Thursday, 20 January 2011

What are the Tunisian generals doing?

According to the French political gossip paper Le Canard Enchaîné, it was US generals who convinced their Tunisian counterparts to turn against Ben Ali. "This allegedly is what led to his fleeing the country. The French diplomatic corps and secret service were caught completely off-guard" (see France 24 for its English summary). The actions and motivations of the Tunisian military have been one of the best kept secrets of the past week and none of the Tunisian politicians I have seen interviewed have been asked about the role of the army (perhaps it's still a taboo in Tunisian political discourse?). Everyone has just been saying blithely that the army is neutral, whatever that means. Telling Ben Ali that he has to go wasn't 'neutral' and throughout the week the army command (supposedly led by Rachid Ammar, reportedly dismissed by Ben Ali and then reinstated by PM Ghannouchi) must have had some say in many of the decisions taken by the visible political leaders. In many ways, the army is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. The most important question is this: is there a limit beyond which the army will not allow political change to go? Would they take a stand, for example, if the RCD is dissolved and large numbers of former security officials are detained for possible trial? Do they have a position on the participation of leftists and Islamists in government? Are their hands so clean that they are immune from any conceivable purge, however thorough? It's noticeable that relations on the ground between police and army personnel seem to have improved in the last few days, and the army doesn't seem to mind when the police use tear gas and batons against peaceful but noisy protesters.    

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