THE mood on the streets of Tunis remains uncertain. A day after the president, Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, fled the country (he is now said to be in Saudi Arabia), Tunisia’s future hangs in the balance. With a sense that the revolution is far from over, people have been stocking up on food and any other available supplies.
Foued Mebazaa, the speaker of parliament, has now taken over as interim president. Mohammed Ghannouchi, the prime minister, had initially said that he would take charge of the country but the constitution put Mr Mebazaa in control. He says he has now asked Mr Ghannouchi to form a national unity government.
The question now is how far the Jasmine Revolution will go. Apart from Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution in 2005, it is the only successful Arab revolution since the end of the colonial era. For now, power is still very much in the hands of the ancien regime but Tunisians are hoping that their revolution will not stop with the ousting of Mr Ben Ali and the crumbling of his 23-year oppressive reign. They are demanding big changes for Tunisia. But their demands—sorting out unemployment, providing freedom of speech and human rights, bringing real democracy to Tunisia—are tough ones. It is not clear what kind of government will take over from Mr Ben Ali’s nor whether it will be able, or want, to fulfil them.
Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid, a leading Saudi columnist for al-Sharq al-Awsat, a pan-Arab daily owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, has been worrying (in Arabic) about whether this could lead to a domino effect, shaking even relatively calm Arab states. Perhaps most disconcerting for Arab leaders is that most people would have counted Tunisia among that group until a few weeks ago.
Most importantly, this combination has undermined authoritarian regimes’ ability to control the flow of information to their citizens. As Arabs throughout the Middle East watch scenes of protests in Tunisia on their computers and their televisions, it is increasingly difficult for their governments to intervene.
In Jordan too, thousands of protesters took to the streets in protest over rising food and commodity prices, unemployment and poverty. The Muslim Brotherhood has warned that the proposed price hikes will spark protests similar to Tunisia’s in Jordan. So far, most of the anger seems to be directed at Samir Rifai, the Jordanian prime minister, and there has no violence or arrests.