Exactly how the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power will play out is yet to be determined. Three things are certain though.
First, Islamists will try and take advantage of the power vacuum. Even though Ben Ali was an implacable foe of Islamism it was discernable in Tunisia and Islamists there wil try to insert themselves in any new government or take over the government altogether. While they had a peripheral role in overthrowing Ben Ali they are already moving with great speed to exploit the situation. Islamist rhetoric in the public sphere has greatly increased and Ennahda, the leader of Tunisia’s main Islamist organization, will be returning there for the first time since 1989. We can expect to see a much more visible, muscular Islamist presence in Tunisia and a concerted effort to turn it into an Islamic state altogether or at the very least have Islam play a prominent role in the life of the nation.
Second, Ben Ali will be replaced by another strongman, another dictator. The chance of him being replaced by some sort of democratic entity is nil. Dictators who are overthrown in Arabic speaking countries are always replaced by other dictators, even if the chain of events stated off as a popular or people’s revolution. There are no exceptions. That has always been the case in the past and that will be the case in this instance as well. The only question is the amount and scope of Islam in any future government, that’s all.
Third, anti-Israel rhetoric in the Arab world will increase exponentially. We may even see military incursions against her. Dictators throughout the area were taken aback by Ben Ali’s quick and relatively bloodless downfall and fear that the same thing could happen to them. What better way to deflect unhappiness with their own countries ills than to blame Israel for their troubles, to attack her? There is none in the Arab world and attacks on Israel are a foregone conclusion. We’ll also most likely see anti-American rhetoric and attacks on the United States too as the U.S. is the next best target.
The end result of the events in Tunisia is yet to be seen. Some certainties do abound however.