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Tunisia: ‘It is a real revolutionary process’ -- interview with 14th January Front militant

Alhem Belhadj (right) speaking at a session of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party congress, February 11.

February 27, 2011 -- Alhem Belhadj is a Tunisian revolutionary socialist and member of the Ligue de la Gauche Ouvriers (Left Workers’ League). It is a part of the 14th January Front, which unites left-wing groups seeking to push Tunisia’s revolution forward by creating a new government free from members of the former ruling party, and supporters policies reversing neoliberalism.

Belhadj spoke with Green Left Weeklys Tony Iltis on February 12, at the congress of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, about the Tunisian revolution.

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I think there is a real revolutionary process. Things are going very quickly.

There is a lot of change. Every day, there is some change and there is a big popular resistance.

A problem is we don’t have a big party that can lead. But even that was a good thing in a way — each group was responsible to do something. There were a lot of people working together from different organisations, trying to create something together.

Even before January 14, 2011[when dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned], there are a lot of regional and local committees to defend the revolution and continue struggling.

After the revolution, the police of the overthrown president and the militia of the former ruling party sought to destabilise the situation and create panic.

People organised themselves for self-defence. Now we have Committees to Defend the Revolution. In a lot of regions, trade union regional and local committees have emerged.

At first, they tried to put up a new government with a lot of ministers from the old regime. But the people refused. The people applied real pressure to bring that government down and succeeded. But the second government, which is presented as though run by technocrats, is still not a real rupture with the last.

It didn’t carry out a lot of needed tasks. It didn’t kick out the former ruling party, it didn’t reorganise the police. It didn’t make a clean break with past. But it put in place three commissions to discuss where we are going. These may take six months, but we need to be very vigilant.

Protests are still taking place all over, even in schools and hospitals. All representatives of power are questioned. There is a real social movement against all power.

A great problem is that, in this revolution, the Americans are very present. In the government, there are two new ministers who came from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. They are in the government to protect these interests.

The first thing this government announced was that it would pay Tunisia’s debt. They haven’t explained where they will find the money for social justice. They don’t speak about the tasks of the state in improving employment or carrying out agrarian reform. There are a lot of problems in agriculture in Tunisia.

That’s why the people’s councils, with trade unionists and the left, have a lot of tasks to demand of the government — things [this government] can’t do.

14th January Front

The 14th January Front is a left organisation. It is against the government. It says clearly this government can’t carry out the tasks we need. They can’t organise a constituent assembly. They can’t provide social justice.

So we are asking people to organise themselves to do these tasks.

The 14th January Front is the main political opposition to the government, but in other spheres, there is also the UGTT [Tunisian General Union of Labour] and civil society.

People are using Facebook. It has a real role. [Under Ben Ali] we couldn’t hold meetings. We couldn’t have [open] political parties.

Facebook was a way to get together to discuss things while at home. Even when the internet was blocked, people found ways to get round it. We had a lot of help to do it.

It was a good way to keep informed. The media was not free. There was nothing about the revolution in the Tunisian media.

But every Tunisian was informed minute by minute by Facebook. It was a way to ask people to be active. It was very important.

[The Islamist party] Ennahda could become a big force in Tunisia. But it could become one if the revolutionary movement doesn’t work well with the people.

This is because it is near the people and will respond to their problems.

The other question is: what is US imperialism planning in the region? What is its relationship with Islamism in the region?

It is a question now and I think it is important to know. It can be a source of danger because imperialism could form an alliance with moderate Islamists — only when they are in power, they are no longer moderate.

[This article first appeared at Green Left Weekly, Australia's leading socialist newspaper. Tony Iltis attended the New Anti-Capitalist Party congress in France respresenting the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]

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