[News] The brutal truth about Tunisia

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 19 10:46:00 EST 2011

The brutal truth about Tunisia

Bloodshed, tears, but no democracy. Bloody 
turmoil won’t necessarily presage the dawn of democracy

By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/robertfisk>Robert Fisk

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The end of the age of dictators in the Arab 
world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots 
across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks 
and emirs, and the kings, including one very old 
one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, 
and presidents – another very old one in Egypt 
and a young one in Syria – because Tunisia wasn't 
meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, 
too, and demonstrations against price increases 
in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in 
Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh 
– exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

If it can happen in the holiday destination 
Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it? It was 
feted by the West for its "stability" when Zine 
el-Abidine Ben Ali was in charge. The French and 
the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, 
always praised the dictator for being a "friend" 
of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists.

Tunisians won't forget this little history, even 
if we would like them to. The Arabs used to say 
that two-thirds of the entire Tunisian population 
– seven million out of 10 million, virtually the 
whole adult population – worked in one way or 
another for Mr Ben Ali's secret police. They must 
have been on the streets too, then, protesting at 
the man we loved until last week. But don't get 
too excited. Yes, Tunisian youths have used the 
internet to rally each other – in Algeria, too – 
and the demographic explosion of youth (born in 
the Eighties and Nineties with no jobs to go to 
after university) is on the streets. But the 
"unity" government is to be formed by Mohamed 
Ghannouchi, a satrap of Mr Ben Ali's for almost 
20 years, a safe pair of hands who will have our 
interests – rather than his people's interests – at heart.

For I fear this is going to be the same old 
story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia 
– but not too much democracy. Remember how we 
wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties?

Then when it looked like the Islamists might win 
the second round of voting, we supported its 
military-backed government in suspending 
elections and crushing the Islamists and 
initiating a civil war in which 150,000 died.

No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and 
stability. Even in Hosni Mubarak's corrupt and 
corrupted Egypt, that's what we want. And we will get it.

The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is 
so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated 
and ruthless – and remember that Mr Ben Ali was 
calling Tunisian protesters "terrorists" only 
last week – and so totally incapable of any 
social or political progress, that the chances of 
a series of working democracies emerging from the 
chaos of the Middle East stand at around zero per cent.

The job of the Arab potentates will be what it 
has always been – to "manage" their people, to 
control them, to keep the lid on, to love the West and to hate Iran.

Indeed, what was Hillary Clinton doing last week 
as Tunisia burned? She was telling the corrupted 
princes of the Gulf that their job was to support 
sanctions against Iran, to confront the Islamic 
republic, to prepare for another strike against a 
Muslim state after the two catastrophes the 
United States and the UK have already inflicted in the region.

The Muslim world – at least, that bit of it 
between India and the Mediterranean – is a more 
than sorry mess. Iraq has a sort-of-government 
that is now a satrap of Iran, Hamid Karzai is no 
more than the mayor of Kabul, Pakistan stands on 
the edge of endless disaster, Egypt has just 
emerged from another fake election.

And Lebanon... Well, poor old Lebanon hasn't even 
got a government. Southern Sudan – if the 
elections are fair – might be a tiny candle, but don't bet on it.

It's the same old problem for us in the West. We 
mouth the word "democracy" and we are all for 
fair elections – providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for.

In Algeria 20 years ago, they didn't. In 
"Palestine" they didn't. And in Lebanon, because 
of the so-called Doha accord, they didn't. So we 
sanction them, threaten them and warn them about 
Iran and expect them to keep their mouths shut 
when Israel steals more Palestinian land for its colonies on the West Bank.

There was a fearful irony that the police theft 
of an ex-student's fruit produce – and his 
suicide in Tunis – should have started all this 
off, not least because Mr Ben Ali made a failed 
attempt to gather public support by visiting the dying youth in hospital.

For years, this wretched man had been talking 
about a "slow liberalising" of his country. But 
all dictators know they are in greatest danger 
when they start freeing their entrapped countrymen from their chains.

And the Arabs behaved accordingly. No sooner had 
Ben Ali flown off into exile than Arab newspapers 
which have been stroking his fur and polishing 
his shoes and receiving his money for so many 
years were vilifying the man. "Misrule", 
"corruption", "authoritarian reign", "a total 
lack of human rights", their journalists are 
saying now. Rarely have the words of the Lebanese 
poet Khalil Gibran sounded so painfully accurate: 
"Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with 
trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, 
only to welcome another with trumpetings again." Mohamed Ghannouchi, perhaps?

Of course, everyone is lowering their prices now 
– or promising to. Cooking oil and bread are the 
staple of the masses. So prices will come down in 
Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt. But why should 
they be so high in the first place?

Algeria should be as rich as Saudi Arabia – it 
has the oil and gas – but it has one of the worst 
unemployment rates in the Middle East, no social 
security, no pensions, nothing for its people 
because its generals have salted their country's wealth away in Switzerland.

And police brutality. The torture chambers will 
keep going. We will maintain our good relations 
with the dictators. We will continue to arm their 
armies and tell them to seek peace with Israel.

And they will do what we want. Ben Ali has fled. 
The search is now on for a more pliable dictator 
in Tunisia – a "benevolent strongman" as the news 
agencies like to call these ghastly men.

And the shooting will go on – as it did yesterday 
in Tunisia – until "stability" has been restored.

No, on balance, I don't think the age of the Arab 
dictators is over. We will see to that.

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