The Soldiers All Smiled With Delight
January 24, 2011
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, The New York Times Company [Excerpts]
A crowd of soldiers who heard the speech, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the general had explicitly endorsed the need for free elections.
Speaking fluent English, the soldiers said the general had told the crowd that both the people and the military would ensure a democratic outcome.
ding the country of the corruption that surrounded Mr. Ben Ali, and pledged their own support for a constitutional democracy.
Western diplomats and political scientists say the Tunisian military is unlike any other in North Africa and the Middle East — much smaller, more professional and historically apolitical. It has never fought wars and instead worked mostly on efforts like peacekeeping missions or disaster relief.
The soldiers themselves expressed considerable pride at the difference between their force and those in other countries in the region, like Egypt, where all three post-revolutionary dictators have come from the military and, they said, the military's first loyalty is often to itself.
The soldiers all smiled with evident delight as they volunteered that their democratic revolution might threaten other Arab leaders. Challenges to the interim government's
Caravans of hundreds of demonstrators had arrived in Tunis over the weekend from the impoverished southern provinces where the revolt began.
Defying an 8 p.m. curfew, they set up camp in the old-city square amid the office of the prime minister, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense.
Witnesses said that in the early hours of Sunday morning police officers stationed nearby tried to disperse the rowdy crowd with water cannons, but the Tunisian military again interceded to protect the demonstrators and hold back the police — a job that one army officer called "very difficult."
By Monday morning, hundreds of local people had joined the newcomers, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, previously the right-hand man to Mr. Ben Ali. "Ghannouchi, wait, wait, we will dig you a grave," they chanted.
Residents of Tunis donated stacks of old mattresses and bags of food for the demonstrators. Women dispensed sandwiches from the stone porch of the Ministry of Finance, renamed by graffiti artists the "Ministry of Thieves," and demonstrators picnicked amid army tanks and coils of barbed wire.
The government appeared to be trying to wait out the protesters. A government official, speaking with out authorization and on condition of anonymity, argued that the protesters would settle down after they had vented some of the pent-up anger left from decades of silence enforced by the old government.