Ben Ali's Neglected Army

Steven A. Cook explains why Tunisian soldiers were so unwilling to stop the uprising:

The Tunisian military made up of about 36,000 officers and conscripts across the army, navy, and air force is not the oversized military common throughout the Middle East that is short on war fighting capabilities but long on prestige and maintaining domestic stability. Defense spending in Tunisia under Ben Ali was a relatively low 1.4 percent of GDP, which reflects not only the fact that the country has no external threats, but also part of a Ben Ali strategy to ensure that the armed forces could not threaten his rule.

This was clearly a mistake.

Had Ben Ali followed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has always taken great care to make sure that the Egyptian armed forces were well-resourced, General Ammar and his fellow officers may have thought twice about tossing their sugar daddy overboard.

Yet there is a more profound difference between the Tunisian military than its counterparts in Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey to name a few. ...Tunisia’s military did not found a new Tunisian regime after the country’s independence in 1956. This was largely a civilian affair under the leadership of Habib Bourgiba a lawyer. As a result, there is no organic link between the military and the political system.