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Jan 14, 2011 | 19:00 GMT

3 mins read

Tunisian President Leaves in Army Coup

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has left the country for either France, Libya or Malta in a coup d'etat conducted in response to a monthlong popular uprising. A Stratfor source in Tunisia reports the coup was led by Gen. Rachid Ammar. Ammar is the army chief of staff who previously was rumored to have been fired by Ben Ali for refusing to use deadly force against the protesters demonstrating across the country since late December. A six-man transitional council has reportedly been set up to fill the void left by Ben Ali and will initially be led by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. There are conflicting reports as to whether Ghannouchi intends to soon hand over his position to Parliament Speaker Fouad Mebazaa or if he intends to serve as transitional president until new elections can be held. Protests are continuing in the capital, according to the source, as the protesters fear that the portion of the Constitution being cited by Ghannouchi as justifying his takeover of power is a ploy designed to lead to Ben Ali's eventual return. This is unlikely to occur, but the popular belief will lead to continued unrest in the short term at least. What is clear is that a national protest movement that began with an individual act of self-immolation in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on Dec. 17 has now led to the overthrow of a man who had ruled Tunisia since 1987, all in less than a month's time. Whether the army coup and accompanying figurehead transitional government will be enough to satisfy the protesters, however, is yet to be seen. While Mebazaa was first reported to be taking over the six-man transitional council, it then emerged that Ghannouchi, the man who had been executing many of Ben Ali's important government declarations throughout the crisis, would become the new president. The figurehead is not as important as the fact that the Tunisian military was the ultimate driving force in Ben Ali's ousting. Martial law has not been declared, however, as the army is seeking to work behind the scenes in the hopes that a caretaker government will help to stabilize the situation until fresh elections can be held. The army's main challenge now lies in bringing order to the country through dealing with an amorphous protest movement that lacks a recognizable head. The fall of Ben Ali marks the first ever collapse of an autocratic regime in the face of a popular uprising in the Arab world. Leaders across the Arab world, and especially in North Africa, will now look to the Tunisian example with concerns about how the situation could be replicated in their own countries. While Stratfor does not see any direct links between the Tunisian protesters and opposition groups in any of these countries, the overthrow of Ben Ali will likely serve as a source of inspiration for groups that oppose the regimes in places like Egypt, Algeria, and the rest of the Arab world. Certainly the rulers of these states will seek to ensure that they maintain a firm grip on their respective armed forces, as Ben Ali thought he did until today.

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