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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 01/17/2011

But is Tunisia getting change?

By Jennifer Rubin

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Tunisia's caretaker prime minister announced a new coalition government following the ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali--a move that temporarily fills the country's power vacuum and should help to stabilize the tense North African country after massive street protests.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, the prime minister and a longtime ally of Mr. Ben Ali, and several top ministers retained their posts in Monday's shake-up--and three opposition leaders along with other independent politicians joined the government in a first for the country.

Tunisia experts here and in Tunis tell me that the top posts have gone to the ruling party, with the opposition getting minor posts. However, the imposition of order is a precursor to progress toward democratic elections.

AFP reports:

The new government also includes three leaders of the legal opposition as well as representatives of civil society. But it excludes banned political parties including the Communists and the Islamist Ennahdha party.

Ghannouchi said however that all political parties will be allowed, media will be freed and a lifting of restrictions on non-governmental organisation including Tunisia's main human rights group, the Human Rights League. . . .

The new government also scrapped the information ministry -- a widely hated organ responsible for official propaganda and media controls under Ben Ali's 23 years in power.

While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government.

One final note: while Muslim autocrats in the region have reason to worry, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a convincing case that regimes do not face the same threat of instability. In Jordan and Morocco, for example, the kings in those countries enjoy a "perceived legitimacy."

Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 17, 2011; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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The interim government announced today is a positive first step. The first priority is re-establishing a sense of calm and security. The army is rooting out pockets of armed Ben Ali die hards. It has established control over the presidential palace in Carthage where a large arms cache was discovered and the former Minster of the Interior had sought refuge. Other areas where armed confrontations have occured tend to be in the suburbs near the home of former Ben Ali ministers and senior officials.

I am told that central Tunis is relatively calm with many store, cafes and businesses reopening.

It remains early days in this time of transition. Media reports citing those who feel that only a complete purge of the past will satisfy them are certainly true as are reports of those who believe that the transition to democracy will take time.

The Prime Minister announced that thatthe government will no longer censor or control the media. That will unleash a healthy political debate. At the beginning the language of that debate will be fierce. As emotiions start to cool, htat debate will form the basis of an informed electorate, provide new political parties with a place to advance the their agendas and open the way solid democratic reforms.

There will be those who will try to strangle the Tunisian revolution. I have confidence that the Tunisian people have the strength and confidence to stop them

Posted by: lcohen1 | January 17, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about liberal elites but Conservatives know the difference between Republics and Democracies.

The United States is a Republic. It is not self-rule. No society, either here or in the Middle East, should be self-rule.

That is why Conservatives never supported George W. Bush's Wilsonian miss-adventures.

The founders constructed an anti-Democratic Bill of Rights.

The Founders also recognized the need for fully developed private property institutions -- the United States had these because it evolved out of a Constitutional Monarchy. It is property owners who form parliaments or a Congress that actually has power and can check the sovereign.

The types of parliaments Ruben champions cause instability and allow people who are nothing more than dictators, to claim legitimacy, as has occurred in Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Indonesia and Iraq.

Posted by: SteveJ4 | January 17, 2011 5:54 PM | Report abuse

"Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy."

Not a fantasy, but a nightmare.

How can you reconcile the above statment with this one in the same post:

"While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government."

Once again Jennifer, if you go with democracy, you don't get to choose who wins. It would be the same way in Turkey, save for the influence of the military.

Didn't you learn anything from Hamas and Lebanon? If Geroge Bush wanted democracy, how could he fail to accept the election of Hamas?

Part of the problem is our State Department and foreign policy experts. While we have a ton of romance language speakers, we have relatively few who speak Arabic and Farsi fluently, among other Islamic languages.

Therefore our diplomatic personnel and our "experts" in general restrict their social circles to Westernized Muslims who in many cases have attended the same universities as our people. So their view is always colored by association with a very liimited segment of the population.

We should not be aurprised that in country after country Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, we don't anticipate either the change in government, or the course that country takes thereafter.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 17, 2011 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I am not sure there is much that is "Muslim" about Mr Ben Ali or his neighbouring autocrats. As for the "liberal fantasy..." it is of course during a liberal US presidency that this particular fantasy came true. You think it is a coincidence that, when Mr Bush was imposing his particular fantasies by force, advocating for democracy in the Arab world was temporarily discredited?

Posted by: Richard70 | January 18, 2011 3:46 AM | Report abuse

Leave that straw-man alone, Jennifer Rubin. Criticism against the war in Iraq was not "Muslim self-rule" was a fantasy. (And Muslims ruled themselves BEFORE that war and now, and before that uprising and now.) The criticisms against the war ranged from "lack of weapons" (none were found), "lack of a threat from Saddam" (he had no weapons to be a threat to us), "a distraction from going after Al Qaeda" (yep, it was), "It'd cost us more time and money than we can afford" (we're still there almost eight years later), "it'd destabilize the region and strengthen Iran" (did both, and now we have folks .. ahem... agitating for a war with Iran) and "it would be ruinous for the population" (we destroyed their lives, infrastructure, etc.)

Posted by: SterlingNorth | January 18, 2011 4:51 AM | Report abuse

Only if America wants?
All the corrupt Arab empires can be crumbled in a week or month only; if America and the western countries want it. But sadly; they do not want any change. why? because they have created these kings, dictators and puppets only to keep them under their control and go on pumping their OIL. Until, oil is there, America is not going to help Arab masses and go on providing all help to keep these unholy empires ALIVE.

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | January 18, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

"It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy."

Easily one of the stupidest things I've ever read in the Washington Post.

Posted by: rmnelson | January 18, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

We went into Iraq because Saddam had WMD and represented a real and direct threat to the US, remember? The canard about spreading democracy in the Arab World was only invented after the fact, once it became apparent that the Bush administration had blatantly lied to its own people to scare them into supporting an illegal war.

Don't fool yourself, you're not fooling us. People will never forget, and history will always record, that Bush lied to start a war he wanted to fight.

Posted by: maurban | January 18, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

What nonsense! More incoherent fantasy land drivel from this wretched hag. The Washington Post is peddling in utter revisionism. When will Fred Hiatt be sacked and his revolting acolytes along with him.

Posted by: H1000 | January 18, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

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