1498Victory for Ben Ali makes a mockery of Tunisians - Independent, UK
- Jun 3, 2002Victory 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
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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