Meaning behind Tunisia's revolution becomes murky



When Zine al Abidine Ben Ali quit Tunisia on Friday after 23 years in power, the situation he left behind seemed all too clear. He had been forced out by a popular uprising - a "Jasmine Revolution" - and the country was set for renewal and social harmony under a freely elected leader.

Yet as the days pass, the situation becomes less clear. The term "Jasmine Revolution" seems hardly appropriate, as it is not clear what sort of change of power there will be, and which direction it will take Tunisia.

While there is a widespread sense of relief that youths are no longer being killed on the street and that Mr Ben Ali has left, the dominant emotions seem to be fear of looters and apprehension about how the country will manage to keep to the 60-day timetable set by the constitution for electing a new president.

In a country where politics has been frozen, and where the youthful demonstrators have no clear leaders, forming an interim government would be a tough task even with firm and clear-sighted leadership.

The task has fallen to the speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, a 78-year-old trusted servant of the Bourguiba and Ben Ali administrations who, as required by the constitution, has been sworn in as interim president. He has asked Mr Ben Ali's last prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, a 69-year-old technocrat, to form the next government.

Even the mechanism that forced Ali to leave is still unclear. Protest movements these days are always dubbed by the media "Twitter revolutions". But while there is plenty of evidence of information and rumours being shared, there is no sign of any hidden leadership using the micro-blogging service to get the people out on the street. Ultimately, the Arabic satellite TV news channels were probably the strongest mobilising force, by picking up and broadcasting the photos and videos of the demonstrators.

The Tunisian army is now generally credited with forcing Mr Ben Ali's hand. By refusing to join the police and other elements of the security forces controlled by the Interior Ministry in firing on demonstrators, the army commander, General Rachid Ammar, left Mr Ben Ali exposed as the disturbances reached the capital.

According to the former French ambassador to Tunisia, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, it was probably Gen Ammar who told Mr Ben Ali that the game was up and he should leave the country.

The presence of the army on the streets, complete with its rather ancient tanks, has prompted rumours of a military coup. Some have even suggested that the military were angered by Mr Ben Ali's starving of their budgets in favour of the police's. It is certainly true that the Tunisian defence budget is small - 1.4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. By contrast, neighbouring Algeria spends more than twice as much as a proportion of its national income on its armed forces.

The TV news channels have been full of talking heads expressing fears of the military seizing the reins of Ben Ali's dictatorship. "Ben Ali took our wealth, but the army is taking our dreams" is a typical comment.

But such speculation should be treated with caution. The Tunisian army has never played a role in politics - Tunisia gained its independence by negotiation, not by fighting, as in Algeria. Its generals have always hung in the background. Even Mr Ben Ali, an army intelligence officer by training who moved to internal security, relied on the police.

The only circumstance that would force the army to play a prominent role would be the inability of the civilians to run a government. It is too early to predict what might happen. At the moment, the army appears to be the only stabilising force in a murky situation characterised by prison riots, widespread looting and the appearance of neighbourhood vigilantes around the capital trying to protect property.

There are plenty of criminals and liberated prisoners who are using the opportunity to help themselves to some loot. But why was the Tunis railway station torched? Many people blame the looting on Ben Ali loyalists in the security forces who are spreading unrest to pave the way for the ex-president's return to take back power from the ageing loyalists he left behind. In this chaos, the constitution is being correctly followed, but it has not yet yielded any strong leadership.

Yousra Ghannouchi, the daughter of the exiled leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, said yesterday that many people were unhappy that the "faces of the old regime" were now back on television screens. "What is happening now is not exactly what we asked for," she said.

The problem, however, is that we do not know what the demonstrators who took to the streets were really asking for. They were united behind the broadest demands: an end to the rule of Mr Ben Ali and the corruption associated with his family, and a fairer distribution of the country's wealth.

While the Ennahda party may have been asking for a root and branch clear-out of the old regime, others - probably the majority of Tunisians - want a stable transition. The politicians faced with this task have no personal ambition to run the country. Everyone in Tunisia and outside will be looking to see how they cope, who is guiding them, and which faction manages to take the upper hand.

It is notoriously hard to predict the outcomes of political revolutions. Tunisia is a small country, with a highly educated population and no religious or ethnic rifts. It is therefore unusually well equipped to face this challenge. Relying on tourism and an open economy, it needs stability to flourish again.

All Tunisia's friends, in the Arab world, in Europe and the US, will be hoping it does so as speedily as possible.

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EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

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Company name: Fasset
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1987

1954

1921

1888

Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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An Emirates Dubai-London round-trip ticket costs 180,000 miles on the Air Miles website. But customers earn these ‘miles’ at a much faster rate than airline miles. Adidas offers two air miles per Dh1 spent. Air Miles has partnerships with websites as well, so booking.com and agoda.com offer three miles per Dh1 spent.

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Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
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Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
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Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

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Stars: 3

Company profile

Company name: Nestrom

Started: 2017

Co-founders: Yousef Wadi, Kanaan Manasrah and Shadi Shalabi

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Sector: Technology

Initial investment: Close to $100,000

Investors: Propeller, 500 Startups, Wamda Capital, Agrimatico, Techstars and some angel investors

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Favourite place in UAE: Al Rams pearling village

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Nationality: Lebanese
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US tops drug cost charts

The study of 13 essential drugs showed costs in the United States were about 300 per cent higher than the global average, followed by Germany at 126 per cent and 122 per cent in the UAE.

Thailand, Kenya and Malaysia were rated as nations with the lowest costs, about 90 per cent cheaper.

In the case of insulin, diabetic patients in the US paid five and a half times the global average, while in the UAE the costs are about 50 per cent higher than the median price of branded and generic drugs.

Some of the costliest drugs worldwide include Lipitor for high cholesterol. 

The study’s price index placed the US at an exorbitant 2,170 per cent higher for Lipitor than the average global price and the UAE at the eighth spot globally with costs 252 per cent higher.

High blood pressure medication Zestril was also more than 2,680 per cent higher in the US and the UAE price was 187 per cent higher than the global price.

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Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
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