Saturday, January 15, 2011
Tunisia unrest results in new government
Tunisia is a small African nation bordering the Mediterranean sea, and neighbor to Libya and Algeria. Tunisia is an export-oriented country in the process of liberalizing and privatizing an economy that has averaged 5% GDP growth since the early 1990s. Its wealth comes from a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing (clothing and footwear manufacturing, production of car parts, and electric machinery), petroleum products and tourism.
Tunis, the Tunisian capital, is a popular tourist attraction
Tunisia has close relations with both the European Union - France in particular - and the Arab world. Tunisia is a member of the Arab League and the African Union, and its "moderate and even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict" has also made it an important intermediary in Middle Eastern diplomacy.
None of these positive aspects of the country was strong enough to prevent in the past few days, what is referred to as the Jasmine revolution, named after the country's national flower. The authoritarian government led by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had governed from 1987 to 2011, collapsed after several weeks of unrest that had continued to spread.
Jasmine, the Tunisian national flower, and the name of this revolution
The unrest began in December, 2010, when Tunisian youths clashed with police, in riots sparked by anger over unemployment in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. The nightly disturbances started after an unemployed graduate set himself alight in a protest against police officers who confiscated fruit and vegetable he was selling from a market stall. Then further clashes occurred when youth held protests to demand the release of dozens of people arrested earlier.
Unrest started in the provinces, but soon reached the capital Tunis, where in this photo, a market burns.
Pent-up anger at unemployment and at a leadership many see as controlling and corrupt, spread to other provinces, and finally reached the capital this past week. Three people were shot to death and six others injured by police in clashes in the working class northern suburb of Kram, according to an employee at the Khereddine Hospital.
Crowds blame Ben Ali for the harsh crackdown which only fueled further violence.
In the centre of the capital, a protester was fatally shot and a journalist was hit in the leg by police gunfire as rioters hurled stones at trams and government buildings while the smell of tear gas filled the air. Police fired on protesters with bullets, two witnesses said and one protester was hit by a sniper on the balcony of a building overlooking the violence. All in all, up to 66 deaths have been reported, though 42 of those were from a prison fire where inmates were rioting over related government repression.
Fire takes hold at a seaside villa in the chic Mediterranean resort of Hammamet which is popular with Europeans and the country's ruling class. The building is said to belong to a member of the Tunisian president's inner circle
The 72-year old President, Ben Ali, at one point tried to sooth the population with calls to roll back food and gas prices, but in the end, resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia for refuge. Parliamentary Speaker Foued Mebazaa took over as acting president. He said he had asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form a national unity government. "All Tunisians without exception and exclusion must be associated in the political process," Mr Mebazaa said in a televised address.
Ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and First Lady, Liela Ben Ali
Prime Minister Ghannouchi (left) speaking with Interim Leader, Mebazaa (right)
Talks between the interim administration and political parties are due to resume on Sunday. Under the constitution a new presidential election must be held within 60 days. However, an exiled Islamist party leader has notified the new government that he will return for talks to become part of a new unity government, and at this point, observers do not know whether protests will quiet down or whether Islamists will play a constructive or destructive role in this tense period.
Tourism includes visiting famous spice markets, such as the Gabès spice market, where highly inventive yet tradition laded Tunisian cooking combines mutton or fish with assorted vegetables and flavoring them with coriander, caraway, anise or cumin - not to mention lemon, olive oil and harissa.