Tunisia ministers quit ruling party, political prisoners freed
Can members of the party that served ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali hang on?
Tunisia's ruling party no longer rules, at least not in name. The remaining cabinet members from ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) left the party today, with interim President Fouad Mebazaa promising a "total break" from the past, Al Jazeera reports.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Speaking on Tunisian TV, Mr. Mebazaa promised an amnesty for all political prisoners, that the Tunisian state would no longer be synonymous with the RCD, the creation of an independent judiciary and free speech in a country that, until now, has run one of the most furiously successful censorship regimes in the Middle East.
Mebazaa, like interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, is a life-long servant of the RCD, and the distancing from a party that has ruthlessly crushed all challeneges to its rule since independence (under various guises; the party was known as the Neo Destour in the first years of independence, renamed to Destourian Socliast Party in the 1960s and rebranded again as the RCD when Ben Ali took power in 1987) is an attempt to put the genie of public protest back in the bottle.
In his address, he described the popular uprising that has transfixed the region as "a revolution of dignity and liberty." But that revolution is far from complete. And the string from decades of humiliation, the legacy of living in a country where criticism of the government could only be whispered out of the side of your mouth, is now driving a gusher of public outrage that could still sweep away Mebazaa and Ghannouchi.
For now the most powerful positions in government are still held by men who loyally served the RCD and whose positions were preserved by the use of torture and intimidation by the state security apparatus, largely run out of the Interior Ministry. The business of unwinding the party's control of government, weeding out the most corrupt of the judges and policemen, and delivering on Mebazaa's promise will be a long and difficult one.
The good news is that Tunisia, unlike most countries in the region, has a well-educated middle class and capable people that can contribute to the construction of new institutions. But it's hard to imagine the former regime's middle and upper management simply abdicating.