Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the man who has been the President of Tunisia since 1987, today fled the northern African nation for parts unknown amidst weeks of unrest over high unemployment and soaring inflation which has resulted in spikes in food prices. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has now taken over as President on an interim basis.
So what happens next? Will Ghannouchi be able to placate the populace? Will there be elections? If so then how soon? Of course, even if elections are conducted in a free and fair manner let us remember that Tunisia isn't exactly known for having transparent institutions or a vibrant civil society. You don't wipe away endemic corruption much less cultivate a population that is unafraid of civic participation overnight. While it is clear that Ben Ali and his family wore out his welcome with the Tunisian people it doesn't necessarily mean what comes after will be an improvement.
The thing that has caught my attention about the events in Tunisia is the support it has received from al Qaeda. If elections are not held in a timely manner or if the results of said election are not deemed acceptable by the new administration an opportunity could present itself for al Qaeda to assert its influence and impose Sharia law. Should such a development come to pass then it could have grave implications not only in the Middle East but for the United States and the West. We could have an Afghanistan in Africa.