Victory for Ben Ali makes a mockery of Tunisians

Robert Fisk@indyvoices
Monday 21 September 2015 10:58

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 people.

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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