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I Can See Clearly Now - Abdenour Toumi

I Can See Clearly Now

Abdenour Toumi

The political tempest that erupted in the Maghreb a couple of weeks ago is resonating in the Machreq. Tunisians are still celebrating the Jasmine Revolt, and consequently, anger in the streets of the Arab world has grown louder, shouting for an end to injustice: Barakat mel Hogra, while some are immolating in public squares. A week has passed in Tunisia and the question of the country’s fate still hangs in the air. In my last blog post, I predicted that the country could be another post-military regime Turkey, a change that could create a new dynamic of healthy democratic process and accountable governance systems in the Arab world that would include the legalist Islamists to participate. “I can clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles-” Wait! I’m quoting from Jimmy Cliff’s song.

The events in Tunisia last week, at Carthage Palace, could be qualified as a tender military coup with a scent of jasmine. This is reminiscent of the Algerian political tempest of the October ’88 revolt which unveiled the iron mask of the FLN regime, where then President Chadli Ben Djedid did not run away, instead introducing a new Constitution that created a mood of political reform and gave hope to many naive Algerians; until 1992, when his peers from the military institution sent him into an early retirement in his Datcha in Oran. Similarly, the Tunisians want radical change, tearing up all of the apparatchiks of the RCD, just as the Algerians wanted in 1988, provoking a political tsunami that gave FIS led Islamists control of local offices, and eventually winning the parliamentary elections in Dec 1991. The result was sour, and later Algerians cursed their revolt and with it the word ”democracy.”

“All politics is local,” former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill said, yet in the Arab world all politics is considered global because neither Washington nor Paris are ready to learn from their cumulative mistakes. Madame Secretary Clinton, hours before Ben Ali and his wife fled the country, assured the General who escorted them to the helicopter that Saudis agreed to welcome their new “guests.” This after the French Foreign Affairs Minister argued before l’Assemblée Générale that Tunisian police need more batons in order to contain the upheaval of the people. These days, the phone lines are very busy between the region’s Palaces and the State Department via its chancelleries in the Maghreb and the Machreq, even though the average Abdellah and Fatima in Tunisia do not care about current events, and why should they? Nevertheless, there is a plausible scenario à l’algérienne: so far the Tunisian military is acting like a republican institution and Tunisians are in an “idyllic” relation with the military, yet the Tunisian military is under pressure from the U.S., France and leaders in the Arab world, therefore in the end of this tempest the military could take control the country’s destiny, treating Tunisians as children. Undoubtedly, they should allow a democratic process to go ahead, allowing citizens the chance to go window shopping politically, because so far, they appear as a rampart toward the two sworn ideologies in Tunisia’s post Ben Ali era: the communist party and the Union on the one hand, and the Islamists on the other. Knowing Tunisia’s economic resources are very limited and are based on tourism, the military would never allow either of these ideologies to lead or have a solid say in the country’s future decision making process.

It is no exaggeration to claim that the West prefers regimes that are used as ramparts to protect its own interests, particularly after the tragedy of 9/11 in the fight against so-called terrorism, even though the West knows that the policies of these regimes have pushed the region into radicalization and despair. The West acts by offering them blind support of police and military equipment, in lieu of putting pressure on the military regimes to form, or in this matter to help them to elaborate a new social contact between the elite and the masses to fight the terror of unemployment and injustice. These spontaneous peaceful protests and immolations have become a political symbol, demonstrating the people’s misery. It is as though this new generation is saying: enough with the chaos, where in the absence of social justice, political structure, and above all culture are lost and demotivated. The military who is acting as the guardian of the modern republic values, should look at the Jasmine Revolt with a positive eye, and let elections be used as plebiscite on performance and political verdicts of the failed policies of the sitting rulers and not used as tools of oppression.

It won’t be a “Black January” in Tunisia because riots come and go, indeed, Tunisians excelled in scaring and unplugging the Ben Ali-Trebelssi clan while creating a sentiment of hysteria in the region’s regimes, but in the long run the struggle continues as Frantz Fanon put in The Wretched of the Earth, that one finds resonance with the misery in Tunisia and Algeria, where the have nots, or el-mahroumin, are showing their anger and despair at the state and its symbols, while the haves, their leaders, are sinking into the sand, hiding from the tempest.


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