Politics | Society | Human rights
Tunisia dictator seriously challenged
The current wave of demonstrations was unleashed when a young street vendor from Sidi Bouzid committed suicide on 17 December following the confiscation of his merchandise by the authorities. In four weeks, the protest movement has spread beyond Tunisia's socio-economically disadvantaged central region, reaching the capital, Tunis, and other towns across the country.
The UGTT in a statement this week boldly expressed "solidarity with the people of Tunisia" and supported the call for "a development model guaranteeing equal opportunities, the right to decent work, and job opportunities providing a stable income capable of meeting their needs."
President Ben Ali on Monday - in a unique show of weakness - made some concessions to the protesters. In a public speech, he pledged to create 300,000 jobs in 2011 and 2012 to curb unemployment. But at the same occasion, the President described the protests as "terrorist acts".
But meanwhile, the nation-wide protests are widening their appeal and scope. For the first time, this week, protesters in Tunis and other cities were calling for the retirement of President Ben Ali. Protesters were chanting slogans attacking the President and his family. The social protest movement is showing signs of becoming a broad anti-government and democratisation movement.
Timely, also Tunisian human rights activists - which for decades have been violently oppressed by the regime - are joining and defending the protest movement. Protests against the heavy-handed treatment of the demonstrations, including the use of sharp ammunition, are articulated. There are demands for the respect of human rights in Tunisia.
Yesterday again, President Ben Ali was forced to back down from his most repressive policies. He announced the sacking of the unpopular Interior Minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, implicitly making him responsible for the killing of protesters. In addition, President Ben Ali ordered the release of those detained so far during the unrest.
The continued unrest this night all over Tunisia demonstrated that the small concessions made by President Ben Ali are not enough for the population. On the contrary, the bold attack on security forces may indicate that the President's concessions are seen as a sign of his weakness and that he may lose control of the situation.
As the protests follow their own dynamics, the Ben Ali regime is facing its toughest challenges ever. The outcome of the protests still is open and the downfall of the Ben Ali regime cannot be ruled out. But there are no obvious leaders that could lead the protest movement and take over for President Ben Ali.
By staff writers
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