Tunisian protests: week two

Demonstrations continued in Tunisia over the weekend and have now entered their second week – an extraordinary development in Ben Ali's police state.

Here is a YouTube video showing protests outside a government building in Kairouan, 120km north-west of Sid Bouzid, and here isanother at an unidentified location.

In both videos the protests appear to be nonviolent and police, probably outnumbered, can be seen standing by without intervening. However, a report by al-Ahram Online talks of "a campaign of night raids by security forces" and says that in the capital "security forces brutally attacked protesters to disperse from outside the Tunisian General Labour Union's HQ".

The Algerian news website, Ennahar Online, says hundreds demonstrated over the weekend in Souk Jedid, 15 km south of Sidi Bouzid. "Men of the National Guard [fired] warning shots to disperse demonstrators who surrounded the position of the guard and set fire to the sub-prefecture of this city of more than 19,000 inhabitants," it says, citing a trade union source. A member of the National Guard was reportedly shot in the thigh by mistake.

In Regueb, 37 km southeast of Sidi Bouzid, demonstrators clashed with police on Saturday evening and the disturbances continued through to the early hours of Sunday. "Youths claiming the right to work set fire to a bank to a court and destroyed a cafe belonging to a member of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD)," Ennahar says, again citing a trade union source.

In the video clip below, Renee Odeh of Aljazeera English gives an update on the general situation:

The clip includes an interview with Said Ferjani, of the outlawed Islamist Nahda movement, who touches on what may be the nub of the issue: not so much unemployment itself but the mismatch between the government's constant claims of economic progress and the experience of ordinary Tunisians. If things are really getting better, where is all the money going? 

In an article on al-Jazeera's website headed "Bin Ali Baba – Tunisia's last bey?", Dr Larbi Sadiki of Exeter University discusses the character of the Tunisian regime. He writes:

What happens when money, coercion and blood ties become the potion of power? A "state" is born. Not "Tunis", that place of congeniality and conviviality as its Arabic name suggests. Rather, a different "Tunis", a Tunis which is run and owned by a club of rich and powerful families. That "Tunis" today conjures up a disturbing political triad. "Bin Ali Baba" is partly Papa Doc, partly Suharto reincarnate.

Presidency for life, military background and nepotism, ingredients of misrule prevail as they did once in Haiti and Indonesia. The First Lady is almost the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos incarnate. But instead of shoes, Madame Leila collects villas, real estate and bank accounts. Rule of the wealthy (plutocracy) is wedded to autocracy ...

Yesterday, AFP reported the suicide of another unemployed man. Lotfi Guadri, 34, is said to have thrown himself into a well in Gdéra, five kilometres from Sidi Bouzid. However, it's unclear to what extent his death should be linked to the current protests. A relative is quoted as saying he suffered from psychiatric problems and had been due to start work next month.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 27 Dec 2010.