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(Updated Jan. 16) Tunisia's intifada topples tyrant: 'Yezzi fock!'

[For more on Tunisia in revolt, click HERE.]

On January 14, the BBC reported that the mass uprising in Tunisia had toppled that country's Western-backed tyrant after weeks of protests and government repression, which has cost the lives of dozens of Tunisians. According to the BBC:

Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has stepped down after 23 years in power, amid widespread protests on the streets of the capital Tunis. In a televised address, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said he would be taking over from the president. A state of emergency was declared earlier, as weeks of protests over economic issues snowballed into rallies against Mr Ben Ali's rule. Unconfirmed reports say Mr Ben Ali and his family have left Tunisia. The reports suggest that the deposed president is looking for a place of asylum, with French media saying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has turned down a request for his plane to land in France.

The articles below explain some of the background to the uprising.

* * *

A communique by the Workers’ Communist Party of Tunisia

January 13, 2011 -- The leader of the Workers’ Communist Party of Tunisia (Parti Communiste des Ouvriers Tunisiens -- PCOT) Hamma Hammami was abducted on the 12th of January after he had issued a call to the people and the democratic forces to “unite for a common alternative to the tyrannical system”, calling for “the departure of Ben Ali and the dissolution of present institutions and the formation of an interim national government that undertakes the task of organising and supervising free and fair elections which leads to a constituent assembly that draws a new constitution for the country. This would lay the foundations of the new and real Democratic Republic that guarantees people’s sovereignty, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights as well as equality, dignity, and the implementation of national and popular economic and social policies which provides employment and the foundations of a decent life for our sons and daughters and eliminate corruption, cronyism and regional discrimination.”

[Translated from Arabic by Tunisia Solidarity Campaign. Amnesty International statement on Hamma Hammami's detention. More details HERE.]

Report: Hamma Hammami released

This report from Tunisian authorities on January 14 states that opposition figure Hamma Hammami, the leader of the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party, was released three days after being arrested him, the party said.

“We’ve just heard that he’s been released. He’s at home”, party official Adel Thabet told reporters in Paris, after family members had expressed fears for the 59-year-old leftist’s life in government custody.

Hammami has been working underground to escape arrest since February last year, but in recent weeks has spoken to foreign media to support the protests against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime.

On January 12 his wife, the lawyer Radia Nasraoui, said he had been snatched from his home in Tunis by officers of the political police and was being held incommunicado and without charge.

Tunisia's former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in happier days.

'Yezzi fock!'

By Rob Prince

January 13, 2011 -- Counterpunch -- "Yezzi fock!" (It's enough!), this slogan has become the theme of the nationwide protests in Tunisia which continue unabated. "Enough" refers to the high levels of unemployment in the country, the pervasive corruption, especially of the two ruling families and the decades of seething repression which has kept Zine Ben Ali in power now for 23 years. And with that, protesters in different parts of the country are tearing down President Zine Ben Ali's portrait, a harbinger of things to come perhaps.

Triggered originally on December 17, 2010, by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate who had had his unauthorised fruit and vegetable stand confiscated in Sidi Bouzid and who soaked himself with gasoline and lit a match. The protests have intensified, despite government attempts to suppress them continue.

If anything, the situation is deteriorating as the opposition is only intensifying in the face of growing, if not massive repression. As "Kerym", my unknown but insightful Tunisian correspondent comments, the demonstrations will continue because:

The people know very well that he's (Ben Ali) trying to cool things down, and once the situation returns to normal, he will betray them again … just like he did before. In other words, this people happen to distrust this weird man and his mobster gangs. Therefore quitting the protests now, means more repression and more arrests to be expected, and unemployment will remain an unsolved issue in Tunisian society. So far, the situation is snafu, but not without hope.

Among the confirmed reports, artists joined Tunisia's lawyers to take to the streets and joined the calls for an end to the repression and corruption, along with calls for the government to deal with the unemployment crisis. A number of the country's leading cultural figures – artists, rappers and leading intellectuals – have been arrested.

The trade union confederation in Sfax, Tunisia's second largest city after Tunis, have joined the protests, calling for a strike in the city. The Tunisian government has closed all the high schools and universities in the country "until further notice" in an attempt cool what started as a "youth rebellion" over unemployment, but which spread to broad sectors of the population.

At least some of the weapons being used against demonstrators are made in the USA, including tear gas.

Unconfirmed but worrisome

In Kasserine, where a number of people were killed by security forces last weekend, the government employed snipers on building tops who shot into the demonstrations, killing people at random. There are reports that the snipers are not from the Tunisian military but from a special unit of Ben Ali's security police called the Brigaude de l'Ordre Publique (BOP). Formed in the 1980s, the BOP is based upon a French model.

Demonstrations have now erupted in the interior agricultural centre of Beja, in Djendouba and the northern coastal city of Bizerte. According to one source, in Beja the police station, the local offices of the ruling party (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique) and a bank in which the ruling Ben Ali and Trabelsi families are part owners were burnt to the ground.

Some members of the Ben Ali/Trabelsi familes are leaving the country, in one case for Canada.

Economic considerations

Although the protests in Tunisia began in opposition to the country's economic policies, they have more become political in nature, with growing calls for Zine Ben Ali, the country's dictator-president, to step down. Ben Ali refused, hoping to crush the opposition with the country's 180,000-strong security police. He combines fierce repression with promises of economic reform and a government jobs program.

Tunisians have heard these promises before. Three years ago, when a six-month long protest over unemployment and social decay in the country's mining district around Gafsa erupted, Ben Ali pursued a similar approach – repression and the promise of jobs. Virtually no economic development followed.

The country's official unemployment rate stands at 14 per cent. However youth unemployment for people between the ages of 15-24 is at least double that, and in some parts of the interior, as high as 50 per cent. Furthermore the main areas of job creation – tourism, textile manufacturing targeting the European market in "free trade zones" and what is left of Tunisia's agricultural sector – are producing low-wage jobs. In response to International Monetary Fund and World Bank pressure, government subsidies continue to be reduced or eliminated from food and fuel; even those with jobs find themselves having difficulty making ends meet.

None of the current economic problems weighing on Tunisia are new. High unemployment (plus low-wage jobs and growing unemployment for the country's university graduates) has been plaguing the country for some time, as has Ben Ali's longstanding policies of repressing dissent of any kind, in the name of course, of countering " Islamic radicalism"; this despite the fact that Islamic radicalism, while it exists, has less of a base in Tunisia than virtually any other Arab state.

The economic rut in which Tunisia finds itself is a result what has long been its strategic role in the global economy as primarily a peripheral country whose mission has been to provide cheap manufactured products – and now cheap holidays – to the core countries, especially in Europe...

Tunisia began opening up its economy, privatising elements of it, opening the country to foreign investment with fewer and fewer strings in the early 1980s and has, as a result, paid the price. The economic sectors which were modernised – textiles, mining – did not produce enough domestic capital to invest in new technologies and take the country in new directions, despite its highly educated work force. Foreign investment, let loose with fewer and fewer regulations, as in Thailand, concentrated in real estate, the financial sector and tourism, none of which help development that much...

If one looks closely at Tunisian society on the eve of independence in 1956, it is rather striking. There was most definitely what is referred to today as a highly developed "civil society" with participation of most sectors of society in the political movement that led to independence. But that civil society was first seriously weakened by the country's first president, Habib Bourguiba, who saw it as a threat to his personal power. Then it was smothered by Ben Ali – or more accurately, Ben Ali tried to snuff it out. And yet despite everything, under the surface it has continued – until it erupted once again full force after the death of Mohammed Bouazizi.

So why is it now that the country as a whole has been pushed over the edge if these trends have been in play for so long?

In the end one never knows why it is that objective social conditions erupt into revolt. More often than not they do not. But still, there are a number of factors which might explain the current unprecedented protests.

Income distribution has sharply polarised in the past few years. As Basel Saleh points out, the top 10 per cent of Tunisia's economic ladder control 32 per cent of the national income. The top 20 per cent control nearly half. Tunisia's income inequality is so severe that the bottom 60 per cent of the population control only 30 per cent of the country's wealth, again with 40 per cent of the population taking home 70 per cent of the national income.

At the same time, two families at the top, the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families, have come to dominate the country's economy. One Wikileaks cable from the US embassy in Tunis suggests that the two families have their hands in and on 50 per cent of the country's economy. As the disparity between wealth and poverty increases, the corruption of the two ruling families has come more into focus.

There are regional disparities too, well known in the economic literature, with the northern and coastal cities benefitting much more from Ben Ali's economic policies than the interior and the south, which have long suffered. It should not be surprising to anyone who has followed Tunisian events over the past 30 years that social unrest, protest and rebellion tend to originate in the interior and the south.

2009 was not a good year and Tunisia's economy suffered despite World Bank/IMF claims that the country has weathered the global financial crises better than many places. Tourism was down, as were textile exports to Europe, only aggravating the already existing socioeconomic crisis

But the straw that broke the camel's back in this case is the growing distrust and distaste among the broader population for president Ben Ali's wife, Leila Trabelsi and her siblings, who have been scrambling to dominate whatever sectors of Tunisia's economy they could, dominating the IMF-pressured privatisations that have marked the country's economic transition. It appears rather likely that Ben Ali was positioning his wife to "take over" the country in four years' time, when he supposedly would retire. The thought that Zine Ben Ali would turn over power to Leila Trabelsi – and that the corruption at the top would thus be blessed and institutionalised that much more only added to the seething anger about to explode.

However else the situation in Tunisia plays out, the likelihood that the Trabelsi family will replace Ben Ali has all but gone up in smoke. Mohammed Bouazizi, the young unemployed man whose suicide by fire started this protest movement, has inadvertently taken one of Tunisia's richest families, the Trabelsis, along with him.

The first result of the Tunisian intifada is to delegitimise that clan so that politically speaking they are dead. It was not just Mohammed Bouazizi who went up in a ball of flames but the Trabelsi family's political future in Tunisia. Let us see what other lessons unfold.

[This article, abridged here, first appeared at the radical US-based Counterpunch website. Rob Prince lectures in international studies at the University of Denver.]

 

Tunisia's political earthquake

By the editorial board of Marxy.com, the Arab website of the International Marxist Tendency

uprising_tunisiaJanuary 8, 2011 -- For the fourth week straight, Tunisia is continuing to witness a popular mass movement. The uprising began in the region of Sidi Bouzid in the center of western Tunisia on December 17, in solidarity with young Muhammad Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in protest against the confiscation of his fruit stand. Since then, the movement has spread like wildfire to the rest of the cities and regions of Tunisia, and raised multiple demands, first among them the right to work and liberty. These protests have included setting fire to a number of government buildings, as well as the headquarters of the governing party and police stations. The movement has acted as a pole of attraction for various groups in society dissatisfied with the existing system: the unemployed, political and human rights activists, trade unionists, students, professors and lawyers. This proves the seriousness of the movement and its enormous potential.

How similar this glorious mass intifada is to an earthquake! For it has remained as it is, preparing its arrival slowly and silently over decades of apparent calm, and then it exploded. The epicentre was the town of Sidi Bouzid, but its aftershocks, which will open the door to the fall of all the crumbling castles of tyranny, spread rapidly to many other areas.

The repression was unable to stop the movement. On the contrary: the more intense the repression became, the more the popular anger flared up and fresh layers joined the movement and its struggle evolved. In the city of Haffouz (in the province of Sidi Bouzid), students from several campuses organised a demonstration which was joined by many unemployed youth, teachers and workers, and started from the headquarters of the local labour union to reach the headquarters of the government of the department. The protesters demanded the right to work, the equitable distribution of wealth, and general freedom. They also raised slogans in solidarity with the people of Sidi Bouzid and Tala. Reports indicate that demonstrators attacked an office of the forces of repression in the “Al-Saeeda” area in the “Al-Riqab” department in southern Tunisia (37 km from the town of Sidi Bouzid), and the authorities responded by firing live rounds, wounding at least five people.

As protests escalated on Friday, January 7, the teachers joined the strike call following the earlier strike call issued by the lawyers. The website of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (Alternative albadil.org/) published a report about the spreading of the protests to Al-Hareesah, Al-Kal’a Al-Khusba and Tajeryoun in Kaf province. It also reported protesters in the city of Makthar (in the north-west, 160 km from Tunis, the capital) blocking the main streets of the city with tyres and rocks and continuing confrontations with the police. The demonstrators also set fire to the city hall and destroyed the adjacent building, a government registrar, as well as a number of other government offices.

The city of Boruiz (in the north-western province of Siliana) also saw protests break out on the initiative of the students of secondary and preparatory schools, during which there were clashes between the protesters and the forces of repression who attacked them. There were intense clashes on the night of Thursday the 6th of January, between the unemployed youth and the security forces that used tear gas grenades and rubber bullets. This drove the demonstrators to burn tires and set fire to the mayor’s office, the building of the ruling party, a branch of the peasants’ union, a part of the city hall, and one financial institution, as well as to deface the November 7 monument. A crowd of unemployed youth continues to occupy the provincial headquarters, demanding their right to work. The same thing was experienced in the city of Kairouan, which is considered one of the most important Tunisian cities (about 160 km from Tunis), where protests broke out at the initiative of the students and teachers at the Aqaba institute in Kairouan.

Protests also spread to Sousse province (70 km south of the capital, and 300 km north of Sfax), where in the city of Enfidha the students from the secondary and preparatory schools came out to the street last Friday morning to support the people of Sidi Bouzid and the city of Tala, and trade union sources stated that major security reinforcements had arrived from Sousse to control the situation.

In the province of Jendouba (far north-west, 200 km north of Tunis), in the border city of Ghardimaou, a mass rally was organised with the participation of the students of the Youth institute and the Ghardimaou institute and the other preparatory schools. The procession witnessed the intervention of the police forces, and the students responded by pelting them with rocks. Trade union sources reported that the security forces used tear gas grenades against the protesters.

In the city of Bou Salem, students from the Shareh Al-Bi’a institute came out in a demonstration after the strike that the teachers carried out on Friday morning, which brought out a significant section of Shareh Al-Bi’a. Students from the Bou Salem secondary school, however, were banned from leaving their school, with the gates of the institute being locked.

In the province of Kasserine (in the center of western Tunisia, at a distance of about 228 km from the capital) a student protest which began from the city’s schools took over the streets and turned into clashes between the police (who used their batons and tear gas grenades) and the unemployed youth and students. Eye-witnesses said that in the city of Fériana a massive march was held on Friday morning which took over the streets of the city, punctuated by confrontations with the forces of repression, with the demonstrators burning the offices of the ruling party and the municipality.

The working class city of Sfax (275 km south of Tunis) also witnessed a mass march which began from the Ali Al-Nouri preparatory school and went to the Mustafa Al-Fourati secondary academy before ending at the at the Abul Hasan Alakhmi Biskra institute, despite the road blocks set up by the forces of repression.

In the city of Jebeniana, for the fifth consecutive day, there have been clashes between students of the January 18 academy and the forces of repression that are surrounding the campus to prevent the students from coming out onto the street, but the latter have failed in attempts to storm the school and arrest student activists.

According to a statement of the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia, on January 7:

Many colleges in the capital Tunis and other cities have witnessed, since the return to classes on Monday, January 3rd, a series of movements in solidarity with the social movement in Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere in the country, coming from the General Union of Tunisian Students through the general assemblies, slogans and red symbols graffitied on the walls, and protests in front of the center of the “campus security” which have led to clashes with the political police in more than one location, the most serious of which is the clash at the April 9 college in the capital and in the arts college in Sousse beginning on the 4th of January.

The police faced down every outbreak of the movement with total brutality -- using tear gas and batons and all manner of abuse from which no one was spared amongst the students, faculty and staff. As happened in the arts college in Sousse, where after the blind police repression, amongst the number of wounded we are told of Wael Nawar, Munther Aqiq, Iman Malih, Qais Al-Bazzouzi and Mourad Ben Jeddom who had to be taken to the emergency room, where they continued to be surrounded in the confines of the hospital, despite the presence of many civil society activists who were there to break the siege around them.

On the other hand, the police arrested some freedom fighters, amongst them a union leader of the General Union of Tunisian Students, Wael Nawar whom police violence left with a broken leg and who was abducted from his house on the morning of January 6. He was held in custody in the police station where he was once again subjected to beatings and torture before being referred quickly to be tried without the knowledge of his family and lawyer on multiple charges. Some of the charges date back to two old cases that have been following him for a while, now plastered with new charges against the backdrop of the latest developments.

It is worth remembering that these latest developments are not isolated, neither at the domestic nor regional level. From the point of view of the domestic situation, this intifada comes in the context of a mighty rise of conflict in the class struggle in Tunisia. The country has experienced a series of outbreaks of heroic struggles over the past three years, which faced violent repression, the most notable of which was an uprising in the mining area of Gafsa which broke out spontaneously against the results of a skill test required to obtain a job in one of the big companies and developed to become a protest against corruption and the lack of job opportunities. And these protests continued for many months through rallies, sit-ins and strikes, during which two were struck dead and an unspecified number were wounded as a result of barbaric repression, in addition to dozens of arrested who are facing unjust sentences after sham trials.

And in August 2010 the situation exploded again in the south-east in protest against the closure of the “Ras Al-Jadeer” commercial border crossing which is shared with Libya. There were violent clashes in “Bin Qurdan” during those protests which resulted in many injuries amongst the demonstrators and the repressive apparatus arrested more than 150 people.

At the regional level, specifically in the Maghreb region, these movements follow the overwhelming mass struggle of the working class and toiling masses in Morocco and Western Sahara and Algeria.

Tunisia and the Maghreb region as a whole have entered the stage of revolutionary storms. These movements in which the leading role is being played by the unemployed youth, the teachers and students, are an anticipation of the rising of the workers which Tunisia and the region in general will experience sooner or later. The movements of the youth are an accurate barometer of the extent of the pressures which are building up in the depths of society. The winds of change have begun to blow the leaves of the mighty tree: the unemployed youth, the students and the teachers, and it will inevitably shake the roots: the working class. The time has come where the old mole of the revolution which has been digging underground for decades shall pop his head up, and the whole world will leap to their feet and shout with joy: “well dug old mole!

Forms of the struggle

The movement broke out, as we noted above, against the backdrop of the young Bouazizi lighting himself on fire, and this incident was followed by the attempts of other youths to commit suicide themselves, in separate regions of Tunisia. This tragic incident is evidence of the extent of the frustration and discontent that is accumulating in the depths of the youth, because of the reality of terrible poverty, unemployment, exploitation, and of being gagged for decades by a blood sucking ruling layer. Just as it is also evidence of the barbarism of the capitalist system which imposes on young people miserable and unbearable conditions, pushing them to prefer death by drowning in the sea in a desperate attempt to escape to Europe, or suicide, or drowning in the swamp of crime and drug addiction.

And when they rise up for their political rights, the dictatorial regime does not hesitate from firing live rounds at the chests and backs of the protesters, and many victims have fallen so that the system of private property and capitalist exploitation is defended.

To the families of these youth, who committed suicide in despair and in protest, and to the Tunisian working class in general, we extend our deepest condolences on the deaths of these martyrs for freedom! We regret losing them in such a way. What a heavy loss that some of the best, most educated and qualified youth of the region, are pushed to resort to suicide!

We understand the motives that drove these youth to this method of protest, and we place full responsibility for this on the system of oppression, the dictatorship of the capitalist system. However, we do not think this is the correct method for protest and struggle. While we oppose these forms of protest, we do so because we consider them not conducive to the goal of overthrowing the capitalist system and eliminating hunger and unemployment.

The struggle against unemployment, poverty and oppression requires of us, the workers and youth, to organise our ranks in revolutionary workers’ parties. To organise our struggles through democratically elected workers’ councils and popular councils. And to organise in the trade unions to fight a revolutionary class struggle through general strikes and armed uprising and other forms of popular revolutionary struggle in order to bring down the capitalist system which is responsible for all we suffer from exploitation, unemployment and oppression.

The position of imperialism

The imperialist powers considered the Tunisian dictatorial regime to be their star pupil, and this is why they never stopped praising it as “a model for the region and beyond” as David Walsh, Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush administration, put it (Al-Horria). And it wasn’t so long ago -- November 2010 -- that the current American ambassador noted the excellent relations between Tunisia and the United States of America (Tribune Mediatique). And in the same vein, Newsweek issued a study which ranked Tunisia first place on the continent of Africa as a part of its list of the “100 best countries in the world”!

This is why the imperialists have never stopped giving support and everything required for the suppression of the Tunisian people and the perpetuation of its slavery to domestic and foreign capital. Even when the popular mass uprising broke out beginning from the area of Sidi Bouzid and it was met with fierce repression by the dictatorial regime, resulting so far in the killing of two martyrs and an unknown number of wounded and arrested, the imperialist powers preferred to cynically stand by for more than two weeks in the hope that the dictator would be able to crush his people. The French foreign ministry, in its regular press conference on Friday, used the phrase “we are watching the situation closely” when referring to developments in Algeria, whereas no comment was forthcoming on the situation in Tunisia. And when two bloggers and activists who were arrested on Thursday, France has refrained from asking publicly for their release (Now! Lebanon).

But the intifada continued despite the repression, if it wasn’t even lit further aflame by that very repression. And so imperialism changed its stance in the same way that a snake changes its skin. And so American imperialism manoeuvred yet again: “the US State Department summoned the Tunisian ambassador in Washington and expressed concern about the handling of the protests by the Tunisian authorities … and the restrictions on freedoms” (Al-Jazeera).

But the workers and youth of Tunis must be sceptical of these hypocritical pronouncements. Imperialism is the main ally of all the dictatorships in the region, it provides them with the weapons they kill us with, and it encourages them to remain perched on us. It is our enemy, not our friend, it is the primary enemy for the peoples of the whole world: in Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela and everywhere, and so we must not place any confidence in these lies, we must not be fooled by these reactionary manoeuvres. We must fight the attempts to sow illusions amongst our ranks, especially the illusion that we can rely on imperialist powers and their international institutions to stop the repression. An end to the repression can only come from our revolutionary struggle, the workers, the poor, and the youth, to bring down the regimes of oppression and exploitation, the agents of imperialism.

On the other hand it is our duty to orient towards the working class across the whole world, by issuing a call, for all those who share with us the reality of oppression and an interest in a better tomorrow, to stand with us and come out in solidarity with our struggle. Already signs are appearing and growing of a labour solidarity movement supporting our struggle, and it will gradually gain strength. No reliance on imperialism -- yes to internationalist workers’ solidarity!

The task of revolutionary worker activists

In order that these heroic struggles and heavy sacrifices are not be in vain, the militant activists, workers and revolutionaries need to organise themselves. The trade unionists and revolutionary working class activists need to put forward within the movement a transitional program springing from the most burning demands of the masses and expanding their horizons continuously by connecting them to the goal of elimination the root of injustice and oppression: the dictatorship of capital.

Recently, comrade Hamma Al-Hammami, the spokesman for the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, in a speech that he published on youtube, said the following about the movement and its demands and perspectives:

The masses want freedom, they do not want the shuffling around of ministers, they want freedom, freedom of association, freedom to protest, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression; they want to put an end to injustice, they want respect and dignity… The unemployed want action against unemployment, they want unemployment compensation, they want free treatment, they want free public transportation. People want concrete action against the high cost of living. They want to improve wages and income.

And this is correct! These demands and other democratic demands, “participation in the planning of the economy and the struggle against corruption, etc…” are what should be condensed, developed, and brought together in a program of struggle.

Of course we must raise the banner of a people’s trial for all those responsible for the killings and repression against the revolutionary masses, and all those responsible for plundering the wealth of the country, beginning with the criminal Ben Ali and the Mafia gang that surrounds him.

We must propose a program of struggle for the right to a job for all (women and men), work which is decent, stable and appropriate to the skills and training of the worker. No more precarious and limited contract labour, yes to permanent, stable and appropriate job contracts. Reduction of the work week to 35 hours, without loss of pay. And faced with the layoffs and corporate restructuring, working hours should be divided amongst all the workers without loss of pay! The demand should be raised for unemployment subsidy which is equal to the minimum wage, until a job appropriate to their qualifications and skills is provided. With social security and free public transportation provided for unemployed workers.

We must put forward the demand of raising the minimum wage, at the national level and in all sectors, without exception, with the imposition of the sliding scale of wages whereby wages rise in proportion to any increase in prices. And the elimination of wage discrimination on the basis of sex or age: same work, same pay! And limit the wages of state officials so that any official – anyone – is paid no more than the average workers’ wage.

We must raise the demand for the overthrow of the dictatorial capitalist system and its replacement with a system of workers’ democracy, based on the nationalisation of the most important companies, placing them under the control and management of the democratically elected workers’ and popular councils. Expropriate the expropriators!

This is how the mass intifada can be given a clear way forward, and we can ensure that the sacrifices were not in vain. This is how the Tunisian working class can avenge its martyrs and build its own system, where all the unemployment, exploitation, oppression, hunger and nightmares will be things of the past!

[This translation from the original Arabic article on Marxy.com first appeared at In Defence of Marxism site.]

Comments

He has stayed long enough.

He has stayed long enough. 23 years was more than good enough time to prove your self. If you deprive your people from their basic rights you will be removed from power sooner. If people do not have job and something to survive with, how can you expect them to stay calm in their homes? I express my deep sorrow for the young man Mohamed Bouazizi, It was too early for him to leave this world. Enough is enough, "Yezzi fock!” as they say.

BBC: Tunisia revolt: Fear and rejoicing in Tunis

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12200493

Tunisia has had three presidents in the past 48 hours.

A legitimate one: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, re-elected in 2009 with 89.4% of the vote; an illegitimate one: Mohammed Ghannouchi, who took on the job on Friday even though the decision to do so contravened the Tunisian constitution; and now an interim one: Foued Mebazza, who as Speaker of the Tunisian parliament should have been given the job as soon as Mr Ben Ali was removed from office.

Now the interim President, Fouad Mebazza is working hard to put together an acting government ahead of elections which are due to be called within three months.

These are very uncertain hours in Tunisia. The country has been thrown into turmoil by a series of cataclysmic events which unfolded in the space of a few hours. That uncertainty is very apparent on the streets of the capital, Tunis.

In residential areas it looks as though mobs of stick-wielding thugs are on the loose, but on closer inspection it soon becomes clear that these are not hoodlums, but respectable, upstanding members of the community who have been reduced to desperate measures to protect their property.

I spoke to a doctor who was carrying two rocks and a wooden club in his hands.

"Do you think I want to do this?" he asked me. "Of course I don't, but I have been out here night and day for the past 48 hours. There are gangs of criminals on the loose and I have to look after what is mine."

I asked him about the police - where they were, and shouldn't they have been protecting his home?

"The police are nowhere to be seen, and anyway, they are part of the past," he said. "They were the foot soldiers of Ben Ali so no-one trusts them."

Crimewave

The immediate future of Tunisia is in the hands of the military. That is not to say they were part of the process that saw President Ben Ali flee. This was not a coup.

But his sudden departure, preceded by the dissolution of the government and the Tunisian parliament, has hurled the country into a crisis of unprecedented proportions and it needed some powerful institution to assert control. That is what the army is trying to do.

Tunisian troops and burning motorcycle, Tunis, 14 January 2011 The military is respected in Tunisia, unlike the police

For the most part, the military is respected in the country, unlike the police who are reviled. So Tunisians have some understanding and tolerance for the numerous military checkpoints that they now have to go through to get from one side of Tunis to the other.

The army is trying to limit the inevitable crimewave that follows on the heels of a government collapse. There is looting, theft and general abuse happening everywhere.

As we were driving into Tunis after a journey to Hamamet we saw dozens of youths carrying boxes of yoghurt across the motorway. They were stealing from a dairy that had been abandoned in the turmoil. Soldiers had just arrived and were firing in the air to persuade the thieves to stop.

Tanks have been parked outside the state television headquarters, next to government buildings and at many main road intersections.

'We have made history'

Despite the fear and uncertainty, there is a powerful sense of achievement and rejoicing - particularly among the young. At the start of the wave of protests in the country which began four weeks ago, few would have expected to topple a government and a president who had been in power for 23 years so quickly.

Mr Ben Ali has become so much a part of national consciousness that some fear there is still a risk he might come back, that he hasn't been written out of Tunisia's story completely. All I spoke to were determined not to let him.

I spoke to a young man, Alaedine Derbala, one of a group who were standing armed with sticks and stones to protect their homes.

"We have made history," he said, "January the fourteenth will go down as a great day for Tunisia, the day we changed the country for ever.

"We got rid of a hated man and his hated family. Now we have the possibility of creating a new country.

"We have martyrs who have died for this and we can't let them down. So we cannot allow this to falter."

Alaedine expressed a view I have heard everywhere: too much has been sacrificed and too much blood has been spilt to let the hope of a democratic future fail.

*********

 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12197343

Exit Ben Ali - but can Tunisia change?

 
Critics say President Ben Ali was the head of a corrupt network of power in Tunisia

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali came to power in 1987 through a constitutional coup and he appears to have been removed from power through a constitutional coup.

The key here on both occasions was not the constitution but the army.

In 1987 the army moved to secure stability as an increasingly senile and paranoid President Bourguiba threatened to bring the country to a political and economic crisis.

Today it has moved to restore that same stability by removing a president whose person and family have become synonymous with corruption, growing wealth disparities, and political repression.

The question now is whether the interim leadership council will be used to move the country towards a democratic future through meaningful political reforms, free and fair elections, a liberalised media and a new inclusive approach to rule, or whether this is a stalling tactic by the army and the regime elite to quell protests and then restore their grip on power.

'Ben Ali's man'

The signs are mixed. Mr Ben Ali's departure has been described by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi as temporary. The prime minister himself is a technocrat who was an architect of the very economic policies which the Tunisian public believe to have failed them.

He has been at the heart of the Ben Ali regime since very early on. He cannot himself be seen as anything other than Ben Ali's man, for all his oft-discussed personal integrity.

For all his language of constitutionalism, he is still backed by a state of emergency, enforced by the army and internal security forces.

Without serious reforms - and even so not within the six months pending the election - it is hard to see how this leadership council can oversee the emergence of a fully-functioning, genuinely representative form of political activism which can lead to a truly new regime.

The alternative is national government, inclusive of the various legal political parties and perhaps one or two others whom the military do not consider a threat to the stability of the country and its relations with important allies such as the US and the EU.

But the legal opposition are weak, personalised, factionalised and compromised by years of collusion with - or submission to - the Ben Ali regime.

Can they deliver anything more for the Tunisian people?

Probably not. But if democracy is going to come, the leadership council needs to make very early indications that there will be substantial reforms to the political party system, the election processes, freedom of association, civil rights and the freedom of the media well in advance of the elections.

An early end to the state of emergency and some clear indication that the committee into corruption announced a few days ago will directly address the activities of the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans would go a long way towards convincing Tunisians that, this time, the promises of constitutional rule will be fulfilled, that this time national reconciliation will really mean just that, and that the army, in defending stability, will not once more succumb to the defence of authoritarian rule.

Emma Murphy is a professor at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University and an expert on Tunisian affairs.

 

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst on the Tunisian uprising

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst comments on the timing, success and meaning of the Tunisian uprising.

Last Modified: 15 Jan 2011 07:54 GMT

 

 

After 23 years of iron-fisted rule, Tunisia's president was driven from power by 29 days of violent protests [AFP]

Nationwide public protests since mid-December have led to the toppling of Tunisia's president of 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, from power and his hasty departure from the country.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, comments on three crucial issues.

The recent dramatic change in Tunisia has come as a surprise to most. How do you explain its success, timing and speed?

The simplest and perhaps the most accurate answer was "provided" almost a century ago by Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasem Al-Shabi (Schebbi), in his Defenders of the Homeland which became the most popular verse in Arab poetry, and used in the Tunisian national anthem: "When people decide to live, destiny shall obey, and one day ... the slavery chains must be broken."

Unlike the short-lived uprising in neighbouring Algeria or recent socio-economic protests in other Arab countries, the popular Tunisian uprising was immediately supported by all the opposition groups, from the Islamists to the Communists, as well as by the labour unions, which helped it spread to all major parts of the country, including the influential north.

Likewise, the great degree of pent-up tension after decades of dictatorship, especially the last quarter of a century of police state under Ben Ali, allowed the situation to explode once the lid was removed in the early days of the protest against unemployment.

How does such an unpopular oppressive regime stay off the radar of the international community?

The so-called international community has been traditionally silent about totalitarian practices and abuses within its member states, except in cases where certain Western countries or powers have invoked questions of regime oppression either as a tool of foreign policy or championing the cause of human rights for public consumption.

So that when those regimes, as in Tunisia, co-operated with their Western counterparts on economic or strategic issues, their abuses of power have been generally ignored.

Much of which explains Western leaders' silence or confusion regarding the Tunisian "uprising", but their rush to support the "uprising" of the Iranian opposition following the elections last year. Call it hypocrisy.

But what does Tunisia have to offer?

For US and European leaders, Tunisia's deposed president had been considered a staunch ally in the war on terrorism and against Islamist extremism.

As it is well known and reported by international human rights groups, he exploited this Western support to crack down on peaceful dissent.

During a 2004 visit by Ben Ali to the White House, in advance of Tunisia's hosting of an Arab League summit, George Bush, the then US president, praised his guest as an ally in the war on terrorism, and praised Tunisia's reforms in "press freedom" and the holding of "free and competitive elections".

The same was repeated in 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who praised the improved "sphere of liberties" when human rights abuses were rampant in Tunisia. In once instance, at least 200 people were prosecuted against the backdrop of socio-economic protests in one southern mining town, Redhayef.

When certain European officials criticised Tunisia's human rights record, they generally praised its economic performance.

France is Tunisia's leading trade partner and its fourth largest foreign investor, while 80 per cent of the country's trade is with the European Union.

Arguably, the neoliberal economic opening to Western investments has played no small part in the deterioration of the economic situation in Tunisia and other Arab countries.

 
Source:
Al Jazeera
 
 
 
 
 

Lebanese CP calls for solidarity with the Tunisian people

http://21stcenturymanifesto.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/lebanese-cp-calls-for-solidarity-with-the-tunisian-people/

January 14, 2011 -- The Lebanese Communist Party issued this statement in the period immediately preceding Ben Ali’s flight calling for freedom for the Communist leader Hamma Hammani and for united action by Arabs against the repression in Tunisia.

The Lebanese Communist Party calls for release of Hamma Hammami, and united Arab action against the repression in Tunisia. The regime has continued its policy of aggression against the Tunisian popular movement’s claims for bread, democracy and human rights. The prison is the only means used by the government against the intifada of the poor and the protest movement directed by political forces of the Left, Democrats, trade unions, and representatives of the public who rebelled against the dynasty and corruption that has created the savage neoliberalism whose results are summarized by galloping unemployment and impoverishment, while the pockets of the rulers swell.

Despite the dismissal of Interior Minister and Chief of Staff, President Ben Ali of Tunisia did not keep his word on the search for adequate solutions to the ramp[ant crisis rampant. Rather the opposite: the force in power have continued the policy of repression, firing into crowds and jailing political leaders, trade unionists and students, especially the voice of the Communist Workers Party, the great activist Hamma Hammami.

The Lebanese Communist Party, closely following these very distrurbing developments affirm its solidarity with the Tunisian people and its leaders. It calls on the Lebanese people to demonstrate to put an immediate end to the massacres and political repression and detention.

It also calls for the release of all detainees, first Hamma Hammami, and for respect for democratic freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and opinion.

Uprising in Tunisia

Of course it is the majority of people, the working poor who bring about change.
Such real change is when the wage-slaves decide by direct democracy, coordinate in solidarity to take direct action like general strikes. Political and Religious groups agitate for their own agenda in such uprisings and history is full of their dead-ends where workers remain exploited.

What is new & interesting in Tunisia situation was that Wikileaks broke the censorship by exposing what the rulers were up to in their own words. Autonomous & Anonymous hackers caused disruption to the Government web-sites exposing they were vulnerable not "all-powerful" ... That opened up the space for change.
Rather than remaining spectators like other regions of the planet the youth went wave after wave into the streets, repression by the Police fuelled more protests.

The use of internet and twitter to update the Maghreb diaspora (eg in France) of ongoing events without censorship who then communicate with relatives inside Tunisia was also crucial for encouraging solidarity, community power sense " stick together we can win this".

Ben Ali departure and re-branding of the Government new Boss spin is what happens most other societies these daze, get rid of Bush to get Obama, get rid of Howard to get Krudd then Gillard, get rid of Bliar to get Cameron, duopoly racket of Politicians who serve the wealthy = plutocracy/government for the wealthy.

The "democratic revolutions" of the 19th & 20th century that saw the end of Monarchy and universal suffrage for example are still to happen in places like Saudi Arabia.

Qui Bono - who benefits/who profits ?
Like the "liberalisation" of former Stalinist regime Russia and "free elections dissent" in China, Korea, Cuba such "regime change" is for exploitation. This is agenda of Corporate neo-liberalism, to privatise resources like oil and gas (Iraq & Iran) and lithium (Afghanistan & Bolivia) for energy/transport capos primarily.

The insurrection in Tunisia and future of the Arab Revolution

The insurrection in Tunisia and the future of the Arab Revolution
Written by Alan Woods

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The marvellous revolutionary movement of the Tunisian workers and youth is an inspiration and an example to the whole world. For more than one week Tunisia has been living through a revolution of epic dimensions. The mass uprising in Tunisia has ended in the overthrow of the hated dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

tunisia2The uprising took almost everyone by surprise, including the government. On January 6 The Economist said confidently: "Tunisia’s troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74-year-old president or even to jolt his model of autocracy". The North African nation had been seen as a haven of stability and relative prosperity, albeit one ruled with an iron first. For foreign investors, Tunis has been a safe place to invest and a source of cheap labour. For the tourists it was a place to lie in the sun and enjoy life.

But what looked like a thunderbolt form a clear blue sky had in reality been prepared for decades. It reflected in part the worsening of the economic situation, which has its most severe impact on people from the lower social strata. But it also reflected something else, less visible but more important. Revolution cannot be explained by poverty alone, since the masses have always suffered poverty. It is a dialectical process in which a thousand small injustices add up until the accumulation reaches a critical point at which an explosion is inevitable. When society reaches this point, any accident can provoke the explosion.

In this case it was the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid that was the spark that caused a general conflagration. Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man who set himself on fire was, in reality, a university graduate who, like so many others, was unable to find suitable work. He tried to scrape a living selling fruit and vegetables, but even that proved impossible when the police stopped him from selling without a permit. In desperation he decided to end his life in a dramatic gesture. He died a few weeks later. This incident provoked a massive wave of demonstrations and rioting.

The rising in the prices of food and other basic goods, rampant unemployment and the lack of freedom caused the riots to spread and become nation-wide. In addition to the poor people who started the agitation, thousands of students and workers came onto the streets to demonstrate their hatred of the regime. A new element in the equation is the emergence of a large layer of educated youth who have no job prospects. In a period when millions have access to television and internet, when people are aware of the luxurious lifestyle of the rich, the lack of escape from grinding poverty and unemployment becomes increasingly unbearable.

Ben Ali and the Trabelsi clan were synonymous with corruption, huge inequality, and political repression. Their corruption was so bad that it provoked the indignation of the US ambassador, as we know from the Wikileaksrevelations. Starting as a protest afainst intolerable living conditions, unemployment and the high cost of living, the mass movement rapidly acquired a political character. It can be summed up in a single slogan: Ben Ali must go!

Once the fire was lit there was no way of extinguishing it. A wave of unrest has the country, with continuous mass demonstrations against unemployment, food price rises and corruption. Large numbers of unemployed graduates, frustration with lack of freedoms, the excesses of the ruling class and anger at police brutality seem to have come together to spark an unstoppable wave of public anger.
From repression to concession

The clashes became much more deadly on the weekend of 8-9 January, and then spread to the capital Tunis. Shaken by the revolt on the streets, the regime attempted to save itself by a combination of repression and concessions. As always, the first recourse was the use of bullets, tear gas and batons. The ferocity of the police repression shocked even hardened western journalists. It is impossible to say how many lost their lives in these bloody clashes, but according to human rights organizations at least 60 people were killed.

But after a week it became evident that these methods were not working. On the contrary, they only served to pour more petrol on the flames. Once an entire people stands up and says “no”, no state, army or police force in the world can stop them.

Once the masses begin to lose their fear, a dictatorial regime cannot save itself by repression alone.

At first, the President denied that the police over-reacted, saying they were protecting public property against a small number of "terrorists". This did nothing to pacify the protestors. All universities and schools were closed in a bid to keep young people at home and off the streets. This also failed. Little by little, as his regime crumbled before his eyes, reality began to penetrate even the thick skull of the president.

On 12 January, he sacked his interior minister and ordered the release of all those detained during the riots. He also created a special committee to “investigate corruption”. This is like Satan investigating Beelzebub. He also promised to tackle the root cause of the problem by creating an extra 300,000 jobs. But the unrest continued and reached the centre of the capital on 13 January, despite a night-time curfew.

Ben Ali then promised to tackling rising food prices, allow freedom of the press and internet, and to "deepen democracy and to revitalise pluralism". He also said he would not amend the constitution to enable him to stand for office again in 2014. In a last desperate move to save himself, Ben Ali appeared on television promising that the police would no longer be allowed to fire on demonstrators and announcing a series of reforms and concessions. It is easy to concede that which is no longer within one’s power to preserve.

The President only ordered a halt to the shooting, when it was clear that any further massacres by the police would provoke a mutiny in the army even at the top level. A French-language website reports the existence of growing unrest in the armed forces and an open split between the police and the army: “One of the new and important developments early this week was the distancing of part of the army from the regime. On Monday, a dozen soldiers stood guard in the courthouse of Kasserine, both to prevent possible unrest inside and to protect the lawyers, as reported by several witnesses.

There were many reports of fraternisation between the Army and the people and in some cases of the Army protecting the demonstrations against the police forces. This was the reason why the army was withdrawn from the streets of the capital and replaced by the police. When the mass demonstration reached the presidential palace the people and the soldiers embraced.

The protests came to a head on Friday as thousands of people gathered outside the interior ministry, a symbol of the regime. Many climbed onto its roof. Police responded with volleys of tear-gas grenades, but to no avail. The masses on the streets had acquired a sense of their power, and correctly interpreted the President’s speech as a sign of weakness. Everywhere the slogan was raised: Ben Ali must go! Ben Ali had already promised to step down - in 2014. But this calculation proved to be somewhat optimistic. The people on the streets demanded – and got – his immediate resignation.

In indecent haste, the former president dissolved his government and the country's parliament, packed his bags and headed for the nearest airport. Mr Ben Ali and his family left Tunisia, and are looking for a place of asylum. But this is easier said than done. It is a sad fact of life that when a man is successful and prosperous he has plenty of friends, but a failure finds all doors locked against him.

President Nicolas Sarkozy politely but firmly rejected a request for his old friend to land his plane in France. The latest reports say he ended up in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where he will get a more sympathetic welcome from the members of the House of Saud, who must be beginning to worry that they may expect a similar fate some time in the not too distant future.

The hasty departure of the President has prepared the ground for a manoeuvre on the top, with Washington’s anxious hand pulling the strings from behind the scenes. As a first step, in a televised address on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced that he would be taking over as interim president, and a state of emergency has been declared.

Soldiers have already begun taking down the ubiquitous portraits of Mr Ben Ali from billboards and on the walls of public buildings around the country. The leaders hope that by removing the outward signs of authoritarian rule, the masses will be satisfied and go home. This would allow the same people that ruled before to retain all the levers of power, while allowing the people the illusion that something has changed.

To expect these people to introduce meaningful political reforms and free and fair elections would be the height of stupidity. Mohammed Ghannouchi is a leading member of the old regime. He is ‘Ben Ali's man'. He was the architect of the very same economic policies which contributed to the present mess. He has been at the heart of the old regime from the beginning. He cannot be trusted to act in the interests of the people. While delivering fine speeches about democracy and constitutionalism, he bases himself on a state of emergency, enforced by the army and the security forces.

This is a stalling tactic by the army and the regime elite to suppress the protests and then restore their grip on power. The reality behind the “democratic” façade is the maintenance of the state of emergency decree, which bans gatherings of more than three people and imposes a night-time curfew. Security forces have been authorised to open fire on anyone who defies these orders.
Hypocrisy of the imperialists

All this has set the alarm bells ringing in Washington, Paris and London. The imperialists have been shocked by events that they did not anticipate and are powerless to control. Revolutions are no respecters of frontiers, and least of all the artificial frontiers established by imperialism in the past that divide the living body of the Maghreb.

North Africa and the Middle East are fundamental to the economic and strategic interest of the USA and the EU, especially France. A BBC Arab affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, was quoted as saying: “Mr Ben Ali's demise may rattle the entire post-colonial order in North Africa and the wider Arab world.” This is very true, and it goes to the heart of the matter.

Now that the masses have overthrown the old tyrant by a heroic uprising, the western governments are falling over themselves in their haste to call for democracy. President Sarkozy said he stood side-by-side with the citizens of Tunisia, his country's former protectorate. Nicolas Sarkozy has raised cynicism to an art form. If there was a Nobel Prize for hypocrisy, he would undoubtedly win it.

In April 28, 2008 he declared during one of his trips to Tunisia: "Your country is engaged in the promotion of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms ..." A few months later, the IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn, said in Tunis in late 2008 that Tunisia, the Ben Ali regime was "the best model for many emerging countries.”

These men cannot plead ignorance. For decades human rights have denounced innumerable violations in Tunisia, but this did not prevent the French President from being the first Head of State (and one of the few) to congratulate Ben Ali after his rigged "reelection" in 2009. Now the same man can say without even blushing: "Only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis".

These foxy words are intended as a trap for the unwary. The revolutionary masses are advised to stop fighting and instead enter a friendly dialogue - with whom? A dialogue with the same people who have robbed and oppressed them for decades, the same hangmen whose hands are stained red with the blood of the people. Who is the man who offers this friendly advice? He is the man who supported the hangmen right up to the very moment when he was overthrown by the masses. Throughout the uprising of the people of Tunisia, Sarkozy was silent but his government was trying to save the dictatorship.

The army fired live ammunition at unarmed people but the spokesman of the French government, Francois Baroin, said that condemning the crackdown would "demonstrate interference. " - as if the permanent presence of the French army in many African countries that have nothing remotely to do with political democracies was not interference of the first order.

The Minister of Agriculture, Bruno Lemaire was quite open in his defense of the Tunisian dictator. Ben Ali "is someone who is often misjudged" but "did a lot of things," he said. We will not know what "things" he was referring to, whether they were good or bad. What we do know is that the French Foreign Minister, Alliot-Marie, went even further than her colleague, offering Ben Ali the "know-how of our security forces". Thus the “democrats” in Paris offered the dictatorship to help suppress its own people in a country France had colonized for 73 years. Old ways die hard.

Three days after the shooting of unarmed crowds François Fillon said he was “worried” about the "disproportionate use of violence", thus placing victims and executioners on the same level. Following the usual trickery, he called on all parties to exercise restraint and to choose the path of dialogue. But nobody has ever explained how it is possible to “choose the path of dialogue” with police who shoot at anything that moves.

Now that the game is up, all these “democrats” are anxious to advise the Tunisian people. And not just in Paris. Barack Obama has graciously condemned violence against Tunisian citizens "peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia". But this same man, as we know from the Wickileak revelations, was in full possession of all the facts concerning the corrupt and repressive regime in Tunis and did absolutely nothing about it.

Now this same man says: "I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.” But he hastened to add: "I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people."

The same song is being sung on all sides. It is a soothing lullaby, and like all lullabies it is designed to send the masses back to sleep. They are asked to be calm, and to “avoid violence.” All that is required of the masses is that they go home quietly, “stay calm” and above all “avoid violence”. Is it not strange that it is always the masses who are asked to be calm, stay quiet and “avoid violence”, when it is the rich and powerful who have a monopoly on violence, and use this monopoly to defend their power and privileges?

People who have had to brave the bullets and truncheons of the police, who have seen their comrades, friends and relatives, brutally beaten, kicked, tear-gassed, arrested, tortured and murdered in cold blood. They were even refused access to the mangled corpses of their loved ones. Now they are advised to keep quiet, “avoid violence” and above all get off the streets, demobilize and go home in order to allow a gang of thieves to determine their fate. This is a joke in very bad taste.
The revolt spreads

The eruption of popular discontent in Tunisia and neighbouring Algeria is a nightmare for authoritarian leaders across North Africa and the wider Arab world. The corrupt and reactionary regimes in North Africa and the Middle East are shaking in their shoes. They fear that the example set by the masses in Tunisia will be followed tomorrow by the workers and peasants of other counties where the same problems exist. That is why within a few days the revolt had expanded to the neighbouring country of Algeria over price hikes in sugar, milk and flour, which resulted in the death of at least five people.

Al Jazeera reported that youths were heard chanting ‘bring us sugar’ and demonstrators broke into warehouses to steal sacks of flour in protest against food prices, which had risen between 20 and 30 percent in the first week of January. In a bid to calm the protesters, the Algerian government imposed urgent cuts on import duties and taxes to help bring down food costs and states that it has now “turned the page” on the nationwide food riots.

members of a self-defence committee

Riots in several Algerian towns subsided only after the government promised to do whatever was necessary to protect citizens from the rising cost of living. Libya, Morocco and Jordan have also announced plans to ease prices of basic goods. But the situation in Algeria remains very unstable. Let us remember that during the whole year of 2001 the southern Berber region of Algeria (Kabilia) was the scene of a widespread insurrection. In Morocco too, the reactionary regime of King Hassan is very unstable and has many similarities to the situation in Tunisia.

Just before Ben Ali was overthrown, columnist Abdelrahman al-Rashed wrote in the Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper: “Much of what prevents protest and civil disobedience is simply the psychological barrier.” The overthrow of Ben Ali, as well as efforts in Algeria to appease anger over price increases will have had the effect of puncturing the fear that has long kept discontent in check across the region. Satellite news and social media can sidestep such autocratic tactics and can quickly fuse frustrations of young people in isolated, deprived regions into a broad movement.

The flame of revolt is spreading to other Arab countries. The revolutionary movement in Tunisia has been closely followed on regional satellite television channels and the Internet across the Middle East where high unemployment, bulging young populations, rocketing inflation and a widening gap between rich and poor are adding fuel to the fire.

Algeria is just next door to Tunisia, but Amman is 1,500 miles (2,500km) from Tunis, but the reason for the protesters' anger was the same, and so too were the calls for the leader to resign. Feeling the ground quake under his feet, King Abdullah II ordered a reduction in prices and taxes on some foods and fuels. The government has already allocated £141m in the 2011 budget to subsidise bread, on which many poor in the country of 7 million people depend. The money will also be used to reduce the price of fuel as well as creating jobs, but it was a case of too little and too late.

According to a report by Al Jazeera, demonstrators were seen holding banner reading ‘Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury’. More than 5,000 people staged protests across Jordan in "a day of rage" to protest against escalating food prices and unemployment on the same day as, in another part of the Arab world, Tunisia's president fled the north African state after weeks of violent demonstrations.

Jordanian University students and Ba'athist party supporters also held rallies in Irbid, Karak, Salt and Maan, demanding that the prime minister, Samir Rifai, step down. Official reports claim that police successfully contained the demonstrators by forming circles around them, and no arrests were made. After seeing what happened in Tunisia the Jordanian authorities realised that bloody clashes could turn the protests into an insurrection.

Jordanian blog Ammon news reported that at the protest, called "the day of rage", people chanted: "United class, united government has sucked your blood," and waving posters with bread attached. "We are protesting the policies of the government, high prices and repeated taxation that made the Jordanian people revolt," Tawfiq al-Batoush, a former head of Karak municipality, told Reuters.

A report by Tom Pfeiffer, Reuters, Saturday, January 15, 2011 contained very interesting quotes: “This could happen anywhere,” said Imane, a restaurant owner in Egypt who did not want to give her full name. “The satellite and Internet images we can see nowadays mean people who would normally be subdued can now see others getting what they want.”

“We are not used to something like this in this part of the world,” said Kamal Mohsen, a 23-year-old Lebanese student. “It is bigger than a dream in a region where people keep saying ‘what can we do?’

“Young people across the Arab world should go to the streets and do the same. It is time that we claim our rights,” said Mohsen, the Lebanese student. “Arab leaders should be very scared because they do not have anything to offer their people but fear and when Tunisians win, the fear will be broken and what happens will be contagious. It is only a matter of time,” he added.

Of all the Arab countries, the most important is Egypt, with its powerful working class. The concerns about its future were expressed in a recent article in the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily:

“Anyone expecting a region-wide revolution would do well to look at Egypt, which imports around half of the food eaten by its 79 million population and is struggling with inflation of more than 10 percent.

“With a massive security apparatus quick to suppress large street protests and the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood excluded from formal politics, the state’s biggest challenge comes from factory strikes in the Nile Delta industrial belt.

“Egypt’s Internet based campaign for political change, the country’s most critical voice, has failed to filter down from the chattering middle classes to the poor on the street.

“'There has been such a division between economic struggles and political struggles in Egypt,' said Laleh Khalili, a Middle East expert at the University of London. 'Strikes have been going on, but not spilling into the public domain.'

“This could however change if rising discontent over food price inflation feeds into the wider malaise about political and economic stagnation and the lack of opportunities and freedom.”

The International Monetary Fund said that with current unemployment rates already very high, the region needs to create close to 100 million new jobs by 2020. But in a situation where budgets are being strained by the soaring cost of imported food and fuel, this will be impossible, especially in those countries lacking big energy reserves.

“There is a danger in … getting a bit too comfortable with the ‘Arab state will muddle through’ argument,” said Stephen Cook of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in a blog this week. “It may not be the last days of … [Egypt’s President Hosni] Mubarak or any other Middle Eastern strongman. But there is clearly something going on in the region.”
The need for a revolutionary perspective

Bourgeois political experts console themselves with the idea that the Tunisia’s example will not spread and unseat autocratic governments from Rabat to Riyadh because opposition movements are weak and demoralized. But that misses the point entirely.

The uprising in Tunisia was not organized by the opposition, which is also weak and demoralized. It was a spontaneous uprising of the masses, and was unstoppable precisely because there was no “responsible” reformist organization to lead it into safe channels. The weakness or absence of reformist mass organizations is not a reflection of the strength of autocratic regimes, but of weakness. Once the masses begin to move, it will be like a car going downhill with no brakes.

As we pointed out in relation to Iran, the spontaneous character of the movement is at the same time its strength and its weakness. In Tunisia the masses were strong enough to overthrow a corrupt and rotten regime. But the question is: what happens now?

"Our big problem is the lack of political perspective, "said Nizar Amami, one of the leaders of the branch of PTT UGTT, speaking to Mediapart on noon on Monday in Tunis. "No party has emerged; the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, the legal opposition party) is too weak. The UGTT has taken the place of the opposition to launch slogans, solidarity actions and so on, but as for the [political] project ... Still, the regime has been really destabilized, and that is something really unprecedented."

Emma Murphy is a professor at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University and an expert on Tunisian affairs. She was asked by the BBC:

“Can they [the legal opposition] deliver anything more for the Tunisian people?”

She answered as follows:

“Probably not. But if democracy is going to come, the leadership council needs to make very early indications that there will be substantial reforms to the political party system, the election processes, freedom of association, civil rights and the freedom of the media well in advance of the elections.

“An early end to the state of emergency and some clear indication that the committee into corruption announced a few days ago will directly address the activities of the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans would go a long way towards convincing Tunisians that, this time, the promises of constitutional rule will be fulfilled, that this time national reconciliation will really mean just that, and that the army, in defending stability, will not once more succumb to the defence of authoritarian rule.”

We can confidently predict that in the next weeks and months an army of “friends of democracy” will descend on Tunis: representatives of “free” trade unions with suitcases full of dollars, men in suits from the USA and the EU, NGOs by the dozen, the “Socialist” International, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and other “respectable” fronts for the CIA, all anxious to provide advice and (for those willing to follow it) considerable material resources. The aim of these people can be summed up in one word: the restoration of order.

Order can be restored by different means. Counterrevolution can be carried out in a as well as a dictatorial guise. What Ben Ali could not achieve by bullets and truncheons, his successors and their imperialist backers hope to achieve through smiles and kind words, aided by dollars and euros. However, the objective remains the same: to get the people off the streets, to return the worker to his lathe, the peasant to his farm, the student to his studies. What they fervently desire is a speedy return to normality: that is to say, a speedy return to the old slavery under a new name.

Absolutely no trust can be placed in these hypocritical “democrats”. These self-same governments backed the dictatorial regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Western big business made handsome profits there and had no reason to complain at the low wages, since that was the basis for their profits in the first place. These ladies and gentlemen maintained a polite silence for decades about the rotten and repressive regime in Tunis because that same regime was defending their profits. Now that that regime has been overthrown, they suddenly find a voice to plead for “calm”.

Events are moving with lightening speed. Even as I write these lines, Ghannouchi has already been replaced by the speaker of the Parliament Foued Mbazaa who is attempting to cobble together a national unity government to call new elections in 60 days. This shows that the regime is weak and riven with splits.

Workers and youth of Tunisia, be on your guard! What you have conquered is the result of your own heroic struggles and sacrifices. Do not allow what has been won with blood to be taken from you by fraud! Do not place your trust in fine speeches and hollow promises. Trust only your own strength, your own self-organization, your own determination.

The idea of a “national government”, inclusive of the various legal political parties and perhaps one or two others whom the military do not consider a threat to the stability of the country and its relations with important allies such as the US and the EU. This is yet another trap. The “legal opposition” is a pack of weak, cowardly opportunists, compromised by years of collusion with - or submission to - the Ben Ali regime.

The people of Tunisia are not fools or little children to be lulled to sleep by hypocritical words. They must not demobilize but, on the contrary, step up the mobilization, and give it an organized and generalized expression. The remnants of the old regime must be given no respite. These gangsters must not be allowed to re-organize a new “democratic” version of the old regime. The time for talking is long past. No more intrigues! Down with the government! An immediate end to the state of emergency! For full freedom of assembly, organization and speech! For a revolutionary constituent assembly! For the immediate disbanding of all repressive bodies and a people’s trial for the murderers and torturers!

In order to achieve these demands, a nationwide general strike must be organized. The working class is the only force that has the necessary weight to overthrow the old regime and to rebuild society from top to bottom. The proletariat must place itself at the head of society. This is the only way forward. The call for a general strike has already found an echo in sections of the UGTT. According to reports, regional general strikes took place in several regions last week (Kasserine, Sfax, Gabes, Kairouan and Jendouba).

In order to prepare a general strike action committees must be formed at all levels: local, regional and national. Life itself teaches us that the only way to get freedom and justice is through the direct action of the masses. In Tunisia the question of power is posed point blank. It is necessary to organize and mobilize the entire people to bring about the decisive overthrow of the old regime.

There have been reports of widespread looting all last night. This has been clearly organised by the police force and agent provocateurs loyal to Ben Ali. They want to create a situation of chaos which they hope would allow them to derail the revolution and make a comeback. There are also reports of neighbourhood committees being set up for self-defence.

The workers must fraternize with the soldiers who are on their side. There should be an appeal to the ranks of the army to form soldiers’ committees to link up with the people. The workers and peasants must obtain arms for self-defence and set up a people’s militia in every factory, district and village to keep order and defend themselves against bandits and counterrevolutionaries. This is crucial to the success of the revolution.
The revival of Arab Marxism

I have no doubt that there will be “clever” people who for some peculiar reason consider themselves to be Marxists who will say that what is happening in Tunisia is “not a revolution”, although, truth to tell, they cannot say what it is. In his book The Permanent Revolution, Trotsky compares Mensheviks to an old school teacher who for many years has given lessons on the spring. Then one morning he opens the window, and when he is greeted by radiant sunshine and birdsong, slams the window shut and declares these things to be a monstrous aberration of Nature.

Genuine Marxists proceed from living reality, not lifeless schemas. The revolution in Tunisia in many ways resembles the February revolution in Russia in 1917. The revolution has clearly begun, but it is not finished. It has succeeded in overthrowing the old regime, but has not yet been able to put anything in its place. Therefore, it is possible that the revolution may be defeated, particularly in the absence of a genuinely revolutionary leadership.

If it had not been for the presence of the Bolshevik Party, the February Revolution would have ended in defeat. Moreover, if it had not been for the presence of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolshevik Party itself would have been incapable of playing the role that it did. The leadership would have remained with the reformist leaders of the soviets, and the revolution would have ended in shipwreck. If that had occurred, there can be no doubt that the same “clever” Marxists would be writing learned books explaining that, of course, there was no revolution in Russia, because of a, b, c, and d.

As I was preparing this article and reading different reports on the Internet, I happened to read a few anarchist blogs. I was interested to see that there are “clever” people, not only among the Marxists but also among the anarchists. The author of the aforementioned blog, complained bitterly about the lack of support for the revolution in Tunisia because it does not fit in with anarchist prejudices. He at least has healthy revolutionary instincts, unlike the pedants who refuse to give the Tunisian revoltion a birth certificate because it does not fit in with their stupid preconceptions.

For decades the idea has been carefully cultivated that there is no basis for socialism and Marxism among the masses of the Middle East and North Africa. Insofar as there is any opposition – so the argument goes – it is under the banner of Islamic fundamentalism. But this argument is false to the core and is disproved by events in Tunisia. The young women who went onto the streets to confront the police did not wear the burka. They are educated and intelligent people who speak good French and English. They are not demanding the introduction of sharia law but democratic rights and jobs.

Those so-called leftists who have been flirting with Islamic fundamentalism display a contempt for the level of understanding of the Arab workers and youth. To paint the fundamentalists as a revolutionary tendency is a betrayal of the cause of socialism. The future Arab Revolution will take place not under the black flag of Islamic fundamentalism but under the red flag of socialism.

In the past there was a strong socialist and communist tradition in the Arab world. But the crimes of Stalinism had their most terrible effect in this part of the world. The mass Communist Parties in Iraq and Sudan were destroyed by the treacherous policy of “two stages”, which handed power on a plate to so-called “bourgeois progressives” like Kassim and Nimeiri. This led to the annihilation of the Communist vanguard and the consolidation of dictatorial regimes like that of Saddam Hussein, with all that this implied for the peoples of the Middle East.

Nature abhors a vacuum. The same is true of politics. Into the vacuum left by the collapse of Stalinism stepped the Islamic fundamentalists, who pose as “anti-imperialists”, despite the fact that they were supported and financed by US imperialism to combat “communism” and fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It is sufficient to recall that Osama bin Laden was an agent of the CIA until he quarrelled with his old friends in Washington.

On the demonstration in Brussels this afternoon (January 15), a comrade reported a conversation with an old Tunisian women. She asked: “Have you seen men with long beards at the our demonstrations in Tunisia? No! Because we do not need those people to liberate ourselves.” The fundamentalists have always been used as a means of diverting the masses from the socialist revolution. It is no accident that Rashid Ghannoushi, an Islamic leader, has been allowed to come back from exile and is now being played up in the Tunisian media. Many are saying: “we did not kick out Ben Ali to get the Islamists!”

It is very important to stress that this is the first time that an Arab dictator has been overthrown by the people themselves without outside intervention. This represents a decisive break with a fatalistic view that has unfortunately become widespread in the Arab world that says: “yes there have been many struggles but we were always defeated”. It is significant that on the Brussels demonstration today the main slogan chanted was: “Yes we can!”

Regarding the impact in other countries, an activist in the movement, writing in nawaat.org, one of the voices of the insurrection had this to say: "‎"The Tunisian people have given a lesson to the whole world, and to those oppressed in the Arab world in particular: expect nothing from anyone else and everything from yourself, and overcome the fear that paralyses your will and your energy.""

The socialist traditions are still alive and are gathering strength. A new generation of Arab activists is growing up under conditions of capitalist crisis. In the course of struggle they are learning fast. What they are looking for is the ideas of Marxism. The magnificent work of Marxy.com is beginning to produce important results, not just in defending the ideas and principles of Marxism, but in organizing practical revolutionary work and solidarity, as their campaign in support of the Tunisian Revolution shows.

Yesterday evening during a program on the Tunisian-based television Nessma (the television of the Greater Maghreb) with intellectuals and journalists the question was asked about how to get back the wealth the Ben Ali family had robbed from the people. One journalist said: We should nationalise the banks and all assets of the Trabelis clan. Then one mentioned the “Tunisian spring”, and another one spontaneously added "yes we know about that Marxist article (referring to the title of the first article on Marxy.com on the Tunisian insurrection) but we have not reached that spring yet".

This is a small anecdote, but it reveals the echo that the ideas of Marxism are getting amongst the left in Tunisia. What we have just witnessed in Tunisia is nothing less than the beginnings of the Arab Revolution, a colossal event that will change the course of world history. From one country to another the flames of revolt will spread from the Atlantic to the Euphrates. The revolutionary movement will develop and mature and raise itself to the level of the tasks demanded by history. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with the masses, the forces of Marxism will grow with them. The Arab Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution or it will not triumph at all.

* Down with the Foued Mbazaa regime!
* Full democratic rights now!
* For a revolutionary constituent assembly!
* For the expropriation of all the ill-gotten goods of the Trablesi clique!
* Victory to the Tunisian workers and youth!
* Long live the Arab Socialist Revolution!

London, 15th January 2011.

Tunisia: IMF "Economic Medicine" has resulted in Mass Poverty

Tunisia: IMF "Economic Medicine" has resulted in Mass Poverty and Unemployment

By Prof. Basel Saleh

Global Research, December 31, 2010

Mass and spontaneous demonstrations erupted on Friday, December 17th in the city of Sidi Bouzid (central Tunisia) when Mohammad Bouazizi , a 26 year-old, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire after a female police officer slapped and spat on him. The only crime Bouazizi committed was that of being a street vendor selling vegetables and fruits without a permit, in a country where neoliberal economic policies failed to provide economic opportunities to Bouazizi and thousands of others like him.[1] Bouazizi’ s attempted suicide, which comes hard on the heels of police humiliation and confiscation of his only source of income, reveals the utter despair prevalent today among Tunisia’s population especially college graduates. Twenty-four years of ruthless corruptions, dictatorship, and neoliberal economic policies led to wealth being concentrated in the hands of very few people connected to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife’s family. Bouazizi, a college graduate,[2] was trying to live in dignity and provide for his family by becoming a street vendor despite living in a country that is considered an economic miracle and one of the African lions by western economic monitors and analysts.[3]

The miserable economic conditions in the interior of the country, lack of employment opportunities and political freedoms pushed Bouazizi, like thousands of other young men and women in the Maghreb countries, to the margins of society. Tunisia’s national unemployment rate, which understates the true unemployment situation, stands at 14%.[4] However, the youth unemployment rate (those between15-24 year-old) is at 31%. The income share of the top 10% is approximately 32%, and the top 20% of the population controls 47% of Tunisia’s income. Tunisia’s inequality is so severe that the bottom 60% of the population earns only 30% (the top 40% take home 70% of the income).[5] Still, the IMF describes the government management of the economy and the uneven economic growth which benefited mainly northern and coastal cities while marginalizing the interior of the country as a “prudent macroeconomic management.”[6]

The despicable behavior of the police officer described above is not uncommon in Tunisia and is condoned by the police state that ignores basic human rights, shows no respect for the dignity of its citizens, and does not tolerate any signs of dissent. Poverty, unemployment and oppression have pushed yet another young man to commit suicide just few days later after Bouazizi’s attempt. On Wednesday, December 22nd, Hussein Nagi Felhi, also unemployed, unfortunately succeeded in committing suicide by climbing a high-voltage electric power line. He was electrocuted and died on the scene. Witnesses say the young man was shouting “no for misery, no for unemployment” as he climbed the electric pylon.[7]

The epidemic of youth unemployment, inequality, political repression, and lack of any meaningful freedoms inflamed solidarity among the population which took to the streets in a spontaneous and unplanned organic protests. Within days of the attempted suicide by Bouazizi and the suicide of Felhi, protests spread across the country and reached the capital Tunis and are still ongoing even in the face of total national media blackout and police brutality which resulted in the killing of an 18 year-old. This is not the first time the dictator of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has faced street anger over joblessness and economic misery during his 24-year reign, but this is by far the most serious challenge to his rule. About three years ago in January 2008, his security apparatus crushed protesters in the southern mining town of Redhayef when workers and young people protested wages and unemployment.[8]At that time, over 300 people were arrested as a result of the protests.[9] However, this time the desperation among the population has reached the boiling point. Aided by social media, some protesters launched a Facebook page to document riots and share news although the government promptly shuts down any protest-linked websites.[10] The demonstrations are increasing in intensity and show no signs of abating. The protesters are fed up with the status quo of a self-enriching and corrupt ruling family which is the de facto governing system in the Middle East and North Africa.

A Western Ally: The Hypocrisy of Western Neoliberal and Foreign Policies

Respect for human rights and freedom of the press is almost nonexistent in Tunisia. The Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom labels Tunisia as ‘mostly unfree’ nation and marginally close to being repressed—its lowest score.[11] Transparency International ranks Tunisia among its seriously corrupt nations with a score of 4.3 out of 10 (10 being free of corruption and 1 as most corrupt), and Tunisia is considered ‘not free’ according to Freedom House Index.[12] This is no surprise in a country where the government controls almost all aspects of people’s lives. Young people are especially tightly controlled and monitored. Even fields of study in post-secondary education are decided by the government where the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research decides in which field of study students will be placed.[13]

Although the protests that are spreading across the country took on the form of social unrest for the first few days, they rapidly metamorphosed over the last ten days to become a mass political rally by the people. The protesters are now on the streets calling openly for the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to leave office by holding signs in Tunisian Arabic dialect that read “Yezzi Fock” (Ben Ali, it is enough) which has become the protesters’ political slogan. Labor and industry unions which played an active role in public life since independence from France are also supporting the protesters. President Ben Ali, nearing 80, is very aware of the gravity and the real threat to his grip on power. His first reaction was to preempt the protesters by firing some local officials, replace some ministers in his cabinet, and then immediately promising more investment and job creation completely oblivious to his record after 24 years in power. When these empty promises failed to deflate the protesters’ anger, he resorted to the routine policies of riot police and explicit threats directed to his citizens. Facing the most serious unrest in the history of his rule, he took to the airways and gave a televised address in response to the demonstrations. He vowed to punish “the minority of extremists” whom he blamed for the riots (as he calls them) and also indicated that these protests “will have a negative impact on creating jobs. It will discourage investors and tourists which will hit jobs."[14] It appears that the President’s main concern is the tourism industry which is tightly controlled by his family and that of his wife as revealed by several Wikileaks concerning the economic and financial corruption of the first family.

The Tunisian dictator and his family are touted by Western governments as an example of a stable and progressive North African Muslim nation. The neoliberal economic policies are hailed as prudent and wise by the IMF yet these policies primarily benefited his family, that of his wife in addition to other well-connected wealthy Tunisians. In one incident of corruption revealed by Wikileaks, the Son-in-Law of the President purchased a 17% share of a bank just before it was to be privatized and then sold the shares at a premium. Readings from Wikileaks U.S. diplomatic cables underscore that success in the Tunisian economy is directly related to connection to the first family. Income and regional inequalities are on the rise in Tunisia. Job creation and widespread prosperity promised by defunct orthodox economic dictates never trickled down to the masses or even materialized for most unemployed college graduates where net migration has been steadily increasing rising from -16,000 in 1980 to -80,000 in 2005.

The Tunisian Government is an important ally for the U.S. in its resource-driven colonial wars with Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. A United Nations report on secret detention practices lists Tunisia as having secret detention facilities where prisoners are held without International Red Cross access. [15] Intelligence services in Tunisia cooperated with the U.S. efforts in the War on Terror and have participated in interrogating prisoners at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and in Tunisia. Recent Wikileaks diplomatic cables reveal that the U.S. not long ago was concerned about the growing anger on the streets and the corruption of Ben Ali and the Trabelsi family (his wife’s family) who treat everything in the country as theirs. A list of Wikileaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia posted on The Guardian newspaper website indicate that the U.S. considers Tunisia as a police state “with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems,” and the Ben Ali family as a “quasi mafia.”[16] Nevertheless, the State Department boasts about the active support the Tunisian security forces receive from the U.S. in spite of the Ben Ali’s government record of serious human rights violations. According to the State Department website:

“The United States and Tunisia have an active schedule of joint military exercises. U.S. security assistance historically has played an important role in cementing relations. The U.S.-Tunisian Joint Military Commission meets annually to discuss military cooperation, Tunisia's defense modernization program, and other security matters.”[17]

The fate of the protests is unclear at this point. The Ben Ali government is frantic to control the situation by sending police and security enforcements in the cities affected by the protests. The protesters have been peaceful and have not resorted to any violence or destruction of property. Some protesters simply held a loaf of bread and others are simply holding signs that call for jobs and dignity. In the meantime, the IMF is continuing to push Tunisia to more austere economic policies on the expenditure side, recommending that the government ends its support for food and fuel products and reform its social security system, a code word for privatizing the pension system in Tunisia which benefits the masses of poor Tunisians.[18]The greatest hypocrisy in all of this is that the IMF recommends these policies in the name of greater employment and growth which is the IMF’s cut-and-paste recipe for all nations it studies.

In the meantime, the Western international community has been largely silent about the protests. The U.S. corporate-run media is as usual busy selling air time to corporations eager to cash in on the Christmas holiday while simultaneously raising their prices to squeeze more out of their customers.[19] The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal didn’t report on the Tunisian protests at all. The U.S. State Department remains tight-lipped on the issue and has yet to release any statement on the situation. The U.S. government’s deafening silence confirms the inherent hypocrisy in U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy that is widely known, detested, and recently confirmed by Wikileaks released U.S. diplomatic cables.

Basel Saleh is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Peace Studies Faculty at Radford University, Virginia. His work on Palestinian suicide bombers is widely cited in national media and academic journals. He is currently writing his book Economics When People Matter due for publication with Kendall Hunt in the summer of 2011. The author can be reached by email bsaleh@radford.edu

Notes

[1] See Aljazeera story in (Arabic), 23 December 2010:
http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/D2ACC91E-B225-411B-8073-AC6C79845D77....

[2] There are conflicting reports on whether Mohammad Bouazizi is a college graduate or not. But most news sources indicate that he is. See:
http://dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=...

[3] ‘African lions’ is a term used by Boston Consulting Group to describe the eight countries driving growth on the continent: South Africa, Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Mauritius, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. See Florence Beaugé, Economic power of the 'African lions' tallied. , The Guardian Weekly, 10 June 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/jun/09/morocco-southafrica

[4] Julian Borger, Tunisian President Vows to Punish Rioters After Worst Unrest in a Decade. The Guardian, 29 December 2010:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/29/tunisian-president-vows-puni...

[5] World Bank Indicators: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.MA.ZS/countries/TN?displ...

[6] Joël Toujas-Bernate and Rina Bhattachary, Tunisia Weathers Crisis Well, But Unemployment Persistsa. IMFSurvey Magazine: Countries & Regions , 10 September 2010:
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2010/car091010a.htm

[7] Amro Hassan, Tunisia: Apparent Suicide Triggers Youth Protests Against Unemployment. The Los Angeles Times, 23 December 2010:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/12/tunisia-suicide-tr...

[8] Human Rights Watch, World Report Chapter: Tunisia, January 2009: http://www.hrw.org/en/node/79260

[9] Amnesty International, Behind Tunisia’s Economic Miracle: Inequality and Criminalization of Protests, June 2009:
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE30/003/2009/en/2e1d33e2-55da-...

[10] The facebook page for protesters can be accessed via http://www.facebook.com/yezzifock?v=photos#!/yezzifock?v=wall

[11] The Heritage Foundation, 2010 Index of Economic Freedom: http://www.heritage.org/Index/Ranking

[12] Freedom House, Freedom in The World Country Report , 2010 edition:
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=363&year=2010 , and Transparency International Corruption Index
http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/res...

[13] Housa Trabelsi, Unemployment Haunts Tunisia’s College Graduates. The Megharebia, 30 July 2010:
http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/...

[14] Tunisian President Says Job Riots are not Acceptable. The BBC, 28 December 2010:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12087596

[15] See United Nations report on secrete detention practices
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-4...

[16] US embassy cables: Tunisia - a US foreign policy conundrum, The Guardian, 7 December 2010:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/217138

[17] Background Note: Tunisia, U.S. State Department, 13 October 2010:
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5439.htm#relations

[18] See note 4

[19] Matthew Boyle, Wal-Mart Raising Prices on Toys, Squeezing More Out of Holidays. Bloomberg News, 15 December 2010:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-15/wal-mart-raised-prices-on-toys-...

Dr. Basel Saleh is Assistant Professor of Economics at Radford University Virginia.

“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” (César Chávez)
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Quick, Hasty Reflections on the Revolutionary Process in Tunisia

Some Quick, Hasty Reflections on the Revolutionary Process Unfolding In Tunisia
by Jase Short

January 16, 2011 -- This note is meant to clarify a few things for folks who are watching the revolutionary process unfold in Tunisia, but who do not have a lot of experience observing, researching, etc. actual revolutions. In our ideologically-saturated American society, few of us have any clue what actual revolutionary politics consists of. We dream of people in the streets more or less magically overthrowing governments (often without the understanding that actual revolutions require revolutionary organization to channel those street protests nor the need for actual repression of the ruling class and its guarantors in order to prevent counter-revolution) without much context behind it.

Without going into too much detail about Tunisia’s situation, let us make clear one thing:

The regime has not fallen, it is still in power–though it is in a precarious position.

Ben-Ali has fled (as has his hated, Marie Antoinette-esque wife), but the ruling clique that operated underneath his executive direction has remained in power. The military is in the streets, cracking down on any gatherings of 3 or more people (a state of emergency has been declared). There is widespread looting and gangs of armed men have wrecked havoc in certain areas–consequently, many of the neighbourhoods are self-organizing in much the same way that local democratic structures arose during the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 (there are other examples but I think the classic one is important for those of us who do not have much knowledge about revolutionary politics in history).

An unnamed military source has told the media that the gangs of armed men are in fact Ben-Ali’s Mukhabarat–internal security services–carrying out violence in order to justify a more brutal military crackdown. In this vein, we must remember one of the major reasons for the success of the movement against the regime: Ben-Ali’s military commander, with pressure from the ranks of soldiers, disobeyed his order to use violence to disperse the protests and instead had the military pull back to defend government buildings. Scenes of soldiers and demonstrators embracing and kissing show us that the military is very seriously divided. Every major revolution–from the 1917 socialist Russian Revolution to the misdirected 1979 Iranian Revolution–has involved deep dissension within the ranks of the military (in fact, the shift in Cuba from a mass-based urban general strike-oriented movement to a special body of armed guerrillas occurred once the military, in lockstep, crushed a general strike–thereby winning over the masses of people to Castro’s view that only guerrilla war led by elite commanders could defeat the Batista regime).

So what we have is an incomplete political revolution, though there are still demonstrators in the streets. The demonstrations began in the rural south–now, in the same area, there are people taking to the streets demanding the resignation of the interim government–along with more radical demands. The urban middle class is involved heavily (50% of graduates are unemployed)…but even with all of these forces, there is simply not enough critical mass or leverage to make a serious difference. It is the working-class that has swelled the ranks of the demonstrations and replaced confused and somewhat spontaneous resistance with mass coordinated actions and general strikes.

People in the street have only symbolic power. In the end, if an army wants to, it can massacre those people–look at Tiananmen Square. When workers’ refuse to work, however, they cut the jugular of a society’s ruling elite. That is what has happened. It was not for nothing that the security apparatus snatched up the leader of the Communist workers’ movement once things began to escalate.

The protests have been going on for over a month. They have centered on demands for the government to address the 14% unemployment rate (the US unemployment rate is 17.5%), to tackle skyrocketing inflation (food, fuel, etc. going up while wages are declining–just like the US), and to put an end to government censorship and police state repression. The catalyst for their escalation came in the form of a young unemployed youth who set himself on fire in front of a government building following the state’s seizure of his unauthorized fruit stand–his only livelihood.

The same 7 clans that rule the government and command the greatest share of the economy remain in power, the Mukhabarat continues its repression and there are tanks in the streets. Without revolutionary organization, the street protests will end at the barrel of a gun, the state apparatus will remain firmly in power, an interim period before elections–which undoubtedly will be between elites, with middle-class elements dissenting from working-class ranks, dividing the previous national unity–will be overseen by the likes of French President Nicholas Sarkozy (not to mention the US role). The hopes of Tunisia will be extinguished by calls for moderation and the threat of the Jasmine Revolution spreading across the greater Arab world will dwindle as the security services of Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, etc. will take the moment to up the ante of repression.

This situation can escalate in the other direction, however. The self-organization of the neighborhoods is a promising start–it all depends on where the leadership of the working-class takes the movement: will they yield to elite promises of reform or to middle-class leadership, or will they push forward with a truly revolutionary purpose and look at completing the political revolution and perhaps even a social revolution that will undermine the very social relations that lie at the base of the economic and political crisis unfolding across their society?

These are the questions we ought to be asking. I implore everyone to learn from this experience, to enjoy the victories but to remain sober to the situation, and to understand that revolutions are very complex processes–not just lots of people in the streets. Let us stand in solidarity with our comrades suffering under the yoke of tyranny in the Arab world: neither bin Laden nor the US-backed regimes, but real people’s democracy.

Technology’s Role in Tunisia's uprising

The News Frontier — January 20, 2011 02:05 PM

Technology’s Role in Tunisia

The easiest narrative isn’t the only one that matters

By Lauren Kirchner

Last week, as years of frustration by the Tunisian people culminated in self-immolation, street protests, and the ouster of President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, the Western media was faced with the problem of how to frame the story. It’s a story with powerful implications for political stability and power throughout the region, a story rife with drama and rich in historical significance, but also a story that many American news readers were not previously familiar with. Too many journalists faced with this challenge took the easy way out.

“In days, social media ended 54 years of dictatorship,” declared a headline on a GlobalPost piece by Mort Rosenblum. “Social Media Gets Credit For Tunisian Overthrow,” said NPR. Similar headlines ran in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, ABCNews.com, and CNN, just to name a few. Other outlets emphasized other catalysts for revolt: the accounts of lavish spending by the Tunisian government revealed by WikiLeaks cables; the Ben Ali government’s attempt to block access to those cables by its citizens. “The First WikiLeaks Revolution?” asks a headline by Foreign Policy’s Elizabeth Dickinson.

Perhaps this should be the subject of a separate piece, but I have a real pet peeve for question headlines, a growing irritation that my future-of-news beat is doing nothing at all to alleviate. An op-ed on Al Jazeera English by Noureddine Miladi hedges its bets with not one but two questions, one in the headline and one in the sub-head:

Tunisia: A media led revolution?
Are we witnessing the birth of the second republic fueled by social media?

The piece is headed by two questions, and after a rambling missive, it ends with two more: “Will the January 2011 social unrests in Tunisia turn into the first peaceful revolution to be driven by social networking sites?… Will this unabated social activism lead to a real breakthrough in the country’s democracy, the birth of the Second Republic?” (I don’t know, will it? Shrug!)

Ethan Zuckerman wrote a great piece for Foreign Policy’s website that warns writers and opinionators not to fall for the easy narrative. (His post also has a question for a headline, but since he answers his own question in the subhed, he gets a pass.) An excerpt:

Pundits will likely start celebrating a “Twitter revolution” in Tunisia, even if they missed watching it unfold…. But any attempt to credit a massive political shift to a single factor — technological, economic, or otherwise — is simply untrue. Tunisians took to the streets due to decades of frustration, not in reaction to a WikiLeaks cable, a denial-of-service attack, or a Facebook update.

But as we learn more about the events of the past few weeks, we’ll discover that online media did play a role in helping Tunisians learn about the actions their fellow citizens were taking and in making the decision to mobilize. How powerful and significant this influence was will be something that academics will study and argue over for years to come.

It’s no stretch to say that the fact that the government has blocked its citizens’ access to the Internet was an ongoing factor in public unrest. Reporters Without Borders has consistently given Tunisia low rankings in its world press freedom index, and Secretary of State Clinton named Tunisia as among the world’s worst for Internet censorship—along with North Korea, China, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Egypt—in a speech last January. A great post on Ars Technica by Nate Anderson goes into greater detail about the extraordinary lengths the Tunisian government went to, to try to slow down organization via Facebook groups and blogs: by hacking into accounts and erasing them and by arresting bloggers and journalists, for instance. And because Tunisian media was so limited by the government, it makes sense that savvy citizens would use alternate methods of communication.

So my argument here is not about whether Twitter “caused” the revolution or merely “facilitated” it as the most efficient means of communication at hand. (GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram wrote, “So was what happened in Tunisia a Twitter revolution? Not any more than what happened in Poland in 1989 was a telephone revolution.” Clay Shirky responded in comments, “No one believes social media causes otherwise complacent citizens to become angry enough to take to the streets. It’s a convenient straw men for the skeptics, because, as an obviously ridiculous narrative, it’s easy to refute.”)

Rather, my question is about why the press has been focusing so much on this narrative in its coverage of this complex story; why, in the first day or two after the situation heated up in Tunisia enough to enter the American mainstream consciousness, this narrative was the dominant one, echoed back and forth online throughout the past week. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll offer a few ideas:

Because the medium becomes the message. Social media is a part of the story, but it is also the way that we—meaning bloggers and reporters sitting in cubicles far away from the action—have a window into the story. We’ve been trained in the past few years to monitor Twitter all day for news tips, and then to use it to drive Web traffic to the stories we write. We’ve got social media on the brain. So when we see something happening on Twitter, it feels that much more important. Twitter is our conduit of information, and it often becomes the story. As Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy put it on PBS NewsHour on Monday night,

But it’s very important to remember that Twitter didn’t cause the Tunisian revolution. Rather, it gave us a front-row seat to what happened….

Because it’s an easy story to report and write. All over the Web we saw powerful quotes about the significance of bloggers in the Tunisian revolution from…bloggers in Tunisia. This is not to say that bloggers are not a significant force for change in Tunisia. But they are surely the easiest people to get in touch with when a reporter is looking for sources for a story. Likewise, this “social media creates change” narrative is also the easiest one to grasp for those who don’t have any background knowledge of the particular history and culture of Tunisia. When news breaks, it’s our impulse to fit it into the framework of the world we already know. (“This is just like Moldova!” or “This is just like Iran!”) We should be wary of frames that fit too easily around interchangeable countries and cultures. We should push ourselves to go beyond the first impulse, stick to the facts, and if we aren’t experts, find those who are. In fact, this story is yet another argument for the necessity of foreign bureaus.

Because it’s an easy story to read. Maybe editors were afraid that readers won’t be interested in the collapse of the government in a relatively small, Arab, Muslim country in Africa, a country that most people weren’t thinking much about before a man set himself on fire. But fresh-faced kids with smartphones taking down an oppressive tyrant? That’s a heartwarming, America-friendly story everyone can get behind! Jeff Neumann on Gawker had a smart take:

We should stop trying to fit the events in Tunisia into a Western context. It simplifies things, but it also overlooks the real forces of change at work in the North African country. This isn’t about Facebook, or Wikileaks, or Twitter — it’s about the people of Tunisia being fed up with decades of marginalization at the hands of a Western-backed kleptocracy, and taking charge of their own future. […] Did social media have an effect on events in Tunisia? Undoubtedly, yes. Is this a social media revolution? Absolutely not.

And while we’re bursting bubbles here, let’s remember that while the abstract idea of “saying enough is enough” and “taking to the streets” feels inspiring from a distance, it doesn’t completely account for the reality of tear gas, riot police, and the possibility of violent retribution from a self-protective government. A man (several men, now) lit himself on fire, for a start. Read Anne Applebaum’s excellent and nuanced essay on Slate, which begins:

Violent street demonstrations, followed by the toppling of a dictator, are an exhilarating way to bring democracy to an authoritarian society. They are not, however, the best way to bring democracy to an authoritarian society.

While watching Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” unfold, remember this: Street demonstrations can unexpectedly bring extremists into power, as they did in Iran in 1979. They can create unrealistic expectations and then unravel, as did the Orange Revolution that began in Ukraine in 2004. And they can end badly, with reactionary violence, like the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.

The questions surrounding the moral imperative of—and various methods of—
protest against an oppressive dictatorship are, of course, the subject of a much wider discussion, as is the role of the Internet in affecting political change. Those are subjects of perpetual study and debate. Every country is different, every generation is different, and every political revolution will have different, long-lasting effects on the people who participate in it. Likewise, the implications of Ben Ali’s ouster and the rippling effects of these protests in other equally oppressive environments in the region will not be known for some time.

In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that the euphoria of the Twitterati watching from the West and cheering on their brothers-in-cellphones overseas isn’t the whole story. It’s just the easiest story to tell. Because it’s the easiest story to tell, it’s bound to be the first one that gets told.

As the story continues to unfold in Tunisia, ideally we will move beyond oversimplification and provide the historical and cultural contexts necessary to understand what happened there and what will happen as a result of it. But those first, simple stories deserve scrutiny, too—especially stories like this one, where many readers don’t have much background knowledge about the region. These stories don’t always have legs; Tunisia will soon drop from the front page, and likewise drop from readers’ minds. That’s why we must stay vigilant against the double dangers of oversimplification and easy narratives. When something happens that kicks a slowly-developing international story into the mainstream, as we saw late last week, the first frames are the ones that stick.

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