Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been overthrown in a military coup. Friday night, Jan. 14, he fled his riot-stricken country in the middle of his fifth term as Tunisian president. He handed interim authority to Prime Minister Mohammad Ghannoushi, but debkafile's sources report that the real power in the land is the army.
Arab regimes were dismayed by the fall of the Tunisian president after 23 years in power – the first Arab ruler ever overthrown by street protests making way for a military coup.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is serving his fourth term as president and despite his advanced age of 82 is contemplating running for a fifth. Jordan's Abdullah II imposed a news blackout on the serious riots which Bedouin tribesmen staged against the throne in the southern town of Maan this week. Heavily reinforced military contingents were able to contain the outbreaks but did not quell them. Encircled now by soldiers, the tribesmen are just waiting for another chance to rampage. The Tunisian street protesters' success in winning the army over to their side and overturn the regime may will ignite similar anti-government disturbances in Jordan and other parts of the Arab world.
debkafile reported earlier:
The mass riots this week turned from protests against economic hardship to demands for his resignation and an end to his repressive regime. Although the president promised there would be no live fire against the demonstrators, gunshots rang out in the streets of the capital, fired according to debkafile sources by police and security officers – not the army, which refused to carry out large-scale killing.
Some 120 deaths are reported in the three weeks of disturbances.
The rioters continued to shout "Death to Ben Ali" in a country were the slightest criticism of the president was banned by law and were not appeased by his summary dismissal of the government, promise of legislative elections within six months and a pledge not to run for a sixth term in 2014.
Amid the rising turmoil, the army was reported to have seized control of Tunis airport and closed Tunisian air space, presumably to permit the president to escape the fury of the streets.
European tourist agencies earlier began evacuating thousands of tourists and cancelling trips to this popular North African tourist location.
The unrest was kicked off three weeks ago by graduate students unable to find suitable jobs.
The official unemployment figure stands at 14 percent, but according to economic experts it is closer to 25 percent. President Ben Ali first tried to quell the outbreaks with an iron fist, calling the demonstrators "masked gangs." This inflamed the protesters, many of whom belong to Tunisia's large middle class which up until now supported Ben Ali because of the country's prosperity in comparison with the rest of North Africa, while keeping their complaints against his repressive measures to themselves. Ben Ali also broke the back of radical Islamic movements and maintained political stablity.
But the world recession hit Tunisia's export industries hard and therefore the middle class.
The disturbances caught army, security and intelligence services unready. Tunisia's neighbors in North Africa and the Middle East have been anxiously watching the first authentic popular riots they have seen in the region in decades.