>– Tunisia’s Main Trade Union “Instrumental” in Downfall of Ben Ali Regime, Organizes “Caravan of Liberation” March to Oust Interim Government
– Self-Immolations Spread to Algeria in Defiance of 50-Year Rule of National Liberation Front
– Yemeni President Denies Authoritarian Nature of Regime, Contends with Marxist Separatists in South, Six Soldiers Killed in Ambush
This past Friday, relatives of Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, arrived in Canada, an official of Ottawa’s Citizenship and Immigration Department told Agence France-Presse and Postmedia News in an email. However, Canadian official Douglas Kellam made it clear that the Ben Ali clan is persona non grata: “Mr. Ben Ali, deposed members of the former Tunisian regime and their immediate families are not welcome in Canada.”
One of Ben Ali’s many brothers-in-law arrived in Montreal aboard a private jet accompanied by his wife, their children, and a governess, Kellam related. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Trabelsi, has several brothers, but it was unclear which one had arrived in Canada. Members of Ben Ali’s family reportedly checked into a hotel in Montreal.
The deposed president’s daughter, Nesrine Ben Ali, and her husband, businessman Sakher El Materi, purchased a US$2.5-million home in the upscale, English-speaking Montreal neighborhood of Westmount two years ago. The stately house is currently uninhabited and partly under construction. Tunisia’s central bank seized El Materi’s own bank last week.
Ben Ali himself has sought refuge in another authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, where Christians and Jews can be executed for spreading their beliefs, even though Western countries have welcomed hate-spewing Islamic radicals and terrorists with open arms.
On Saturday, hundreds of mutinous police officers joined thousands of protesters in Tunis in a rally against interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. They called on the new government to quit because of the presence of old regime figures in key posts, including Ghannouchi, as well as the defense, interior, and foreign ministers. Pictured above: More anti-government protests in Tunis on January 24.
At the same time, a protest march backed by the Tunisian General Workers’ Union, which has played an instrumental role in the recent upheaval, departed central Tunisia for the capital in a bid to topple the interim government. Participants dubbed their protest a “Caravan of Liberation” and spent their first night in Regueb, a town 265 kilometers south of Tunis, and claimed their march would gather momentum as it moved toward the capital.
Meanwhile, protests and riots inspired by Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” have spread to other Arab countries with authoritarian regimes, such as Algeria, Yemen, and Egypt.
In Algiers, police, armed with batons and tear gas, clashed with 300 pro-democracy protesters on Saturday, leaving multiple casualties, as they blocked a march on parliament. The opposition said at least 42 people were injured during the six-hour standoff, including two seriously. The Interior Ministry insisted that the number of injured was only 19, including 11 protestors or passers-by, and eight police.
Said Sadi, head of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, admitted the protest was organized in defiance of a government ban. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights warned that “the blanket government ban on peaceful protest could cause social upheaval” in the North African country. “The fact of banning peaceful marches undertaken by the parties and civil society is leading us towards an explosion,” ALDHR president Mostefa Bouchachi told the AFP news agency.
Also on Saturday, Karim Bendine, 35, died in a hospital in Douera, a suburb of Algiers, where he was admitted earlier last week with most of his body covered in third-degree burns. Bendine had set himself alight near the town hall of Dellys, near the capital, for unknown reasons. Seven other Algerians have immolated themselves since January 12, apparently inspired by the self-immolation in Tunisia of 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi, whose protest suicide against unemployment unleashed a wave of violent protests that ended in the ouster of strongman Ben Ali. Another protest self-immolation took place in Boukhadra on Monday.
The pro-Soviet socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) has effectively ruled Algeria since 1962, although its dominance was challenged in 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of an election that was later cancelled by the ruling authorities. This led to the Algerian Civil War and finally the defeat of the Islamic Salvation Army and the Armed Islamic Group. FLN cadre Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of Algeria since 1999.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, hundreds of Yemeni students held protests at Sanaa University, with some demanding that the president to resign. Since the Tunisian uprising, Yemenis have frequently called for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s decades-long rule, which extends back to his stint as president of North Yemen in the 1980s. “No to inheritance, no to extension, learn from the Jasmine Revolution,” read a banner carried by the students.
The long-ruling pro-Soviet Saleh was re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate. A draft amendment of the constitution, under consideration in the parliament dominated by Saleh’s General People’s Congress, could further extend his tenure by allowing a lifelong mandate. In a recent televised rant, Saleh lashed out at his critics, who have accused him of planning to transfer power to his son: “Talking about hereditary rule is an impudent symphony, we are a republican and democratic system and we are against hereditary rule. We are against hereditary rule of villages, of tribes, of power, of unity, of ministries, we are against hereditary rule.”
Last year, Saleh, with Saudi military intervention, put down an Iranian-backed Shia Muslim insurgency in northern Yemen. However, he still faces a violent upheaval in the southern part of the country where the Yemeni Socialist Party, which once ruled South Yemen, is demanding the restoration of the People’s Democratic Republic. In fact, on January 8, Marxist separatists attacked a checkpoint in the town of Radfan in Lahj province, killing six soldiers and wounding four others. Lahj is a key stronghold of the Southern Movement. Faysal Jubran, who has led the movement since March 2007, told Xinhua that the clash left one of his followers wounded.
In Egypt, oppositionists called for a “national day of action” to take place on January 25 by all groups seeking to end the 29-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded Anwar Sadat after the latter’s 1981 assassination by Islamic fundamentalists. “If the Tunisians have done it, Egyptians should get there too,” Mohamed El Baradei, a leading Egyptian opposition figure and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told German news magazine Der Spiegel.
Last summer, police dragged Khaled Said, a small businessman in the historic city of Alexandria, from an Internet café and beat him to death in the street. Although Said was not politically active, the unprovoked police attack was in obvious retaliation for Said’s decision to post a video on his blog of crooked cops pocketing the contents of a drug bust. Shortly after the murder, an anonymous administrator created a Facebook page under the name “We Are All Khaled Said.” As of January 21, 2011, nearly 69,000 people visited the Facebook page to sign up for the January 25 protest.
Egypt’s traditional opposition groups have joined the call for protest on Tuesday. El Baradei stopped just short of backing the demonstration. On Thursday night, he finally offered tacit support, if only via Twitter: “Fully support call 4 peaceful demonstrations vs. repression.”