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Better the devil: The defaced portrait of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 

The people want Palestine," they chant, they sing in the kasbah of Tunis. "We are free, down with Ben Ali," the students jump in mock-military platoons, wave and kiss the flag. "Allah akbar, the people are free." A turbaned man waves the crescent of Tunisia. A little girl is lifted on to the truck. "Sing it again..."   

"The people will win in Palestine." 

The graffiti on the kasbah walls — "Sarkozy get out!" "Thank you Facebook." "The Tunisian woman is free and will stay free." "Down with US." 

A physics professor grabs me, bringing his yellow teeth uncomfortably close. "Britain and America are always with the Jewish. The Arabs are now free. No more foreigners in Arab lands." 

This is Tunis, more than a month since the flight of the Francophone dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, five days after the resignation of interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and hours after Ben Ali's last ministers abandoned their posts. Ben Ali's face is no longer on posters and placards, but tagged onto the walls of the souk, with devil's horns and swastikas, and stars of David between his eyes. 

Denounced as a French client, a Zionist sympathiser and a cuckold, Ben Ali is now cursed as repeatedly as he was once lauded. "He told me in the palace of Carthage," whispers his turncoat first cousin Shafrallah Mlitiri, using his pinched right hand to conjure tension, "that his wife was practising...the witchcraft on him. There was always, always, a Moroccan soothsayer at their side." 

"Freedom marches in the night," roar the people in the kasbah. "Allah akbar." Friday prayers ended an hour ago. Behind barbed wire, military platoons squint in the drizzle at the fizz of bottled emotions uncorked by the generals' coup that forced Ben Ali into exile, following violent clashes and mass protests on January 14. Grey skies, warm rain on the gentle face of authority.    

Since the flight of Ben Ali, the self-appointed Committee to Protect the Revolution had been organising protests and inciting youths to camp out in the kasbah to demand the resignation of all the former President's associates and the dismemberment of the secret police and the regime's core — the RCD, or euphemistically named Constitutional Democratic Party. The dictator is believed to be in a coma in Saudi Arabia, but the revolution has reloaded. Unlike neighbouring Egypt, in Tunisia systemic change is being attempted.  

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James Schneider
April 1st, 2011
12:04 PM
A really excellent article which helps to give a more intuitive feel of what's going on. The analysis of time warp politics is particularly strong.

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