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A MILITARY BESIEGED: THE ARMED FORCES, THE POLICE, AND THE PARTY IN BIN ʿALI’S TUNISIA, 1987–2011

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2015

Abstract

This article draws on extensive fieldwork and original data to trace the transformation of civil–military relations in Tunisia during the tenure of the former president Zayn al-ʿAbidin bin ʿAli (1987–2011). The republican ethos of the Tunisian Armed Forces (al-Quwwat al-Musallaha al-Tunusiyya) is often stressed to explain its traditional political quiescence. However, I maintain that it was the active hostility of the military's rivals within the Bin ʿAli regime that prevented Tunisian generals from playing a greater role in their country's public life. I disaggregate Bin ʿAli's regime into its fundamental institutional components—namely, the presidency, the party, the police, and the military—and investigate rivalries and alliances that structured the struggle for influence and power between Bin ʿAli's rise to the presidency and his downfall. I argue that there is a direct and causal relationship between the 2010–11 uprising and inter- and intrainstitutional dynamics within the regime. In other words, the study of contemporary Tunisian civil–military relations is critical to understanding the breakdown of the Bin ʿAli regime.

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Articles
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

NOTES

1 See “Roundtable: Rethinking the Study of Middle East Militaries,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 391–407; Stacher, Joshua, Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012)Google Scholar; Yezid Sayigh, “Above the State: The Officers’ Republic in Egypt,” The Carnegie Papers, Middle East (August 2012): 1–38; Zeinab Abul-Magd, “The Egyptian Republic of Retired Generals,” Foreign Policy, 8 May 2012, http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/08/the_egyptian_republic_of_retired_generals (accessed 15 June 2013); and Shana Marshall and Joshua Stacher, “Egyptʿs Generals and Transnational Capital,” Middle East Report 262 (2012), http://www.merip.org/mer/mer262/egypts-generals-transnational-capital (accessed 10 September 2013).

2 An exception is Risa Brooks’ recent article, “Abandoned at the Palace: Why the Tunisian Military Defected from the Ben ʿAli Regime in January 2011,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36 (2013): 205–20.

3 Barany, Zoltan, “Comparing Arab Revolts: The Role of the Military,” Journal of Democracy 22 (2011): 31CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 See Abdul ʿAziz Barrouhi, “Le Général Ammar: l’Homme qui a dit non,” Jeune Afrique, 7 February 2011, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/ARTJAJA2612p044–049.xml1/ (accessed 22 July 2013).

5 Lenin argued, for instance, that: “No revolution of the masses can triumph without the help of a portion of the armed forces that sustained the old regime.” See Russell, D. E. H, Rebellion, Revolution and Armed Force: A Comparative Study of Fifteen Countries with Special Emphasis on Cuba and South Africa (New York: Academic Press, 1974), 12Google Scholar. Trotsky said the same in his History of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Haymarker Books, 2008), 88.

6 See Qandil, Hazem, Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen: Egypt's Road to Revolt (New York: Verso, 2012)Google Scholar.

7 See Droz-Vincent, Philippe, “Roundtable: Rethinking the Study of Middle East Militaries,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 392–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 See Gause III, Gregory F, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs 90 (2011): 8190Google Scholar.

9 Bellin, Eva, “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring,” Comparative Politics 44 (2012): 127–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 “Bourguiba studied law in France as a young man and the friends he made there were staunchly antimilitaristic. He came back from Paris with an antimilitary attitude and convictions that subsequently proved to be resilient. In addition, Bourguiba resented the authority of the French officers with whom he clashed during the years of struggle for independence, and this resentment added to his ill feeling toward military institutions in general. After Tunisia gained independence, Bourguiba continued arguing that whatever little resources the country possessed should be spent on development rather than defense. He was aware, of course, that Tunisia was surrounded by ambitious neighbors, but he counted on his relations with France and the United States to protect her independence.” Muhammad Mizughi, retired colonel-major in the Tunisian army, former director of the Haute Ecole de Guerre (Tunisian War College), and military attaché in France, author's interview, Tunis, 5 June 2013. My other interviewees in Tunis concurred that the roots of Bourguiba's neglect of the military were twofold: the influence of his formative years in France and his absolute prioritization of development after independence.

11 See Moore, Clement Henry, Tunisia Since Independence: The Dynamics of One-Party Government (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1965), 105–31Google Scholar.

12 See Stone, Russell, “Tunisia: A Single Party System Holds Change in Abeyance,” in Zartman, Ira William et al., Political Elites in Arab North Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt (New York: Longman, 1982), 153Google Scholar.

13 See Rudebeck, Lars, Party and People: A Study in Political Change in Tunisia (New York: Praeger, 1969)Google Scholar; and Amin, Samir, The Maghreb in the Modern World (London: Penguin Press, 1970)Google Scholar.

14 Former colonel-major in the Tunisian army who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 10 June 2013. For more on the interaction between Bin ʿAli and the RCD, see Alexander, Christopher, Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb (New York: Routledge, 2010)Google Scholar.

15 Mizughi, author's interview.

16 My interviewees agreed overwhelmingly that in 1987 the image of Bin ʿAli within the armed forces was still good and that Bin ʿAli's military background contributed directly to the popularity of the 1987 coup within the officer corps and within the armed forces more broadly.

17 Retired colonel-major in the Tunisian army who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 19 June 2013.

18 Retired colonel in the Tunisian army who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 8 August 2013.

19 Mukhtar Hishayshi, retired colonel-major in the Tunisian army, director of the Tunisian Military Academy, and military attaché in Washington, D.C., author's interview, Tunis, 12 July 2013. The position of chief of staff of the three Tunisian armed corps (i.e., the army, the navy, and the air force) was canceled after Barakat was appointed ambassador in Athens. The most senior officers in the Tunisian military under Bin ʿAli were the chiefs of staff of each of the three corps as well as the director of military security.

20 Retired Colonel Bashir bin ʿAissa (army), Ben ʿAli's classmate in the first cohort of the Tunisian officer corps, author's interview, Tunis, 23 June 2013.

21 ʿAbd Allah Qallal, who was later to become the military's bête noire in the wake of the 1991 Barakat al-Sahil affair, was appointed general secretary of the Ministry of Defense. See the Tunisian daily Le Renouveau, 12 April 1988.

22 See al-Sabah al-Isbuʿi, 18 April 1988.

23 See Le Monde, 13 April 1988.

24 The list includes colonel Fathi Jarraya, who served as commander of the Brigades d'Ordre Public (BOP); General Sadeq Gmati, who also commanded the BOP before heading the Garde Nationale; General Muhammad Bin Hasin, who was appointed director of the Sureté Nationale; and Colonel Mahmud Lajnef, who served as director of a parallel security network manned by RCD informers, answering directly to the president. ʿAli Sariati would later be appointed head of presidential security, a position he held until 2011. Retired Colonel Bashir bin ʿAissa (army), author's interview, Tunis, 23 June 2013.

25 Benkraiem, Boubaker, Naissance dʿune armée nationale, la promotion Bourguiba (Tunis: Maison dʿedition de Tunis: 2009), 211Google Scholar. All were members of Bin ʿAli's 1956 cohort.

26 Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 4 June 2013.

27 Ware, Lewis, “Ben Ali's Constitutional Coup in Tunisia,” Middle East Journal 42 (1988): 587601Google Scholar.

29 Retired Colonel-Major ʿAbd Allah bin ʿAbd Allah (air force), former military attaché in Paris, author's interview, Tunis, 1 July 2013.

30 Mizughi, author's interview.

31 Muhammad bin Zia, Ben ʿAli's third defense minister, and Fuʾad Mubazaʿ, the speaker of the Tunisian parliament from 1997 to 2011, were also known as staunch opponents of appointing military officers to police or civilian functions. Both had served in Bourguiba's PSD before joining the RCD and were blamed by the military elite for infusing the RCD with the antimilitary reflex of the PSD. Retired Colonel-Major Hasin Bzaniyya (air force), author's interview, Tunis, 24 June 2013.

32 See Tables 3 and 4.

33 Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 4 July 2013.

34 Chelly, Rafik, Le Syndrome de Carthage des presidents Habib Bourguiba et Zine el Abidine Ben Ali (Tunis: Imprimerie Graphique du Centre, 2013), 176Google Scholar.

35 Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 2 June 2013.

36 See Beau, Nicolas and Tuquoi, Jean-Pierre, Notre ami Ben Ali: LʿEnvers du mircale tunisien (Tunis: RMR, 2011), 65Google Scholar.

37 See Le Monde, 19 February 1991.

38 See the issue of Le Renouveau and other Tunisian newspapers for 23 May 1991.

39 Retired Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Ahmed (army), author's interview, Tunis, 6 June 2013.

41 Retired Colonel Munsif Zughlami (army), author's interview, Tunis, 18 June 2013. After the fall of Bin ʿAli, Qallal was condemned to two years in prison for his role in torturing the officers throughout the Barakat al-Sahil affair investigations. On 23 June 2012, Tunisia's president Muhammad Munsif al-Marzuqi presented an apology to the victims of Barakat al-Sahil on behalf of the Tunisian state.

42 Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 4 June 2013.

43 Retired Colonel Munsif Zughlami (army), author's interview, Tunis, 6 August 2013.

44 Bin ʿAbd Allah, author's interview.

45 Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Muhammad Ahmad (army), author's interview, Tunis, 18 June 2013.

46 Retired colonel-major (army) and former director of the Tunisian Military Academy who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 13 June 2013.

47 Bin ʿAbd Allah, author's interview.

48 Mizughi, author's interview.

49 “What Bin ʿAli wanted from the chiefs of staff was absolute obedience. Muhammad al-Hadi bin Hasin was the army's most sycophantic officer, which is why Bin ʿAli kept him in his position for so long. The chiefs of staff were not popular with the officer corps and the armed forces at large—and they did not want or try to be. Bin ʿAli would not have approved of it.” Retired Colonel Bashir bin ʿAissa (army), author's interview, Tunis, 23 June 2013.

50 Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 12 July 2013.

51 Retired Colonel-Major Hasin Bzaniyya (air force), author's interview, Tunis, 24 June 2013.

52 “Just as the police hated the military after 1984, the military hated the police after 1991.” Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 20 June 2013.

53 All of my interviewees in Tunisia were particularly bitter about this point.

54 Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 5 August 2013. For an excellent study on surveillance practices under Bin ʿAli, see Hibou, Beatrice, The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia (Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2011)Google Scholar.

55 See Table 3.

56 Bin ʿAbd Allah, author's interview.

57 Retired Colonel-Major Mukhtar Hishayshi, author's interview, Tunis, 12 July 2013. For a brief but well-informed account on the equipment and training of the Tunisian military, see Cordesman, Anthony H., The Military Balance in the Middle East (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), 109–16Google Scholar.

58 Bin ʿAbd Allah, author's interview. The monthly salary of a first lieutenant in the Tunisian military is 750 Tunisian Dinar (i.e., $450). The monthly salary of a colonel-major is 1500 Tunisian Dinar. By way of comparison, the monthly salary of an assistant professor in Tunisia's public academic system is 1800 Tunisian Dinar. I owe this information to retired Colonel-Major Mukhtar Hishayshi (army), author's interview, Tunis, 12 July 2013. On the corruption of the Bin ʿAli clan, see Beau, Nicolas and Graciet, Catherine, La Regente de Carthage: Main Bassesur la Tunisie (Paris: LaDecouverte, 2009)Google Scholar.

59 As one retired colonel (air force) who wished to remain anonymous said: “We felt betrayed by one of our own.” Author's interview, Tunis, 26 June 2013.

60 The military seems to have been particularly envious of the presidential guard. According to one of my interviewees: “The presidential security was better equipped than us. They also had better salaries and their duties were easier because they were stationed in the capital whereas we could be stationed in remote parts of the country.” Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 9 June 2013.

61 This is particularly true in Egypt. See Nassif, Hicham Bou, “Wedded to Mubarak: The Second Careers and Financial Rewards of Egyptʿs Military Elite, 1981–2011,” Middle East Journal 67 (2013): 509–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 25 July 2013.

63 My interviewees differ on the reasons for why Bin ʿAli, an obscure young officer at the time, was chosen to direct the Military Security. According to a retired colonel (army) and fellow of Ben ʿAli in the 1956 cohort who did not wish to be named, the commandership of the armed forces wanted an officer from the artillery to head the military security because the army's most brilliant officers were assigned to that corps. Bin ʿAli had graduated at the top of his cohort of artillery officers and was known to be particularly smart and hard-working—hence its subsequent appointment of him as head of the Military Security. Author's interview, Tunis, 20 June 2013. By contrast, another retired colonel (army), Zughlami Munsif, suggested that Ben ʿAli was appointed head of the Military Security because of his family ties. At the time of his appointment, he was married to Naʿima al-Kifi, whose father was the army's chief of staff. Author's interview, Tunis, 25 June 2013.

64 The Military Security remained powerful throughout Bin ʿAliʿs years in power. According to a retired chief of staff of the Tunisian Navy who did not wish to be named, “The Military Security's officers under Bin ʿAli behaved arrogantly. They received orders directly from Bin ʿAli and even the ministers of defense were afraid of them. The officers in the armed forces were also intimidated because promotions depended on the Military Security's reports. If the Military Security objected to an officer's promotion for any reason, that officer would not be promoted. In brief, our career depended on the Military Security's opinion of us.” Author's interview, Tunis, 15 July 2013.

65 The number of phone lines put under surveillance was only one sign of the police's growing role. Under Bourguiba, only 200 phone lines had been wired; by 1999, 3,000 were under surveillance. See Beau and Tuquoi, Notre ami Ben Ali, 96.

66 Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 27 June 2013.

67 Retired colonel (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 12 June 2013. For more on coup-proofing tactics in the Middle East, see James T. Quinlivan, “Coup proofing: Its Practice and Consequences in the Middle East,” International Security 24 (Autumn 1999): 131–65.

68 Bin ʿAissa, author's interview.

69 “There were no personal relations between Ben ʿAli and the officers; no warmth. He never visited us in our barracks or attended a military march or training maneuver. When we visited him on national holidays, we used to present our congratulations and leave. We never really talked to him, nor did he make an effort to talk to us.” Retired Colonel-Major Mukhtar Hishayshi (army), author's interview, Tunis, 12 July 2013.

70 See Tables 5, 6, and 7.

71 Retired colonel-major (Air Force) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 2 August 2013.

72 Throughout my fieldwork, almost every officer I met expressed deep animosity toward Layla bin ʿAli and the Trabulsi family.

73 See Belkhodja, ʿAbd al-ʿAziz and Cheikhrouhou, Tarak, 14 Janvier, lʿenquete (Tunis: Appolonia, 2013), 34Google Scholar.

75 Retired Colonel-Major ʿAbd Allah bin ʿAbd Allah (air force), author's interview, Tunis, 1 July 2013. Days before the start of the Tunisian uprising, Bin ʿAli promoted Major-General ʿAmmar to lieutenant-general. See the Ministry of Defense, Decision 3096, al-Raʾid al-Rasmi (The Official Gazette), 7 December 2010.

76 Mizughi, author's interview.

77 Interview with a retired chief of staff of the Tunisian navy who wished to remain anonymous, Tunis, 15 July 2013.

78 Retired chief of staff of the Tunisian Air Forces who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 22 June 2013.

79 “We shed no tears when the people attacked police stations. The police were corrupt and arrogant vis-à-vis the population and the armed forces. That the military should kill civilians in order to protect the police was out of the question; whatever happened to the police, they asked for it.” Retired colonel-major (army) who wished to remain anonymous, author's interview, Tunis, 15 July 2013.

80 See the detailed investigation of the last twenty-four hours of Bin ʿAli's regime published by the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, 14 February 2012, http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/01/14/188323.html (accessed 14 February 2012).

81 See Sayigh, “Above the State.”

82 See Bou Nassif, “Wedded to Mubarak.”

83 Several Egyptian tank commanders in Tahrir Square were seen tearing off headsets through which they received orders from their superiors. Major Ahmad Shuman publicly joined the uprising on 10 February, along with fifteen other mid-ranking and junior officers. Their defection greatly alarmed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); the military leaders feared that a cascade of defections would follow. See Nassif, Hicham Bou, “Why the Egyptian Army Didn't Shoot,” Middle East Report and Information Project (MERIP), 265 (2012)Google Scholar, http://www.merip.org/mer/mer265/why-egyptian-army-didnt-shoot (accessed 5 June 2013); Marwa Awad, “Special Report: In Egypt's Military, a March for Change,” Reuters, 10 April 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/10/us-egypt-army-idUSBRE8390IV20120410 (accessed 12 September 2013); and Patrick Galey, “Why the Egyptian Military Fears a Captains’ Revolt,” Foreign Policy, 16 February 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/02/16/why_the_egyptian_military_fears_a_captains_revolt (accessed 12 September 2013).