Sat Jan 15th, 2011 at 02:07:04 AM EST
I would expect some gray regime insider to be installed as caretaker to organize 'free' elections. Might well be from the military.
The Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, an economist, fills the bill for now. The other thing that must be done to have a chance of being successful is to satisfactorily reassure Paris and Washington that their "vital interests" are being protected. At a minimum this probably has to be plausible.
In any case the US is preoccupied with Lebanon, along with all its other ongoing disasters and doesn't really need a new adventure in North Africa. It appears that Mohamed Ghannouchi may fill the bill re US concerns and it helps that he is reasonably popular in Tunisia, if not viewed as full time leadership material.
Mohamed Ghannouchi: What WikiLeaks Tells Us About Ben Ali's Successor in Tunisia
After days of rioting and violent clashes with police, the country's strong-arm leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has reportedly fled from the North African nation to Saudi Arabia. Citing the country's constitution, Mohamed Ghannouchi, Tunisia's former prime minister, announced today that he was assuming formal control of the government.
In classified U.S. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, Ghannouchi emerges as a much more palatable alternative to Ali, at least from the American perspective. Courtesy of The Guardian, here's a portion of a passage on Ghannouchi:
A technocrat and economist, Ghannouchi has served as prime minister since 1999. Is rumored to have told many he wishes to leave the government but has not had the opportunity. Length of his service as PM also suggests Ben Ali does not view him as a threat and he is unlikely to be viewed as a qualified successor. However, average Tunisians generally view him with respect and he is well-liked in comparison to other GOT and RCD officials.
Tunisia has a rather unique history that may bode well for the possible outcome of their revolution. From Foreign Policy:
Why Tunisia's Revolution Is Islamist-Free BY MICHAEL KOPLOW
Unlike in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, and most other secular Arab autocracies, the main challenge to the Tunisian regime has not come from Islamist opposition but from secular intellectuals, lawyers, and trade unionists. The absence of a strong Islamist presence is the result of an aggressive attempt by successive Tunisian regimes, dating back over a half-century, to eliminate Islamists from public life. Ben Ali enthusiastically took up this policy in the early 1990s, putting hundreds of members of the al-Nahda party, Tunisia's main Islamist movement, on trial amid widespread allegations of torture and sentencing party leaders to life imprisonment or exile. Most influential Tunisian Islamists now live abroad, while those who remain in Tunisia have been forced to form a coalition with unlikely secular and communist bedfellows.
The nature of the opposition and the willingness of the Tunisian government to back down are not coincidental. If it had been clear that Islamist opposition figures were playing a large role in the current unrest, the government would likely have doubled down on repressive measures. The Tunisian government is rooted in secular Arab nationalist ideology and has long taken its secularism and its nationalism more seriously than its neighbors. Habib Bourguiba, Ben Ali's predecessor and the father of the post-colonial Tunisian state, took over lands belonging to Islamic institutions, folded religious courts into the secular state judicial system, and enacted a secular personal status code upon coming to power.
Bourguiba, like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, viewed Islamists as an existential threat to the very nature of the Tunisian state. He viewed the promotion of secularism as linked to the mission and nature of the state, and because Islamists differed with him on this fundamental political principle, they were not allowed into the political system at all. Bourguiba displayed no desire for compromise on this question, calling for large-scale executions of Islamists following bombings at tourist resorts. He was also often hostile toward Muslim religious traditions, repeatedly referring to the veil in the early years of Tunisian independence as an "odious rag."
Ben Ali, who served as prime minister under Bourguiba, has taken a similarly hard line. Unlike other Arab leaders such as Morocco's King Mohammed VI or Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he has been unwilling to adopt any sort of religious title or utilize Islamic imagery to justify his rule. Most importantly, Ben Ali never attempted to co-opt Islamists by controlling their entry into the political system, but instead excluded them entirely from the political dialogue.
Ben Ali's fate may have been sealed when military officers -- who had been marginalized by the regime as it lavished money on family members and corrupt business elites -- demonstrated a willingness to stand down and protect protesters from the police and internal security services. However, a military coup would also represent no ideological challenge to the regime -- the state's mission of advancing secular nationalism will continue even after Ben Ali's removal from power. And in the event that the military willingly cedes power and holds new elections in six months, the decimation of the Islamist movement over the last two decades means that any serious challenger is bound to come from a similar ideological background.
Now that Ben Ali is safely in Arabia the Tunisians are congratulating themselves that they brought off the revolution without outside support. The challenge will be to continue to proceed in a manner that is directed towards the needs of Tunisia's society as a whole. Compared to Ben Ali the international banksters would seem significantly more formidable. An alliance with Turkey would seem in order. Together Turkey and Tunisia could form a secular axis in the Muslim world.