CAIRO — The 6-month-old government of Tunisia cracked down with tear gas and batons Monday on thousands of protesters who filled a central artery of the capital in defiance of a new ban on demonstrations there.
The confrontation, at the site of the protests that ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring last year, was another manifestation of a role reversal now playing out across North Africa in the aftermath of the revolts in neighboring Egypt and Libya as well.
In each, former exiles and political prisoners who spent careers under police state rule find themselves struggling to impose a new order on the bedlam left after the old government’s collapse.
“There is a difference between a revolution and chåaos,” said Said Ferjani, a torture victim and former exile who is now a spokesman for the moderate Islamist party that leads Tunisia’s constituent assembly.
In both Egypt and Tunisia, the Islamist parties leading the new legislatures — outlawed as radicals under their former governments — take a conservative, business-friendly approach to matters of law and order at odds with more left-leaning forces in the revolts.
In Tunisia, that tension has become particularly focused on Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis — a central thoroughfare that is the symbolic core of the country’s revolution, like Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Labor groups, liberals and more conservative Islamists have all used the avenue as a staging ground for demonstrations to voice their demands to the interim government. Local merchants and businesses, meanwhile, complain that the constant protests have scared off tourists, ruining any hope of economic revival.