Tunisia struggles for stability and a fresh start as Egypt protest turns violent

Tunisia's interim government is facing growing pressure to purge security forces and the government of figures who were loyal to former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Christophe Ena/AP
In this Jan. 24 photo, protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia's interim government is facing growing pressure to purge security forces, which are filled with allies of ousted President Ben Ali.

While Egypt's protests are demanding much of the world's attention, Tunisia – the country whose uprising supposedly sparked Egypt's unrest – is working through a major political transition.

Interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi sacked 30 top police officials Wednesday in an attempt to gain control of the country's security forces, which are filled with allies of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He also named several new security officials. The new director of national security, Admiral Ahmed Chabir, is removing Mr. Ben Ali's allies from key government positions, Agence-France Presse reported.

He also faces a challenge with police forces. A hundred thousand police officers had ties to Ben Ali's political party, making loyalty a potential issue. Purging the government of figures tied to Ben Ali is a key concern of the provisional government, which faced protests earlier this week by those unhappy with the number of Ben Ali loyalists still in government positions, Reuters reported.

Rachid Ghannouchi, a popular leader who recently returned to Tunisia from exile in London, told the Financial Times that the provisional government was not the departure from Ben Ali's regime that the protesters wanted. Mr. Ghannouchi, an Islamist who was forced out by Ben Ali when his opposition party began posing a political threat, was welcomed back Monday with great excitement. Mr. Ghannouchi said he will not run for president, but his party will get involved with politics again, the Monitor reported.

Sporadic violence has continued throughout the country since Ben Ali's fall and police have dispersed protesters using tear gas. Tunisian political officials have accused Ben Ali loyalists in the security forces of intentionally inciting unrest to thwart democracy efforts, as well as taking part in looting, Bloomberg reported.

“Violence and chaos is right now the biggest risk to a transition to democracy,” Mohsen Marzouki, a Tunisian who heads the Qatar-based Arab Democracy Foundation, said by telephone. “The old regime is sending a signal that it still holds key positions and that the purge against its members should not go far, as it can make life difficult for any new leadership.”

Attacks were carried out on schools, public buildings and shops in Kasserine, Sfax, Beni Khlad and Medenine, with police failing to intervene, the Assabah newspaper reported today.

According to AFP, many of the protesters blame police for brutal attacks on demonstrators during the uprising. The United Nations reported Tuesday that at least 219 were killed and 510 injured prior to the fall of Ben Ali, according to the AP. The provisional government previously reported 78 deaths.

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