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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les Tunisiens veulent en finir avec le parti État de Ben Ali

by Rosa Moussaoui

Tunisians want an end to Ben Ali’s party-state

Translated Wednesday 2 February 2011, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated yesterday to demand the disbanding of Ben Ali’s party, the RCD, and the dismissal of the continuity government formed around Mohammed Ghannouchi. Special envoy, Tunis.

After seeing off the tyrant, Tunisians now want to dismantle the apparatus of his dictatorial régime. They made this known in the streets again yesterday. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tunis, Sidi Bouzid, Ragueb, Kasserine and Thala. Crowded in front of the theatre, on the avenue Habib-Bourguiba, very determined demonstrators in the capital again demanded the dismissal of the continuity government formed around Ben Ali’s prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi. The principal target of the demonstrators’ ire was the RCD, the party of the former dictator, to which fourteen members of Ghannouchi’s cabinet belong. "Down with the RCD, torturer of the people!", "Get lost, RCD!", "Rise up against the followers of Ben Ali" chanted the demonstrators, calling for "a new parliament, a new constitution, a new republic". A black coffin passed over the heads of the crowd bearing the logo of Ben Ali’s party, successor and heir to Habib Bourguiba’s Parti socialiste destourien (PSD).

While the régime’s heavyweights are manoeuvering in the background to hold on to power, the sacking on Tuesday night of three government ministers affiliated with the UGTT (l’Union générale des travailleurs tunisiens- the Tunisian General Workers’ Union) has given a boost to the opposition and weakened the self-proclaimed "transitional government". "The single confederation of trade unions has been the scene of stormy debates, setting a leadership linked to the régime against the regional federations which have supported the popular uprising," explained Jilani Hammami, one of the leaders of the UGTT’s left-wing. On Tuesday, an assembly of the union confederation ruled out participation in the government, leading to the sacking of the ministers belonging to the UGTT. "It is not possible for us to take part in a government including symbols of the former régime," Abdessalem Jrad, general secretary of the UGTT repeated yesterday, after a meeting with the prime minister. At the grassroots, pressure remains high, particularly among young people, who do not believe for a second in the sudden conversion of the friends of Ben Ali to democracy. "The dismissal of Ghannouchi from the RCD is part of a strategy to hold on to power. We don’t want the RCD anymore, we don’t trust them anymore. If they don’t leave power, there won’t be any real change", confided Abir Selmi, a young unemployed graduate taking part in the demonstration yesterday.

Daily life gradually returning to normal

A few hundred metres away, on the avenue Mohammed V, the extravagant tower housing the headquarters of the RCD, surrounded by tanks and troops, looks like a Bastille which has yet to fall. The president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, Mokhtar Trifi, has called for the confiscation of state property, real estate in particular, which has been appropriated by the RCD and for the return to normal duties of civil servants who have been put at the party’s disposal. "This party, which has been responsible for all our misfortunes and which has been the tool of a repressive and anti-popular politics since the days of Bourguiba, should be disbanded," according to the lawyer Radhia Nasraoui. This long-time member of the opposition supports the idea of a government "of national salvation" which would have the task of leading the country towards the election of a constituent assembly. "We want nothing to do with this putschist government, even with a democratic veneer. A cabinet should be formed without the participation of the RCD, gathering together representatives both of the opposition which has really been involved in fighting Ben Ali’s rule, as well as representatives of the regions involved in the changes now underway," is also the opinion of Jilani Hammami. The form which this transition should take was the object of bitter debate in the capital yesterday, while daily life was gradually returning to normal. For those who had known the leaden deadweight of the Ben Ali years, the spectacle of a people which had been gagged for so long refinding its voice is simply extraordinary. With the relaxation of the curfew, which had previously come into force at 8pm, due to "an improvement in the security situation", the climate of fear has begun to dissipate, giving way to a real enthusiasm for the idea of a future which is still to be built.

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