PROBLEM: Ensure that Tunisia transitions to democracy in 2011 and that the democracy isn't "one man, one vote, ONE TIME" and also that it doesn't have the fake elections that "reelected" Ben Ali for decades.
WORKING SOLUTION: A successful and complete violent confrontation with the security forces (ala Romania) has been avoided, which has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that the old regime is still in place to some extent. The old regime is however making the right noises to say that they will do the right thing. Indeed, people like Gorbachev also did the right thing - so being associated with the RCD or Communists is just being a realist. The "interim" Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi may well be a Gorbachev at heart. It's impossible to tell and the best thing possible is that we never find out whether he is or not, because he was never in a position where it was down to his decision alone whether Tunisia becomes a democracy or not. Instead, the checks and balances required to prevent one man seizing power in a democracy should be put in place now.
It is unknown what constraints exist on the Tunisian PM currently. E.g. if he wants to have an opposition politician murdered - what would prevent him from doing so? If Obama attempted that in USA, he is surrounded by people who are loyal to the US constitution rather than Obama personally, and he is likely to be arrested and charged by independent courts - all obeying the written constitution. Tunisia also has a constitution, but there is no history of people acting in accordance with that rather than Ben Ali's dictates. It is unlikely that the PM could do anything like that with Rachid Ammar (chief of staff of the Tunisian Army) around - a man who successfully went up against Ben Ali. However, an exchange of money could alter attitudes. That sort of thing would in turn be protected by Ammar - and his underlings - having internalized an honor code where loyalty to the people/constitution comes above personal gain.
The solution - which comes with absolutely no guarantees - would be to constantly ask the PM what checks and balances are being put into the system. There is much hope that this is already being done. E.g. we can see that a former interior minister (Rafik Belhaj Kacem) was actually arrested. However, this is the new interim government (created 2011-01-27) in action, or even newer and the action may be limited to opponents of the "new regime" rather than opponents of democracy. The old one made up of RCD cronies - and requiring street demonstrations to change - street demonstrations which garnered unjustified rebukes from the Army chief - highlights the fact that at some level the PM is either unserious about genuine change or was being restricted from making genuine change until further pressure was applied. This in turn highlights the need to keep at a minimum political pressure on for the very much required checks and balances to be genuinely implemented. No Chamberlain-like naivete.
FORUM: A forum open to both Tunisians and non-Tunisians has been provided to assist in refining the proposed solution by throwing it open to the free marketplace of ideas.
OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS: With the major revamp of the Tunisian government on 2011-01-28, most people seem to think that continued street violence would probably be counter-productive. There is no perfect interim government that will ensure a transition to democracy, and no interim government that everyone will be able to agree on. However, aggressive questioning that is normally seen in democratic countries may certainly take place, so that is what you see below:
1. The Prime Minister said that he couldn't resign, because the country apparently needed experienced politicians and couldn't last 6 months without his apparently irreplacable skills. Could the Prime Minister please elaborate on specifically what sort of decisions he makes on a daily basis that no-one else has the brains to make? E.g. no technocrat could make. I was always under the impression that most work was done by civil servants, and politicians mainly set policy. Given that most experience the Prime Minister has had has been in maintaining a dictatorship, is this really the experience needed to transition to democracy?
2. The Chief of the Military has said that some people want a power vacuum so that a new dictatorship could arise. Could he please elaborate on who exactly said that they wanted a power vacuum? Is the claim being made against the people on the streets desperate to secure their human rights? If so, how were they polled? Because it seems to me we've hardly heard from them at all regarding any question at all. That falls far short of a statistically valid poll that would ascertain that 51% of them want a power vacuum. Has the current dictatorship actually bothered to ask even one of the protesters what they want? Which brings me to another point. The comment that was made was that the power vacuum would allow a new dictatorship to arise. As far as I can tell, the current regime already is a dictatorship (ie not elected) and the thing the protesters are asking for is for that dictatorship to end, not have a new one!!! Again, if you just point me to the opinion poll you are referring to, we can further discuss it once we know where you're coming from.
3. The previous foreign minister claimed that he was worried about the possibility of Al Qaeda getting a foothold in Tunisia. The thought that a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda could find substantial support in Tunisia seems to me to be a slur against the good people of Tunisia. Does the Prime Minister stand behind the sentiments expressed by the (just-resigned) foreign minister, or does he totally reject the suggestion? It seems to me that the comment was made as a justification for maintaining the dictatorship. Is that the case? If not, please elaborate on why that statement was made, and who was being represented when the statement was made. ie was it the foreign minister's personal opinion, the current dictatorship's longstanding policy on why the people should be suppressed, or was it a pretence to speak on behalf of the Tunisian people without bothering to hold an opinion poll? Could the Prime Minister please confirm that he understands when and where an opinion poll is taken, or else please provide the alternate method he uses to gauge public opinion, and in particular, whether the alternate method uses chicken entrails in any part of the process.
4. Anonymous recently proposed a constitutional amendment that said "If the above text is ever circumvented over the course of a 23-year period via extra-judicial illegal activity that allowed the rise of a dictator and for that dictator to stack all the government institutions with his cronies, that the military would request complete replacement of all government positions with technocrats and the calling of fresh elections at which the ruling party at time of dictatorship would be barred from competing in. Could the Prime Minister please report what progress, if any, has been made in implementing such an amendment, and if the amendment has been rejected, then what alternate means is being used to guarantee the regime will be the first in Middle East history to willingly surrender power to a democracy. Also, for what reason, given the lack of historical precedent, should the Tunisian people place their faith in a regime crony's word that would not make them end up looking as foolish as Chamberlain did?".
5. Given that all humans have a genetic tendency to subjugate others, such that it is dictatorship, not democracy, that is the natural form of government, and given that in most democracies an enormous amount of effort has been expended to try (not always successfully, as can be seen by the continued existence of men who rape women regardless even when prostitution is legal) to counter that tendency both at an individual level and via systematic checks and balances developed over decades/centuries (and not without lots of mistakes being made along the way), could the Prime Minister please explain why the Tunisian people should accept a "just trust us - when have we ever let you down before?" answer when the protesters ask for the entire government to be replaced by more trustworthy people? In particular, could you please explain why the Tunisian people shouldn't be worried about an "emergency law", enacted by the wall-to-wall regime cronies who are still in place with no sign of replacement by technocrats, coming into effect that would (surprise, surprise) take the place of free and fair elections, as yet another Middle Eastern dictator makes an attempt to get his name written into the history books as a "great leader who saved the day", while the people living under that self-proclaimed "great leader" see first-hand that "great leaders" look a hell of a lot better in someone else's country or in history books than up close and personal?
6. Does the Prime Minister recognize the extreme importance of freedom, and does he applaud the protesters for their bravery and fortitude in staying in the streets overnight to ensure that not just they, but all Tunisian people, and their children for generations to come, will enjoy the highest known standards for freedom - and Tunisia will not be second to anyone in the world in that respect? If so, will he consider awarding these brave Tunisians with some sort of military medal, given the risks that they took doing that action on their own, and unpaid, and against ridiculous odds? Do you think that the medal recipients will wish someone not linked to the current regime to preside over the medal awarding ceremony, and if so, how soon do you expect the person to be named, and will it be done in consultation with the medal recipients or will it be a unilateral regime decision?
7. Given that France offered to provide security forces to Ben Ali in order to put down the Tunisian people's revolution, will the Prime Minister be breaking off diplomatic relations with France in protest at this malfeasance, or does the Prime Minister think Tunisia is better served by accepting economic assistance from France, in which case, what does the Prime Minister consider a fair price for the Tunisian people's freedom and human rights?
8. Could the Prime Minister please explain why these questions haven't already been asked and answered in parliament? Is it because there isn't sufficient time to go through them all in a single sitting? If so, is there any reason why parliamentarians can't work overtime to fit all the questions in, given that they are being paid, while the protesters are working 24 hours per day, unpaid?
9. We were shocked to see that one of the (very important) events in the successful revolution was Ben Ali ordering the army to kill protesters. Could the Prime Minister please explain why Ben Ali would have been under the impression that the army would have accepted such an order? Can the Prime Minister confirm that every member of the Tunisian army and police swears an oath to protect and serve the people, rather than some dictator? Could we please see the exact text. Is it the Prime Minister's expectation that at every single level in the military, if an order came in from above to open fire on people demanding freedom that the security forces would reject such an order and in fact change sides to be with the protesters? Can the Prime Minister please confirm that that is one of the reasons why he would never dream of issuing such an order. The other reason of course being that he has sworn his own oath of allegiance to the people of Tunisia (can we see the exact text of that too please?) and more importantly than just swearing an oath, he has internalized the spirit of freedom present in the Tunisian people and seen on the streets of Tunisia and he is immensely proud to be part of that movement to the point that when he sees protesters on the streets he sees a beauty like no other on the face of the planet. Could we have a specific acknowledgement from the Prime Minister that the freedom of the Tunisian people was not dependent on the whim of one man - Ammar - choosing to disobeying an order to kill citizens? So that rather than being the whim of one man it is an institutionalized attitude shared by 99% of the military? Could you please confirm that figure of 99%? And provide a figure for the police too. Could the Prime Minister confirm that he would be as scared as the protesters if the figures for citizen-loyalty were anything less than 99%?
10. When Slim was made part of the interim government and turned up to work, he was greeted with a "why aren't you wearing a tie?" instead of "I was so sorry to hear about your human rights being violated and wish there was something I could have done to prevent that. While it's too late to undo the past, is there anything I can do to assist you to obtain justice?". Can the Prime Minister please outline the concrete steps he intends to take to change the sick culture in his government that considers a piece of cotton to be more important than human dignity?
11. Slim started supporting the government even though (at the time) the old regime still had all the important portfolios stacked with old regime elements, which indicates that either Slim was forced to make such a statement, or he had been paid off. Is the Prime Minister aware of which one it was? If not, could the PM please explain why he didn't investigate this very obvious and strange behaviour? Could the Prime Minister please comment on persistent rumours that Slim was paid off with a fiber optic broadband connection and a lifetime subscription to the major European porn sites? In addition - was even a straw poll made of the protesters before deciding to stack the original interim government with regime cronies? Or did the Prime Minister hold the protesters and the Tunisian people in complete contempt and not bother consulting anyone other than other cronies?
12. The French government recently commented that they underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people. This suggests that they previously thought that the Tunisians had no problem at all living under a cruel dictator for 23 years without any protection of their human rights - in fact - French dogs had more protection of their rights than Tunisian humans had. Will the Prime Minister be recalling the French ambassador to find out what misconceptions they have about the Tunisian people? Specifically - is it Tunisians that they think self-identify with ants that mindlessly obey orders from above and do not care for personal well-being? Or is this a generic racism against Arabs? Or is it religious bigotry against Muslims? Or is it a nationalistic attitude that says that French people deserve human rights but non-French people have a lower status in their eyes than French dogs? And specifically, how does the French government reconcile this extreme bigotry with their slogan of "egalitaire"? Is this alleged egalitarian attitude something that stops at the French borders, perhaps? Will the Prime Minister be recommending to the French ambassador that some sort of "sensitivity training" should be given to Sarkozy?
13. Given that (depending on who you talk to) the RCD were 10 or 20 times worse than French colonialism ever was (the maximum figure I heard was 5783, but I only polled 5 people), could the Prime Minister please say what he estimates the scale of the holocaust to be? Also, given the tomes of real and imagined French failures that Tunisian children are forced to read during history lessons, how does the Prime Minister intend to design school desks to cope with the need to store a semi-trailer worth of books outlining real RCD atrocities that will now presumably be taught to schoolchildren? Also, was the intent of the previous anti-French education meant to inspire hatred of colonialism, Europeans, the French government, the French people, Christians, or what? If so, will the effect of the new anti-RCD education be to make children hate independence, self-rule, dictatorship, Arabs, Muslims, the Tunisan government, the Tunisian people or what? Does the Prime Minister think that perhaps history lessons of the sort that have a danger of internalizing hatred of another group should perhaps be left until adulthood when people's philosophy is already fairly set in stone, and any crimes/mistakes by any group in the past will be treated as just that - the past? Also, does the Prime Minister have any suggestion on what the authors of the history books should do when they run out of adjectives to describe just how extremely terribly incredibly bad the RCD were?
14. Although the recent history of the Middle East is one of wall-to-wall dictators, they quite often involve one dictator taking over from another dictator, rendering the original dictator's family persona non grata. Can the Prime Minister confirm that he understands that even if he installs himself as absolute dictator, that ultimately neither his human rights nor that of his descendents are guaranteed or even likely, and that only a democratic system with lots of checks and balances to ensure constraints on power can guarantee those rights? If so, can the Prime Minister confirm that he loves his children, as his original stacking of the government with untrustworthy cronies would appear to suggest that he was willing to settle for some short-term personal benefit and not care what happened to his own children beyond that. Perhaps the Prime Minister can outline what exactly happens on these junkets to France that makes sacrificing your own children to be a price worth paying?
15. The Prime Minister has said that he will resign in the shortest possible time. That presupposes that currently it is impossible for him to resign. Could the Prime Minister please explain what irreplacable skills he has, and confirm that he hasn't been watching reruns of "The Matrix" and accidentally confused himself with "The One"? Also, according to Gadaffi, Ben Ali was irreplacable. Far be it for me to call Gadaffi an evil cretin, but perhaps the Prime Minister could comment on his personal opinion of some of the region's most evil cretins?
16. Could the Prime Minister please give a timeframe for when he can answer some of these questions, as the poor protesters have been braving the bitter cold while he continues to take his time to mull over the questions from the comfort of his fireplace. Perhaps if the Prime Minister were to camp out amongst the protesters, the cold air would help him think more clearly? If not, then does the Prime Minister have any suggestions of his own to provide speedy answers to these questions so that the protesters can all leave the cold and return to their families in the "shortest possible time"?
17. Could the Prime Minister please explain why some internet sites continue to be blocked by the interim dictatorship? Is that because he knows that they are full of people asking very difficult questions, and that when the Prime Minister describes himself as an "experienced politician" that all his experience has in fact been in answering softball questions from an intimidated media and that if he had to face the full fury of those who have had their highly-honed skills forged in the fires of the free marketplace of ideas engaged in decades of guerilla warfare against western democracies (who are saints compared to any Middle Eastern dictatorship) that he would perhaps come across as an experienced pansy?
HISTORY: Note that this page was created in response to Facebook deleting a page that was somewhat central to the online war. A replacement group has since been created, but may well be deleted for the same reason the original was presumably deleted, ie it is anonymously-owned against Facebook conditions. A disused website (see main domain name) was thus transformed for this struggle. The forum is neutral in any Sunni vs Shiite, Muslim vs Christian, religion vs atheism debate. ie please do not waste time on such discussions in the "tunisia" forum. The focus is entirely on democracy vs dictatorship (and in Tunisia only). It is also intended that anything important be made available in English, French and Arabic. However, that depends on the availability of translators, in whichever direction required, so cannot be guaranteed.
On 2011-01-02 Anonymous writes to press contacts to put Tunisia on the map
On 2011-01-14 Tunisian dictator leaves country.
First Open Letter to Tunisia - Congratulations but Beware (2011-01-19) French
Second Open Letter to Tunisia - Regime is still bad (2011-01-21) French
Third Open Letter to Tunisia - Please Forgive our Enemy (2011-01-23) French Arabic
Meet and greet the Tunisian people (2011-01-23)
One more greeting (2011-01-23)
Dummies Guide to Winning Wars (2011-01-24)
Paradigm clash in Tunisia (2011-01-25)
Al Qaeda in Tunisia (2011-01-26)
Plan of Attack in Tunisia (2011-01-27)
Massive changes to interim government made on 2011-01-28 which went a long way towards eliminating the need for confrontation with the security forces.