Despite the dozens of killings in recent days, Tunisia’s president Ben Ali may well survive until his current presidential term ends in 2014, although that's starting to look less likely. He says he won't stand for election again, but he once said he wouldn't serve more than two terms and he's now on his fifth, so he could well change his mind (and change the constitution too - he'd be well over the 75 year age limit by 2014 anyway). On the other hand, the protests, which initially were about unemployment but are now just as much about corruption and other political and social ills, may yet cause him to step down early.
Right now all the political momentum is with the crowds in the streets, but there are some key people among the elite who could shape events too and are worth keeping an eye on in the coming days and weeks.
Abdelwahab Abdallah. A foreign minister from August 2005 to January 2010 when he was succeeded by Kamel Morjane. Abdallah is currently foreign policy adviser to the president and is seen as a protégé of Ben Ali and a potential successor to him. (The photo is from his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2009 – copyright UN Photo).
General Rachid Ammar. Army Chief of Staff until mid January when he was removed from his post by Ben Ali, reportedly for refusing to order his troops to fire on protestors. The army is relatively weak and unlikely to mount a coup, but Ammar could yet act as a focus for dissent and opposition to the current regime. (The photo is from a NATO meeting of the Military Committee of the Mediterranean Dialogue Countries in November 2006 – copyright NATO).
Mohamed Ghannouchi. An economist by training, Prime Minister Ghannouchi occupies a pivotal position in the constitutional framework of the country. Under Article 57 of the constitution, if the president dies in office, retires or is otherwise unable to fulfil his duties then his powers pass to the prime minister. It was this clause which allowed Ben Ali to stage his constitutional coup against his predecessor Habib Bourguiba in November 1987, when doctors declared Bourguiba senile. This came just one month after Ben Ali had taken up the role of prime minister.
The Trabelsis. This extended family of Ben Ali’s second wife Leila (pictured), is at the heart of corruption allegations – many of which have been revealed by Wikileaks in the cables from the US embassy in Tunis, including Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours Is Mine from June 2008; Troubled Tunisia: What Should We Do? from July 2009; and Tunisia: Dinner With Sakher el Materi, also from July 2009. There has been some speculation that Ben Ali could try to anoint a member of his wider family as his successor, but this is one of the least credible possibilities.
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Last but far from least, the key decision rests with Ben Ali himself. Having taken power with promises to act as a democrat, Ben Ali has since presided over one of the most repressive states in the Arab World. He changed the constitution in 1998 to allow him to stand for a third term and again in 2002 to abolish term limits altogether. He was last re-elected in October 2009 with the customary overwhelming majority. The question is does he tough it out until 2014 or decide to jump before he is pushed?