As the sun sets in Tunis, it already looks likely that January 14, 2011, could be recorded as an historic day not just for Tunisia but for the Arab world. Hours after dissolving his government and the country's Parliament in a failed bid to calm the protests that had stormed the capital, President Ben Ali has fled the country. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced on television that he was taking over "temporarily." Whatever happens next, Tunisia's protests have become a watershed moment in Arab history as only the second popular uprising to topple a government since the end of colonialism. Even the first -- Lebanon's 2005 "Cedar Revolution" -- was in many ways about expelling Syrian overlords rather than ousting the domestic leadership. Though today's events have elated Arab citizens and activists of all stripes who tired of their oppressive governments, January 15 and beyond could be very dark days.
Tunisia appears to have avoided a military coup for now. But as protests continue to destabilize the capital and Ghannouchi struggles to assert authority as the temporary caretaker, a military take-over remains a real possibility. With Ali gone, the Parliament dissolved, and no government-in-waiting ready to step in, a power vacuum could open quickly in Tunis. Someone has to rule the country tomorrow. If protesters challenge Ghannouchi, he may be unable to hold on, and it's not clear that the protest movement would be able to take over.