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Tunisia: Interview with Fahem Boukadous, member of the Communist Workers Party of Tunisia
Fahem Boukadous, member of the Communist Workers Party of Tunisia, interviewed by Alma Allende, translated from the original Spanish by John Catalinotto
February 7, 2011 -- Tlaxcala -- Fahem Boukadous is a journalist who was in prison when the people of Tunisia forced the dictator Ben Ali to flee the country. A member of the Communist Workers Party (often also referred to as the Workers Communist Party) of Tunisia (PCOT), he does all he can every day so that the great opportunity opened by the revolution will not be lost.
Because of that, Fahem Boukadous is content. He is a happy man. Released on January 19, five days after the flight of the dictator, he hit the streets in a Tunisia turned upside down by the revolution. He was in prison for six months, and it was not the first time he suffered the rigors of the dictatorship. In 1999, after going through the torture chambers of the ministry of interior, was sentenced to three years in prison, of which he served 19 months before receiving a presidential pardon.
An exceptional witness of the 2008 revolts in the mining area of Gafsa, in the Redeyef region, he was again imprisoned in 2010 for his role in promoting an activist journalism that unveiled those protests, which are considered the dress rehearsal for the ongoing revolution in Tunisia.
This interview was conducted in bits and parts, in the middle of a protest demonstration, stopping to talk once we recovered our breath after running through the streets near Bourghiba Avenue. These are crucial days for the revolution, but the glare of the mainstream media is now directed towards Egypt. "Tunisia is not an international issue but a local one", the Al Jazeera employees told us when we tried to inform them that Ben Ali militia had returned to their old ways in Sfax. Boukadous disagrees. "The revolution began in the provinces and remains very active there."
* * *
What is the relationship between the revolts of 2008 and the revolution of 2011?
On the one hand, there is the lesson of resistance that the Redeyef residents and the entire mining area contributed, which accumulates in the collective memory of the country. The second point is the participation in the 2008 movement of unemployed university graduates, one of the forces today [leading] the revolutionary process. The third is the importance of "popular media". Al-Hiwar TV and home CDs have been replaced by Facebook, through which the jaw of censorship was broken.
Why was the movement in Redeyef defeated and the one that started in Sidi Bouzid spread from city to city to reach the capital?
That is precisely the element of contingency that no historical analysis or explanation can account for.
Did it have anything to do with US?
I do not think there was any US intervention to facilitate the fall of the dictator. The revolution has caught the great powers off balance. Yes, of course, now they maneuver for "stability", but they are sure they cannot stop the process of change.
Is it finished, the Ben Ali regime?
The regime is still there, not only within the police and the state apparatus, but also in the media and the internet. We must seize the moment to create new media and new formats. We must also establish a coalition between Tunisian and foreign journalists because we need experience and training.
What happened in Tunisia has had great international repercussions.
Tunisia has unexpectedly put in motion an avalanche that is not only one of "emulation", it is a true "revolutionary rivalry" or "positive competition" that is now shaking Egypt, the epicentre of the Arab world. What happens there will impact on this country again.
The Qasbah is empty again. It seems now that it was always empty, but a few days ago it was something else entirely, it was the centrr of the revolution in Tunisia.
The decline seems clear, but it is easier to kill a people that has awoken than to put it to sleep again. The capital is a mirage. The revolution rose from the centre and south og the country and there it returns and there it continues. You should go to the people and not be obsessed with the Qasbah. The revolution is not the capital. The Qasbah is just one of many expressions of protest, a symbol, no doubt because it attracts the attention of the media, but the revolution began in the provinces and there it is still very active. The other day, 80,000 people demonstrated in Sfax and then the city has been paralysed by a general strike. In Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, in Tala ... there are rallies and protests.
Are the rumours true that Ben Ali militias have managed to threaten the new interior minister in his office? Or do they intentionally trying to build up the [anti-Ben Ali] credibility of the new cabinet?
The rumours are part of the same strategy of confusion and insecurity, an inevitable phase within any revolutionary process.
How do you evaluate the relationship of the Tunisian left with the European left?
During the Bourguiba years, relations between the Tunisian and European left were very strong. Then, under the harsh repression of Ben Ali, solidarity contacts have been more on an individual basis, but they have helped us greatly to resist. The Workers Communist Party of Tunisia (PCOT) maintains contact with some forces of the Marxist left in France, in the Spanish state in particular with the Spanish Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Raul Marco. The demonstrations these days in different European capitals have been very important, not only moral support but as pressure on EU governments, which have been so complicit with the dictator.
What is the unfinished business of the Tunisian left?
By its very nature, the left is international. There is no singularly Tunisian left. And we all must pull together, overcoming sectarianism, to reclaim this minimum common denominator: not only the struggle against the local dictatorship, but against imperialism.
What position does the party have regarding Western Sahara?
Our party has always defended the independence of the Sahara and the Basque Country. The Spanish will never be free if they do not liberate the Basque Country and the other nations of the Spanish State. The principle of self-determination is an essential point in our program.
At a time when attacks on the rights and freedoms are common throughout Europe, is there something useful to learn from is across the Mediterranean?
It is true that democracy in Europe is retreating, but we need your experience. The Europeans made democratic revolutions and wrote about them. We have not produced reflections on the subject. We have given a great revolutionary lesson, but we cannot proceed without the political knowledge accumulated in the experience of the left in democratic Europe.
Some pictures have shown Tunisian demonstrators with flags and symbols of the left, something that has proved shocking to many people in Europe.
In Tunisia there are thousands of leftist activists. During the hardest years of repression, our forces were scattered and hid. But today they are returning. The problem is we have no trained leaders to give direction to the new militancy.
Information management is showing itself to be crucial these days, both in Tunisia and Egypt. What should we do to prevent the corporate media that serves the Empire from taking the upper hand?
It is essential to build an international coalition of left-wing journalists and to organise internationally to produce new formats and new media capable of combating prejudices of the self-serving mainstream media.
Many Europeans have found it surprising that people are using the Tunisian flag and anthem as symbols of the revolution.
The official discourse of Ben Ali accused the Tunisian left of not being patriotic, not loving the country. We replied that it was precisely the dictatorship that had nothing to do with Tunisia. We are the true nationalists and Ben Ali and his family never had any relationship with our country. The nation is the people. Even in the worst years of repression we felt proud to be Tunisian. For my part, I rejected the possibility of exile, preferring to remain under the repressive Tunisian regime rather than freedom in Europe. Our duty is to help liberate the people of Tunisia.
A life devoted to militant journalism
Persecuted, forced to live a clandestine life, fighting tirelessly, Fahem was born in Regueb, and much of his political activity has been focused on militant journalism. It was first in 1998 that he denounced the activities of the five Mafia families who ran the country. In 2003, installed in Gafsa, Boukadous became a correspondent for Al-Badil and three years later was in charge of the Tunisian broadcasts of Al-Hiwar-TV, a satellite channel. In 2008, when rebellions broke out in the mining area of Gafsa -- considered a dress rehearsal for the current revolution -- this media, fragile but unreachable by the government, became the hub for broadcasting the images of the protests. From this privileged position, Fahem Boukadous catalysed the disaffection of the youth in the region, providing a means of expression and thereby becoming a threat to the dictatorship. “It's what I have called 'peoples’ media'", he says. “Hundreds of youths, who had received a camera as a gift from relatives who had emigrated, became journalists. I just had to collect these pictures and circulate them.”
The revolts in the mining district put to a test a system in which there were already cracks and conflicts. In June 2008, after months of protests, Ben Ali decided to root out the movement. Redeyef was taken by 4000 police who raided and looted the houses, smashed the furniture, beat women. There were two deaths. In a foretaste of what would happen two years later throughout the country, the city was partially occupied by the army.
“In Redeyef the movement was led by trade unionists and activists, but in the other towns of the mining district it was the young people themselves who were organised and coordinated the protests”, he assures us.
In January 2010, in a trial that lasted five minutes, Fahem Boukadous was sentenced to four years' jail. After refusing to apologise to the dictator he went to the hospital, where the police tried twice to take him, he finally entered prison on July 15, 2010. There he wrote non-stop, preparing a book on the Gafsa revolt. He got in touch with the ordinary [non-political] prisoners, and offered them political education, which brought on the intervention of the prison director. Thanks to the solidarity of one of the doctors, he got word of death of Mohamed Bouazizi and the popular reactions this triggered, at whose lightning-fast expansion he still marvels.
[This interview first appeared at Tlaxcala.]