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1498Victory for Ben Ali makes a mockery of Tunisians - Independent, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jun 3, 2002
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      Victory for Ben Ali makes a mockery of Tunisians
      By Robert Fisk in Beirut
      29 May 2002
      So now it's 99.52 per cent for President Zine
      Al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia.

      The naivety ? the "infantalisme", as Tunisia's largely
      French-speaking elite would say ? of Arab
      pseudo-democracy has never reached such heights. After
      the vote for "constitutional changes", Mr Ben Ali can
      rule almost for life ? Roman emperors, remember, once
      ruled Tunisia ? and he's still only 65.

      The statistics, which mean that 0.48 of voters opposed
      Mr Ben Ali, suggest either that the Tunisian
      electorate are childish or that they are being treated
      as children. The latter is most probably the case.

      For remember that the poor old Egyptians are foisted
      with similar nonsense. President Mubarak of Egypt
      usually pulls up 98 per cent of the vote, often in
      front of President Saddam Hussein's outrageous 97 per
      cent. The masquerade, the folly of these idiotic
      elections, is proved by the figures.

      All that remains to be discussed is why these regimes
      insist on holding these palpably ridiculous elections
      in the first place. Surely, it is not about
      legitimacy. The Arab armies and their even greater
      legions of intelligence thugs are perfectly capable of
      ensuring the safety of their leaders. Long ago, the
      Arab nations ceased to be nations.

      They are regimes called states, and the protection of
      the regime ? the survival of the regime ? is more
      important than the state. Many are the Syrians who
      remember that when Syrian troops were fighting the
      Israeli army at Observatory Ridge on Golan in 1973,
      the vital military reserves that might have saved
      their offensive were guarding Baath party headquarters
      in Damascus.

      This is why "states of emergency" and martial law
      exist in so many Arab nations; since 1981 in Egypt,
      since 1963 in Syria. In most cases, of course, we ?
      the West ? support these dictatorships.

      The American government acknowledges President Ben
      Ali's support for the "war on terror" ? something Mr
      Ben Ali's people know all about at first hand ? and
      five million tourists, many of them from Britain, fly
      to Tunisia's beaches each year. Some of them were
      killed when a suicide bomber attacked a synagogue on a
      Tunisian island last month.

      The real problem is that this ridiculous electoral
      game prevents the political development of the Arab
      world. Arab nations are not modern states. Their
      bureaucracy serves their regimes rather than their

      Those who wish for serious political debate are
      arrested. Or they go underground. Why did Egypt have
      so much trouble with the Islamists in the 1990s? Or
      Syria with the Islamists in 1982? Or Algeria in 1992?
      When President Ben Ali's own party holds 148 of the
      182 seats in parliament ? when the region of Sidi
      Bouzid, south of Tunis, gives him 99.98 per cent of
      the vote ? what future is there for a state to belong
      to its people rather than its president? So Mr Ben Ali
      ? a sprightly 65 ? will now be with us until 2014. And
      the Americans, who apparently want democracy in Iraq
      and Iran and Afghanistan (and Cuba), will say nothing.

      The great danger will come when ? or if, the Arab
      leaders will say ? there is ever a peace with Israel.
      For if there is no more war, what reason will there be
      for states of emergency and martial law? What will the
      regimes do then? Find a new enemy?

      Or face the people. As Souhair Belhassen, the
      vice-president of the Tunisian Human Rights League,
      bravely put it: "The masquerade became indecent
      because even in the craziest dictatorial regimes, one
      dares not announce such figures."

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