New wave of demonstrations and riots; police resort to old-regime violence; speculation about postponement of election date
Once again a curfew was imposed in tunis over the weekend. Violent demonstrations continue to demand the ouster of the transitional government, which is known to include many politicians from the former regime. The distinction between the peaceful part of the demonstrations marching on the main avenue habib bourguiba and the violent part is apparently too difficult for the police – or not in their interest at all. She justified her crackdown and the 70 arrests with gangs that demolished and looted stores.
Violent riots are also reported in ettadhamen, the capital’s poor banlieue, where eyewitnesses say islamists tried to restore order "to restore order".
Riots are also reported in smaller towns in tunisia’s hinterland, in sidi hassine, in the suburbs of tunis, kram and la goulette. An agricultural center in sidi bouzid, apartments in sousse were reportedly plundered; police stations in mnihla, intilaka, ibn khaldoun, el-mourouj v and in kasserine were attacked – kasserine was the scene of fierce confrontations between state power and the protest movement during the january revolution. A man was killed in the slimane banlieue while trying to prevent participants in a demonstration from throwing stones at a police station, according to a report by le monde. It is unclear where the kughel came from, whose injuries he succumbed to.
The sheer number of riots indicates that different motives are at work in different places.
Police action "problematic" for public order
But the police also made headlines with violence over the weekend, and not only in tunisia. Police officers have violently cracked down on journalists, with some being chased into newsrooms. Conditions almost like in ben ali’s time. The henchmen from the "old time", militias of the party of the old regime rcd, are also held responsible for the violence mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Close observers of the events in tunisia, such as astrubal, who writes for the incorruptible online portal nawaat and closely follows developments in press freedom there, are calling for political consequences, starting with the resignation of the interior minister. These incidents further strengthened popular animosities against the already maligned police, which were disastrous and problematic for public order.
Manipulations and election date
At the moment, no one knows for certain which acts of violence are being perpetrated by whom, or which actors are pulling the strings. Prime minister beji caid essebsi also admitted on sunday that manipulations are involved. Rajhi’s actions and political stance are highly controversial within the protest movement (see also: provisional government or transitional dictatorship).
Essebsi’s formulations also leave open the question of whether the date set for the elections to a constituent national assembly, the 24th of december, is a date that could be manipulated. July, is in fact incontrovertible. Thus he opened further speculation. It does not build confidence. Especially since the mood in the country has been stirred up by revelations by the dismissed interior minister farhat rajhi.
Former interior minister speaks of possibility of coup d’etat
Rajhi, who served as interior minister in the interim government from late january to late march, had spoken last week of the possibility of a state coup. As was also reported in german-language media, rajhi had "in the event of a victory for the islamist party ennahdha (…) predicted the military’s takeover of power in the planned elections". Ennahdha leader rached ghannouchi reacted by accusing rajhi of having "poured oil on the fire in an explosive climate".
In fact, rajhi maintains the fears with which the autocrat ben ali made policy and founded his despotic regime. However, his rhetoric is perceived and discussed in different ways. Also because for the first time a politician, who belonged to the government, officially expressed, what circulates as suspicion for a long time: that politicians, presumably mainly old party cadres, are conspiring in back rooms to put a spoke in the wheel of renewal in tunisia.
Among the speculations about rajhi’s riots is that he is serving the interests of the communist party (parti des ouvriers communistes de tunisie – poct), as his riots have created a mood that could lead to the postponement of the elections, which could also be in the interest of the poct.
According to the online magazine courrier international, which, like other publications, published this speculation, the sporadic demonstrations that are currently taking place in tunisia are very different from the peaceful demonstrations of earlier protests – which, of course, is a conservative image. The current demonstrations, which are much smaller than in the past, only hundreds of people strong, have been called "innocent" the protests begin innocently and quickly turn violent, and they also seem to be growing rapidly.
What forces are behind them, whether they are dissatisfied people who want to see the controversial government removed, or hired "agents provocateurs" or. Or hired henchmen of the old regime, is still unclear at the moment. Members of protest movement call for calm and restraint in twitter messages.