Phi Beta Iota: If one reads the Winner Take All Politics book review by Retired Reader first, and then the analytic comments here, one is struck by the raw nearly identical nature of the corrupt politicians and the dysfunctional political system. Third World America, indeed.
Tunisia: Politics. The Speaker of the Parliament is the new temporary President of Tunisia, in accord with the constitutional succession and as announced by Prime Minister Ghannouchi two days ago.
Local television broadcast on 17 January the formation of the new government — the national unity government. The cabinet includes the defense, finance and foreign ministers when Ben Ali was president. Three leaders of opposition parties are included in the cabinet for the first time.
Prime Minister Ghannouchi created three high-level panels, for political reform, to investigate the recent violence and to investigate reform. He also ordered political prisoners released.
Some gun shots were fired on the 17th but the worst of the fighting occurred over the weekend when Army soldiers and armed citizen groups fought gun battles with Presidential guards from the Ben Ali regime.
The government announced that 78 people died in the past week of violence.
About 1,000 protesters who assembled near the Interior Ministry called for the ruling party to relinquish power. News services reported the protesters chanted: “Out with the RCD!” and “Out with the Party of the Dictatorship!”
Comment: The government appears to be in transition from a strong presidency to a government led by parliament. The Prime Minister, not the temporary president, is leading the political metamorphosis. The announcement of a unit government has quieted conditions in Tunis, by most accounts, but its adequacy and genuineness are questionable.
The uprising was not fundamentally political and not a challenge to authority, until the government made it such. The demonstrations primarily were about economic conditions – the price and availability of food, according to contacts in Tunis, and unemployment, according to the international press. As yet the new government has made no statements about its plan to tackle either.
In other words, the mismatch between public grievances and government remedies portends more unrest that may yet usher in a revolution – a change of government system not just a change in the head of government. At this point no revolution has occurred. The leaders of the pre-existing regime are maintaining themselves in office and that looks like political deception. [Emphasis Added.]
It certainly is premature to congratulate the people of Tunisia about their democratic revolution because one has not happened and might not happen for some time. For example, one of the promises Ghannouchi made is that his policy is to restore democracy by holding new elections. That is a remarkable statement because it seems to convey that Ben Ali’s prime minister was a closet reformer all along.
As for elections, they would seem to have little to do with making food more available in the next two months. Moreover, they empower the same old cast of characters in the same political context.
This crisis has entered a quiet interlude, but is not over. The revolution has not begun.
Note for new analysts: When the president of a country is induced to depart office, but his appointees remain in office, no matter what else is happening in the country that is always the sign of a palace coup. Usually overthrows occur without a simultaneous popular uprising. Musharraf’s ouster of Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in Pakistan and Bainimarama’s coup in Fiji and Colonel Vale’s coup in Mauritania are the more normal examples. That means there were disagreements in the government leadership that were destined to come to some kind of climax when an opportunity presented itself.
Occasionally a show of popular unrest, as in Tunisia, will provide the opportunity and the trigger for a disaffected leadership sub-group to act against the leader. That is where Tunisia is today. It is not clear that a revolution has begun, much less succeeded. There have been multiple such events in the Middle East and South Asia, some with US support in the past. (Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Libya) Popular uprisings that camouflage internal power plays are fairly common in Middle Eastern coups, possibly more so than in coups outside the Middle East.
Tunisia is not yet at a stage of revolution because there has been no change in government or in government system. The president has been ousted by his own cohorts.
The difference is important because it explains whey things have not settled and why they are not likely. Secondly, the implications for policy are quite different. At this point, the nations dealing with Tunisia will be dealing with essentially the same cast of characters and range of policies, some with new interpretations as they are applied.
In a revolutionary situation, the leadership and policies will be different, often unfamiliar. Then the wise policy is to wait and see before issuing any congratulations.