emergency declared on Friday.

2025 GMT: Al Jazeera is now carrying the news that the Tunisian Army has exchanged fire with former Presidential Guards as the latter tried storm into Carthage International Airport.

Reports have circulated throughout the day that Army and the former guards for President Ben Ali also clashed at the Presidential Palace in Carthage.

1815 GMT: Al Jazeera's James Bays reports from Tunis of shootings in the city and people arming themselves against the police, whom they do not trust: "In between the road blocks, we were coming across large groups of people who had their own home-made weapons, axes and steel bars, and some of them were not particularly friendly to us when we wanted to film in the area."

1810 GMT: Lawyers in Benghazi in Libya have announced they will protest at noon tomorrow over the situation surrounding the "chaos" and "looting" this weekend at a residential complex in the city.

1750 GMT: In Algeria, prominent union activist Ahmed Badawi, was arrested in Algiers on Saturday after leaving a meeting with several trade union officials and civil society activists.

1745 GMT: A prominent activist reports from a "scared" contact in Libya that "the regime is on full alert" and "tensions r high".

The contact says Benghazi is the epicenter of protest, with shops burned, and there have been few incidents in Tripoli.

1740 GMT: Ben Wedeman of CNN reports from his Tunis hotel: "Police going from room to room shutting windows, looking for cameramen who shot [foootage of] gun battle and helicopters from hotel windows."

1625 GMT: Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera posts a Twitter message: "Just survived harrowing ordeal to make it to hotel amidst gunfire and unidentified armed men in heart of Tunis. Thank You God!"

He adds, "heart of Tunis completely empty hour before curfew except for military and civilian gangs trying to protect areas and armed men."

1600 GMT: Ben Wedeman reports from Tunis that a gun battle is continuing after 90 minutes. A patrolling helicopter is still overhead. Curfew has just started.

1530 GMT: AFP reports that more than 3,000 Jordanian trade unionists, Islamists, and leftists held a sit-in on Sunday outside Parliament to protest the Government's economic policies. Banners asked, "For how long should we pay the price of corruption and theft?" while chants included, "Enough of lies, we lost our future", "Jordan's blood has been sucked", "Poverty, starvation and unemployment, we've had enough", and "Jordanians are on fire... the soaring prices are killing us".

1514 GMT: Dernières nouvelles d'Algérie is now reporting five attempts at suicide by Algerian men setting themselves on fire in the last five days. At least one has died (see 1445 GMT).

1505 GMT: Tension has risen in Tunis. There are reports of shooting outside the headquarters of an opposition party --- initial claims were that it was from police clashing with a gang.

Jan 17 2011 00:04
Jan 17 2011 01:31

Tunisia Scenario - from a blogger on the ground in Tunis

El pueblo organiza su defensa (Alasbarricadas) - one of the better reports I've seen on what is happening in Tunis - worth translating

El segundo día del pueblo tunecino se levanta con un cielo ancho y puro que aboveda aún más el silencio tenso que se ha apoderado de las calles. Mis amigos Ainara y Amín, después de una noche de terror refugiados en la casa de un obrero cerca de la Avenida Bourguiba, donde quedaron atrapados tras la manifestación del día anterior, vienen a refugiarse a casa. Traen los periódicos y no podemos dejar de echarnos a reír con pueril entusiasmo. De la noche a la mañana los diarios en árabe del régimen de Ben Alí han acusado la revolución. As-Sabah titula: “El pueblo ha dicho su palabra”. As-shuruq, más popular, es aún más rotundo: “La voluntad del pueblo ha triunfado”. Por primera vez en su historia, en la cinta donde figura el equipo de redacción se ha añadido una frase: “diario independiente de la mañana”. Es como si el ABC encabezase su edición con un “¡viva Fidel!”.

Cuando salimos a la calle salimos ya a otro país. Son los mismos árboles, las mismas casas, las mismas gentes, pero en un mundo paralelo, en otra dimensión clónica en la que todo es exactamente distinto de su gemelo. Todo está mudo y muy pocas personas circulan por las calles de Mutuelleville. Las tiendas están cerradas; también, por supuesto, el Magazin General, que en cualquier caso, y al contrario que otros supermercados, no ha sido ni saqueado ni quemado. Encontramos finalmente una tiendecita abierta en la espalda de un edificio, junto a Charles Nicole. Una veintena de personas se agolpan frente al mostrador. Algo ha cambiado: no hay leche ni harina ni pan. Pero no es esto lo importante. La gente está -cómo decirlo- mejor educada; es más delicada, más respetuosa. No hay golpes ni empujones, no obstante el desabastecimiento y la necesidad de llevar alguna vianda a casa. Todos esperan su turno, preguntan con serenidad, se intercambian informaciones. En diez minutos hacemos una profunda amistad con una familia que expresa su alivio por la partida del dictador. Nos abrazamos. En una bolsa llevamos una botella de schweps, dos de zumo de naranja, un botecito de dentífrico, dos chocolatinas y una lata de sardinas.

En Place Pasteur, la poca gente que pasa saluda al retén militar, rodeado de alambrada de espino, que hace guardia en la entrada del Belvedere. Todos estamos tensos, tenemos miedo, pero al cruzarnos nos intercambiamos un saludo. En cada desconocido, de algún modo, reconocemos algo común, una amistad de otro tiempo que queremos verificar con este “aslema” tímido y sonriente.

Luego, hacia las dos de la tarde, la jornada se vira. Empiezan a llegar noticias de grupos armados que, en coches sin matrícula, entran en los barrios de la capital y disparan indiscriminadamente, asaltan las casas y las saquean. Los vecinos se organizan, armados de palos, para defender sus zonas. En nuestra propia calle una pandilla que esgrime cuchillos es rechazada por los habitantes de las casas contiguas, que me dicen que han pedido ayuda a la policía. Munquid, que vive en el garaje de al lado y se ocupa de regarnos las plantas en verano, me asegura, palo en ristre, que defenderá también nuestra casa.

Tras el toque de queda, que entra en vigor a las 17 h., la situación se vuelve angustiosa. El helicóptero militar que vuela desde la noche anterior por encima del barrio, con su luz roja giratoria y su sirena, rozando los tejados, pasa y pasa una y otra vez. Ayer me irritaba su rugido insistente; hoy me irrita más no oírlo. Los barrios de Túnez han organizado comités de autodefensa coordinados con el ejército para neutralizar a los “tonton macoute” de Ben Alí: 3.000 policías, se dice, que el día anterior habrían causado la muerte de cien personas y que horas antes han disparado sobre el Café Saf-Saf, en La Marsa, centro populoso de esparcimiento de nativos y turistas.

En casa, a partir de las 10 de la noche, mientras se escuchan a lo lejos, en Montfleury y Hay el-Khadra, ráfagas aisladas de metralleta, Amín organiza un centro de información; una especie de teleoperador de guerra que se comunica con los distintos frentes a través de Internet. Meher, Heyfel y Tarek están en Mourouj, Sofien en el Bardo, Taha en el Menzah, Mehdi en Cité el-Khadra, Amine y Radhouan en Kabaria, Amir en Ariana. Todos reportan minuto a minuto las evoluciones de la lucha sobre el terreno. Entre los barrios se ha organizado una especie de competencia para ver cuál de ellos detiene más coches de asesinos. La victoria por el momento es de Mourouj, donde se han arrestado diez. Es verdad que el pueblo unido jamás será vencido y si a veces parece una exageración lírica o retórica es por que no hay suficiente pueblo o no está suficientemente unido.

Hay tensión, miedo, angustia, pero también determinación en la victoria. Lo que parecía una revolución cabalgada por un golpe de Estado se está convirtiendo poco a poco en una guerra. Inquieta un poco leer los periódicos occidentales -los de España, pero también Le Monde oLiberation en Francia- y descubrir que no describen la situación en sus justos términos. Hablan de disturbios, de motines, algunos insinúan la presencia de elementos salvajes del "benalismo", pero no dicen lo que verdaderamente está ocurriendo: grupos de policías del dictador -y de las milicias de su partido- acompañados de mercenarios están tratando de doblegar al pueblo por el terror.

Pero el pueblo tunecino resiste. Una mujer exiliada en Francia decía que “el 14 de enero es nuestro 14 de julio”. Tiene razón. Lo que ha ocurrido estos días en Túnez marca un viraje histórico que saca al mundo árabe en su conjunto de la sumisión a la que parecía condenado. Argelia, Egipto, Jordania, temen el contagio. Ya nada será igual: un clavo ha sido sacado no por otro clavo sino por una flor. Y nos hemos instalado ya en otra dimensión.

El segundo día del pueblo tunecino acaba lleno de incertidumbres y angustias, con batallas en las calles, rumores interesados difundidos por los mismos medios con los que el pueblo se informa y se defiende, con la conciencia de que esto no ha acabado y de que aún hay que pelear.

Pero Mourouj 10, La Marsa 6, Cité Al-Khadra 5.

Túnez no se rinde.

Jan 17 2011 03:09

Why call the news article the Jasmine Revolution? Apparently that's a very contentious term to use; Tunisians object to it.

Probably because of this:

Arabist wrote:
But there's another reason to stay away from "Jasmine Revolution." It was the term that deposed President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in 1987 to describe his own takeover, in those initial years of his reign that offered some hope for a democratic transition. To reuse Ben Ali's propaganda phrase at this point seems perverse — whereas something like the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, marking ground zero of the movement that led to the dictator's downfall, seems so much more appropriate.

Jan 17 2011 08:22

Spoke to a Tunisian friend yesterday morning and he said, more or less, the following, having got the information from his family back home :

The bourgeoisie are getting their guns out of their attics and firing on anyone in the street they don’t like the look of (basically, proletarian youth). It’s a massacre. Many cops, encouraged and manipulated by the ruling class, are attacking and looting houses of the middle and working class. Shops and supermarkets, having been rightly looted by young proletarians, are now protected by baseball bat and gun-wielding petit-bourgeois vigilantes in collaboration with the army and the cops. This is being presented in the French media as “community” groups keeping order in the localities; but they aren’t doing anything against the cops’ looting or the bourgeois attacks on proletarians, surprise surprise. The image being presented is of a return to the “rational” order of dominant normality, and so far proletarians have not looted the arsenals or arms caches….

Apologies if this has already been covered - my time on the internet has been very limited over the last few days and haven't had time to read all the posts here.

Jan 17 2011 10:28

Samotnaf - I've posted up various reports of what is happening but I wouldn't say it's 'already been covered'. Some of the opinions and interpretations seem contradictory, and I'm not that clear in my own mind about what is going on. Any more information or views are welcome.

Jan 17 2011 10:38
Khawaga wrote:
Why call the news article the Jasmine Revolution? Apparently that's a very contentious term to use; Tunisians object to it.

Probably because of this:

Arabist wrote:
But there's another reason to stay away from "Jasmine Revolution." It was the term that deposed President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in 1987 to describe his own takeover, in those initial years of his reign that offered some hope for a democratic transition. To reuse Ben Ali's propaganda phrase at this point seems perverse — whereas something like the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, marking ground zero of the movement that led to the dictator's downfall, seems so much more appropriate.

Second that. It's also an transparent attempt to re-brand it, after the fact, as a Colour revolution, of the kind supported by the US, supposedly as part of the Neocon mission to export the liberal democratic revolution, in practice as cynical furtherance of US foreign policy objectives in either surrounding Russia, positional and resource struggles in Central Asian Republics, and counter-Syrian and Iranian moves in Lebanon (Cedar Revolution - which has, coincidentally, gone seriously tits up at the moment - US State Dept. policy in the Muslim Mediterranean has broken down on multiple fronts at the moment, a few more Clinton tours like the last one and their whole setup will be in ruins smile ).

In that sense, Tunisia is precisely the opposite of a Colour Revolution, in that it was against a US-backed dictatorship. The re-branding attempt is an attempt to cover over the unique feature of this revolution as the direct achievement of the people without the backing of any outside geopolitical force, or the mediation of any political representational racket whether islamist, baathist, stalinist (hoxha-ist!) or what have you.

Jan 17 2011 11:04
Khawaga wrote:
Why call the news article the Jasmine Revolution? Apparently that's a very contentious term to use; Tunisians object to it.

Probably because of this:

Arabist wrote:
But there's another reason to stay away from "Jasmine Revolution". It was the term that deposed President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in 1987 to describe his own takeover, in those initial years of his reign that offered some hope for a democratic transition. To reuse Ben Ali's propaganda phrase at this point seems perverse — whereas something like the Sidi Bouzid Revolution, marking ground zero of the movement that led to the dictator's downfall, seems so much more appropriate.

Khawaga - thanks for posting this. I hadn't realised that the term 'Jasmine Revolution' was contentious. It was just that the original title of the thread seemed to have been overtaken by events and I picked up on Jasmine Revolution being used by Tunisians themselves. The connotation for me was Portugal in 1974, which probably shows my age. The Ben Ali connection confuses things.

Arabist wrote:
There's nothing wrong in flower revolutions in themselves — the term derives from the very honorable end of the fascist regime in Portugal on 25 April 1974, dubbed the Carnation Revolution.

I had been thinking about trying to write some more about possible parallels with what happened in Portugal. So far I've seen Romania, Poland, and Iran mentioned but I'm wondering if Portugal might be the closest comparison, at least in so far as this is useful at all.

Edit: Cross-posted with ocelot and MT. I've no particular attachment to the term 'Jasmine Revolution' or the title and I'd have no problem if the admins want to change it to something else. I think anyone can edit the article, including the title, subject to edits being approved by the admins - so if people want it changed it might be best if they put up their own proposals and the reasons for them. Thanks to everyone for the feedback - all comments are welcome.

Edit: I see it's already been changed...

Jan 17 2011 10:42

Can we really speak about revolution in Tunisia? I have to say I have read only the posts from 2-3 days ago, but do we know about the new forms of organizing the community and industry or any project of that coming from Tunisia? I may be wrong, but I see this as a revolt which evolved into a possibility for a change of the ruling class. Perhaps we could call it political revolution, but still...

Jan 20 2011 11:27

Regarding the Carnation Revolution in Portugal the best source I've seen in English is Phil Mailer's Portugal: The Impossible Revolution, reviewed here.

Short review of Portugal: The Impossible Revolution

Reviewed by Fred Freedman

Every revolutionary struggle is accompanied by a flurry of "left" books on the subject. Portugal is of course no different. The problem is one of truth, interpretation, and who to believe. The left press is no less guilty of fraud and lies in reporting revolutionary events than the bourgeois press.

Phil Mailer's Portugal: The Impossible Revolution? is a clear analysis of the events in Portugal from April 25, 1974 to November 25, 1976 with a background chapter. It is clearly and simply written with little rhetoric. It is also openly libertarian, documenting the struggle of the Portugese people against both fascism and domination by Leninist parties whose picture of state power differs little from the fascists. The Portugese revolution is one of the three or four most important struggles for western leftists to understand and this goes a long way to shed light on the inevitable final battle that any successful revolution faces: the people vs. the parties. In Portugal this took on a special meaning, as the book makes clear.

Events in Portugal were initiated by a left leaning military coup ending a dictatorship and leading to several years of some quite radical unrest. I suppose I'm wondering if something similar might happen in Tunisia, and maybe in other Arab counties. Of course I could be completely off on the wrong track here.

Edited to add link to video of Zeca Afonso - Grândola Vila Morena, the song played on the radio in Portugal as the signal to launch the coup.

Jan 17 2011 11:29

More on Libya

Libya and the vanishing videos (

So far, the Gaddafi regime – for all its eccentricity – has handled the protests more smartly than the Ben Ali regime did in Tunisia. Large numbers of police have been standing by, watching, but they are said to have instructions not to open fire. The Libyan regime has also made conciliatory noises towards the protesters...
Jan 17 2011 16:24

From today's liveblog

1535 GMT: In Egypt, Mohammad ElBaradei, head of the National Association for Change (NAC), called on the Egyptian regime to allow a peaceful transition of power to avoid a repetition of events in Tunisiam where violence was a response to suppression.

Al Jazeera reports that Egypt's National Defense Council, after a meeting led by President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, decided on a number of “precautionary measures to avoid provoking citizens in the coming period", including the postponement of any planned “price hikes or new taxes."

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit declared that fears of the Tunisian uprising spreading are just "nonsense": "Those who have such illusions and attempt to add fuel to the flames will not achieve their objectives and will themselves be harmed."

1522 GMT: The Western media have picked up on the wave of immolations by unemployed men across North Africa: four over five days in Algeria (a local newspaper said yesterday there were five --- see Sunday updates) and one in Mauritania and one in Egypt today.

1512 GMT: A union leader to Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera: "Tunisia has gotten rid of the dictator but hasnt gotten rid of the dictatorship yet".

1510 GMT: Back from academic break to find news of a peaceful protest of 200 people in Oman, monitored by a heavy police presence, over corruption and low salaries.

1250 GMT: A 40-year-old businessman in Mauritania in west Africa has set himself on fire in front of the Presidential palace, reportedly over mistreatment of his tribe.

1245 GMT: Protest in Tunis has ebbed. Angelique Chrisafis of The Guardian of London writes, "Calm on Ave Bourguiba, police and military presence. People walking about, some braving a coffee on the pavement terrace of Baghdad café."

1129 GMT: Another twist, as it appears protest and tension are both growing. CNN's Ben Wedeman: "About 2000 protesters now heading to New Dastur party. Tear gas fired. Shooting in air. Lots of tear gas....Police chasing protesters. Policeman beating man [as] he runs away."

1115 GMT: More substantial than "sniper on roof" rumours is this morning's protest of about 1000 people in Tunis. Jonathan Rugman of Britain's Channel 4 observed, "Want revolution to continue. Watercannon was brief. Police, army in control."

Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera reported that the protest was "generally...tolerated", but the security forces would not let demonstrators get near government buildings. The water cannon was used when demonstrators tried to move from trade union headquarters towards the Ministry of Interior.

Protesters demanded that the new government should not contain any "stooges" from the old regime. They chanted, "Continue your rebellion against remnants of dictatorship."

1105 GMT: A flutter in Tunis, according to the BBC's Lyse Doucet, "Crowds scatter, riot police take up position. But reported snipers on roof turn out to be tourists on balcony."

Jan 17 2011 16:33
Tunisian Army tries to disperse crowd of protestors who are demanding the formation of any national unity government formed to be free from "Old Regime"


Jan 17 2011 16:46
Jan 17 2011 17:24

Sorry if this has been posted already,

Taoufik ben Brik wrote:
In Tunisia, as elsewhere, a tyrant can hide another. Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali's prime minister, and Fouad Mebazaa, the speaker of parliament (unelected) and right hand of Ben Ali have taken over a vacant presidency. Change without change. We've cut off the duck's head, but the body continues to move. Ben Ali ran off, but left behind a whole system that relies on three Ps: Police, Profiteers and Party. Here, everything depends on the karakouz, the Turkish shadow puppet theater. And we know all too well who is puppeteer and who is puppet. No one is fooled. Power is still in the hands of Ben Ali's old stalwarts. "A bloodbath would not make them back down" is the general opinion. The police, the ruling RCD party and the profiteers won't let go that easily. They are not a charity.

The Tunisia of the "economic miracle" caught its foot in the carpet, the parallel economy has shown its true face — the face of a vehicle without a driver. An economy without goal, with no pilot in the cockpit of a crashing plane whose name is Tunisia. And that is crashing on whom? On the Tunisians themselves. We have seen, in Sidi Bouzid, in Kasserine, in Jendouba, in Gafsa, in Medenine, destitution install itself, unemployment spread. No state among Tunisia's partners, the Europeans, had predicted this lighting collapse. Who can then honestly predict the consequences of this unfinished — or perhaps stolen — revolution. An uprising of the sort we would like to see more often. A horrible dictator chase by a valorous people. That's already something!

from (in French; translated part by the Arabist).

This is one thing I've been meaning to raise. Why are we calling it a revolution? Up until now it could be called a political one, but considering that the old regime is still in place but just with a new appearance, shouldn't we refrain from calling it a revolution? Uprising would be better. This is semantics, sure, but we shouldn't try to confuse "our" kind of social revolution with a change of state power as it appears happened in Tunisia.