Pundits have hailed the Tunisian uprising that forced out longtime dictator Ben Ali as a potential turning point for the Arab world's long-autocratic politics. But Tunisia's fight for democracy is far from over. A caretaker government, led by officials from Ben Ali's regime, is promising to hold the country's first free and open elections in six months time. That hasn't stopped the country's protest movement, however, which continues to rally and to pressure -- often successfully -- for government officials associated with Ben Ali to resign. The earlier violence that claimed 78 lives has receded, but this is still a difficult time for Tunisia. What happens next?
- Protesters and Trade Union vs Interim Government The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick reports that "the powerful Tunisian trade union squared off against the interim government on Friday with thousands of protesters demanding the complete eradication of the old ruling party stormed into the streets." In addition, "Tunisia’s powerful trade union, which withdrew its four members of the interim cabinet in protest a few days ago, called a general strike for Saturday in an effort to achieve the same goal."
- Surprisingly, the Military is a Force for Democracy In Foreign Policy, Steven Cook explains why Tunisia's military has broken from the norm of Middle Eastern militaries. Usually, Middle Eastern militaries "crack down and kick butt" on behalf of the regime. Tunisia's, however, refused Ben Ali's orders to shoot protesters and has since carefully kept the peace in Tunisia while, most importantly, resisting any temptation to take power itself. "Defense spending in Tunisia under Ben Ali was a relatively low 1.4 percent of GDP, which reflects not only the fact that the country has no external threats, but also part of a Ben Ali strategy to ensure that the armed forces could not threaten his rule. This was clearly a mistake," Cook writes. And, because of the country's history of civilian rule, "there is no organic link between the military and the political system."
- Pivotal Moment for Islamist Movement The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick calls it "the only credible opposition movement in Tunisia’s history," writing, "that movement’s potential reincarnation is perhaps the most significant variable in Tunisia’s post-revolutionary future--yearned for by legions of working-class and rural Tunisians, viewed with just as much apprehension by the cosmopolitan coastal elite." Kirkpatrick interviews the movement's leader, who describes a "liberal version of Islamist politics, though one that remains unapologetic about its past calls for violence against American interests in the region."
- Political Inclusion Is Essential The Foundation for Defense of Democracy's Khairi Abaza tells the Washington Post, "Political prisoners are being freed, amnesty law regarding exiled dissidents being issues and banned parties are being legalized." He says this should "pave the way for the potential inclusion of all political factions, including the Islamists and the communists. Including all factions would give more legitimacy to the interim government and stabilize the situation."
- U.S. Should Offer Technical Support The New York Times staff editorial warns, "Tunisia’s achievement is not yet secure." They urge, "The United States needs to follow through with technical support to help organize voter rolls and monitor the election and modest economic help to get Tunisia’s economy running again after weeks of disruption. The brave bid from Tunisians for a better, freer life must be nurtured."