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article imageVideo: Killings and chaos continue as Tunisia settles scores

By Michael Cosgrove     Jan 16, 2011 in Politics
Speculation along the lines of "which Arab country will be next" is rife following the events which led to the fall of Tunisian president Ben Ali, but the ongoing violence and confusion in Tunisia means that it is too early to know what will happen.
If there is one certainty about the future of the Arab world it is that things are going to change after the "Jasmin Revolution" in Tunisia which led to President Ben Ali fleeing the country, but predicting exactly how and when that change will come is not easy. Le Figaro sums up what a lot of pundits are thinking with its reference to a "domino effect" and "fears" that the same things may happen in other countries which it says are just as vulnerable, and the BBC wants to know if other Arab countries will "follow Tunisia's example."
They both use the same reasoning to justify their questions, and that reasoning is sound on the face of it. The argument goes that many years of autocratic or dictatorial rule in many Arab countries has resulted in their younger generations beginning to ask more and more pressing questions about the problems facing them, such as unemployment, corruption, autocracy, and the absence or abuse of human rights.
And indeed there is no reason to question that view, as ongoing events show. At the precise moment that Ben Ali's plane began its lonely trek around the Mediterranean in search of somewhere friendly to land (it eventually landed in Saudi Arabia) thousands of people in cities all over Jordan were marching to protest rising commodity prices, unemployment and poverty. They also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
Algerians have also been taking to the streets over the last few weeks, and protests have resulted in up to 1000 arrests, the same number of injuries, and at least three dead. Again, the protesters were angry at rising living costs and unemployment.
Muhammad Hosni Mubarak  former President of Egypt.
Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, former President of Egypt.
World Economic Forum
Further afield in Yemen, security forces put an end to what was called a "peaceful demonstration" which was organised in a show of solidarity with the uprising against the Tunisian regime, and in Egypt dozens of activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak protested outside the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo, chanting that Mubarak too had "a plane waiting for him."
Official reaction to the regime change in Tunisia has been measured, with most countries seeming to content themselves with hopes that the country will now find peace and that the will of the people should be respected. One country which is noticeable by its absence in this list of reaction from 9 Arab countries plus the Arab League is Iran.
Back in Tunisia though, the people are not at all in a celebratory mood and the tense situation there could easily explode into violence at any moment. The authorities have begun to settle old scores with Ben Ali's allies and his head of personal security has been arrested, as has one of Ben Ali's nephews. Another nephew has been assassinated and sustained and heavy gunfire is going on in the deserted streets of downtown Tunis, where Ben Ali supporters are said to be holed up in buildings and firing on security forces. Police confirmed that two snipers had been shot and killed although the total number of casualties is not yet known.
Rioters in Algeria protesting against high food prices
Rioters in Algeria protesting against high food prices
Violence is continuing across the country, there is widespread pillage, there are food shortages and militias are being formed to protect the people from roaming bands of Ben Ali supporters who are driving around in police cars and shooting at people. Ten of them have been arrested and the police who are enforcing a night curfew have been ordered to shoot anyone who tries to avoid controls. The army, which refused to fire on protesters during the revolt against Ben Ali (the police are said to be responsible for the deaths of almost all the civilians killed), is said to be maintaining its neutral position for now.
It is difficult in this uncertain context to predict what will happen in the next few hours, never mind over the days, weeks and months to come. Also, such was the ferocity of Ben Ali's crackdown on all opposition while he was in power that the country not only has a leadership problem right now, but there are almost no organised and effective opposition parties or organizations.
The outcome of the Jasmine Revolution is by no means certain, and until the situation there calms down and stabilizes in one way or another it is impossible to predict what may or may not happen elsewhere across the Arab world.
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