Ben Ali is gone, but that is no change to the dramatic situation stifling Tunisia. Confronted by a popular protest that has inflamed the whole country, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has left the country signaling it seems the crumbling of a coward regime that has killed its citizens like dogs in the streets. Tunisian people, in an ingenious tactical political maneuver, were made to believe he represents everything that is wrong with Tunisia today. In the last presidential election, Ben Ali won 89.62% of the vote, a percentage that stands today as an irrevocable proof of the fraudulence rotting the Tunisian political system. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannoushi announced he will be acting president until elections are conducted; he declared the dissolution of the current government and called on the Tunisians to unite in patriotic defiance of the hurdles to democracy. He promised transparency, representation, drastic economic and political reforms. An attempt to reintroduce stability. I see it as a ploy to re-induce what Toni Morrison in her essay in “Burn This Book” refers to as a coma.
But Ben Ali, seventy-four years old and rather frail of health, was not forced out of the country; he was retired by the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), the political party he represented, to a swanky life, thanks to the millions of dollars he embezzled, probably in pastoral France. RCD has been in power since France left its Tunisian agents in positions of power in 1956. Mohammed Ghannoushi is also a member of RCD. Ben Ali then is nothing more than the mask behind which RCD hid. The political and economic decisions that resulted in the dire situation Tunisians are revolting against were taken by the RCD; the impetuous rules of engagement that has characterized the police and military’s response to the rioting crowds were established by the RCD; close to a hundred people died from gunshots to the upper body and thousands were injured; those uniformed murderers inured to the suffering of their brethren are still swarming the streets today looking for blood.
Thousands have been arrested and tortured in the past four weeks in accordance with orders given not by Ben Ali, but by military and police generals and political officials in the RCD. Ben Ali has left, but it is hardly the death knell of graft, fraud, political elitism, and economic austerity; these will still be deeply rooted in Tunisia as long as the RCD remains a political juggernaut.
For the past weeks, the Tunisian people have been a galvanizing symbol of opposition against the theft of their voice, their wealth, their future. They need to continue the struggle and not be misdirected from imposing democracy on the government. The RCD is on survival mode and the retiring of Ben Ali is nothing more than a ploy to assuage the rage and despair that has driven some to self-immolation, much like a starving shark would eat the Remoras following it to survive. It is a time buying gambit that will allow the RCD to reassess the situation, consolidate its forces, remove the opposition it has subsumed as drivers of instability. The next election will put another dictator on the presidential “throne”; it will still indicate that the will of the Tunisian people continues to be reduced into an abstraction. The schism between the lower class and the elite will still be widened by rising prices; unemployment will remain high. If the eruption of the Tunisian street stops now, it will be another twenty-three years before it awakes from its comatose state.
Lead the way Tunisians. The rest of the Arab people are waiting to follow.