Tunisia: Masses create people's power bodies in neighbourhoods and workplaces

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Demonstration against RCD ministers, January 19. Photo by Nasser Nouri.

[During the uprising in Tunisia there have been reports of the formation of neighbourhood and popular self-defence committees in many parts of the country. Below are excerpts from a number of articles by the International Marxist Tendency's Jorge Martín, which offer some fascinating details of this important development.]

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By Jorge Martín

January 20, 2011 -- It is worth watching some of the videos of the demonstrations [against the “new” national unity government and demanding an end to the RCD ruling party] in order to get a feel for the real mood of the Tunisian workers and youth: Bizerte, January 19, Tunis, January 19, Gabes, January 19, Bizerte, January 19, occupation of the RCD offices in Sousse (now renamed Bouzazi Peoples’ House), January 19, Sfax, January 19, Bizerte, January 20, Touzer, January 20, Touzer, January 20, Almzop, January 20 and Kairouan, January 20.

These angry and militant marches are not just demanding the disbanding of the RCD and the old regime at all levels, but they are taking direct action to implement their demands. In more than 30 towns and cities in the provinces massive demonstrations, mainly gathering outside the offices of the UGTT trade union, have marched on the RCD headquarters and occupied them. As a matter of fact, as the RCD controlled not only the national, regional and municipal governments, but also controlled all aspects of public life (professional associations, the police, the judiciary), the destruction of the power of the RCD means that power is passing from the old regime to the masses on the streets and to the neighbourhood committees, which have sprung up over the last week. These committees are tasked with maintaining public order and defending the population against the remains of the old regime (police officers, secret services, the presidential guard), which are still desperately trying to protect what is left of the old dictatorship.

The most advanced example of these emerging elements of dual power that we know of is in the town of Sidi Bou Ali, in Sousse, with a population of just over 10,000 people. There, on January 16, the masses gathered in the town square and after deliberating about the “new” national unity government, decided to take power into their own hands. This is the statement that was passed which we reproduce in full:

Following the decision to entrust ‘Mohamed Ghannouchi’ with forming a new government tasked with overseeing the new presidential elections for the country; following the administrative vacuum and in the city of Sidi Bou, Sousse Governorate; we, citizens of the town of Sidi Bou meeting in the "People's Square" in the city resolve the following:

  • We reject this decision which is based on an undemocratic constitution, not a peoples’ one, which has been violated many times and does not guarantee the rights of all national opinions in the country;

  • Our rejection of the domination of the ruling party over the political life of the country, represented by all symbols in the current government and its lackeys;

  • The public election of a provisional local council in order to manage all city affairs and to work at a local level, and in coordination at regional and national level, to maintain the normal functioning of civilian life, economic, cultural and political life in the country until the drafting of a new constitution of a democratic and popular character, which will pave the way for elections to ensure the peaceful transfer of power and without a monopoly over it, and ensures that all the national parties are represented.

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The functions of this council will be:
  • The formation of committees to protect the neighbourhoods and their coordination;

  • To work to restore economic life and to secure the necessities of daily life for the citizens;

  • To work to re-establish working civilian institutions (banks, hospitals, municipalities, schools, institutes, post offices, the tax office ...);

  • To protect public property;

  • Coordination with local and regional councils formed;

  • Communication and contact with the national army as the only existing force in the country.

We have decided on the distribution of tasks among the following commissions:

  • The commission on publicity and media;

  • Commission on contacts with the National Army;

  • Defence Committee for the Protection of the Neighbourhoods;

  • Commission on protection of municipal property;

  • Commission of supply of essential goods;

  • Awareness, leadership and culture committee.

بلاغ تشكيل مجلس محلي مؤقت لإدارة شؤون المدينة

على إثر قرار تكليف "محمد الغنوشي" بتشكيل حكومة جديدة تعنى بالإشراف على إنتخابات رئاسية جديدة للبلاد. وعلى إثر الفراغ الإداري والتسييري لشؤون مدينتا سيدي بوعلي بولاية سوسة. نعلن نحن مواطنوا مدينة سيدي بوعلي المجتمعون بـ"ساحة الشعب" بالمدينة:

  • رفضنا هذا القرار من منطلق بنائه على دستور لا ديمقراطي ولا شعبي ومنتهك عديد المرات ولا يضمن حقوق كل الحساسيات الوطنية في البلاد
  • رفضنا أن يبقى الحزب الحاكم مسيطرا على الحياة السياسية في البلاد ممثلا في كل رموزه في الحكومة المشكلة وأذنابها
  • إنتخاب مجلس محلي مؤقت بشكل علني لتسيير شؤون المدينة وللعمل في إطار محلى وبالتنسيق على مستوى جهوي ووطني لإعادة السير العادي للحياة المدنية والإقتصادية والثقافية والسياسية بالبلاد إلى حين صياغة دستور جديد ديمقراطي وشعبي يمهد لإنتخابات تضمن تداول سلمي على السلطة ودون إحتكار لها. ويضمن تمثل كل الأطراف الوطنية

وتتمثل مهام هذا المجلس في:

  • تشكيل لجان حماية الأحياء والتنسيق بينها
  • العمل على إعادة الحياة الإقتصادية اليومية وتأمين ضروريات الحياة للمواطنين
  • العمل على فتح المؤسسات المدنية (البنوك، المستشفي، البلدية، المدارس، المعاهد، البريد، القباضة...)
  • السهر على نضافة المدينة
  • التنسيق مع المجالس المحلية والجهوية التي تشكلت.
  • التواصل والإتصال مع الجيش الوطني بصفته القائم الوحيد على البلاد

وقد قررنا التوزع على اللجان الآتية:

  • لجنة الدعاية والإعلام
  • لجنة الإتصال بالجيش الوطني
  • لجنة الإشراف على حماية الأحياء
  • لجنة نظافة المدينة
  • لجنة التزويد بالضروريات

This statement is most extraordinary, and we have no doubt that similar action has been taken in many other towns and cities. Faced with the vacuum of power left by the destruction of the old institutions the youth, the workers, the people in general, have taken it upon themselves to start building a new “institutionality”, based on democratic committees “publicly elected” in mass meetings.

In Sidi Bou Ali, the “provisional council” which has been set up is not just a committee of struggle, but has taken over the running of all affairs (public order, provisioning, the economy, the post office, education, etc). They have de facto taken power in the town.

These are in fact, in embryonic form, soviets (i.e. workers’ councils), the emergence of which is a true sign of a genuine revolution taking place. It is clear that in some cities it has been the local executives of the UGTT trade unions which have taken the initiative in creating such committees.

[Read the full article at http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-dual-power-develops.htm.]

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January 21, 2011 -- Yesterday we reported how a "provisional council" had taken over the running of all affairs in Sidi Bou Ali. We have now received a report that a similar development has taken place in the city of Siliana, in the northwest where “the citizens have set up a local council for the protection of the revolution and the management of public affairs”. Their founding statement says that “faced with the vacuum of power created by the flight of officials linked to the RCD”, they have decided to create a local and a regional council “to protect the revolution and to manage the running of the city and the governorate”.

In a very significant development the army seems to be testing the ground as to how far they can go in restoring “order”, i.e. restoring the old authorities in the towns and cities which have been taken over by the peoples’ revolutionary committees. In the town of Sidi Bou Rouis, also in the Siliana governorate, the “Council for the Protection of the People's Revolution” has issued the following statement:

The Army Commander has called the Bou Rouis local committees and told them that within the framework of things being brought back to normal functioning, the return of council members and mayors has been approved.

As a result of this dangerous development ‘the Bou Rouis Council for the Protection of the People's Revolution’ has called an emergency meeting this evening to discuss the new situation and how to deal with it, and calls for the mobilisation of the whole people today and tomorrow in mass rallies and agrees the following urgent demands:

1) The formation of a national transitional government consisting of national figures known for their integrity and who were not involved with the former regime to run state affairs and draft a new constitution and new electoral rules.

2) The dissolution of the House of Representatives and the Council of Advisers, which lost all semblance of legitimacy during the people's revolution for freedom and dignity.

3) The issuing of a ban to prevent elements of the former regime from exercising any political activity on the grounds of complicity with the former ruling party which plunged the country into a dark period dominated by injustice and tyranny, corruption and unemployment and the wastage of an unprecedented amount of wealth of the country at the expense of the public who are subject to all forms of repression and deprivation.

Long live the People... Long live the Revolution

Glory to the people... Glory to the martyrs... Glory to the revolution of Tunisia for dignity and freedom.

Time: 15:40, Bou Rouis, 20 January [full Arabic original below].

لجنة بورويس لحماية الثورة الشعبية

بيان عام

قائد الجيش بمنطقة سليانة يستدعي اللجان المحلية ببورويس ويعلمهم أنه وفي إطار
إعادة الأمور إلى سيرها الطبيعي سوف يقع إرجاع المعتمد وأعضاء المجلس البلدي والعمد
وعلى إثر هذا التطور الخطير تدعو "لجنة بورويس لحماية الثورة الشعبية" إلى إجتماع طارئ هذا المساء لتدارس الأوضاع المستجدة وكيفية التعاطي معها ميدانيا وتستنفر كامل عناصرها وقواعدها الشعبية اليوم و تدعو مبدئيا إلى مسيرات حاشدة غدا وتعلن المطالب العاجلة الآتية

تشكيل مجلس وطني تأسيسي إنتقالي يتكون من شخصيات وطنية مشهود لها بالنزاهة لم تتورط مع النظام السابق يسير شؤون الدولة ويعد
لدستور جديد ومجلة إنتخابية جديدة
حل مجلس النواب ومجلس المستشارين اللذان أسقطت عنهما "الثورة الشعبية من أجل الحرية والكرامة" جميع مظاهر الشرعية
سن قانون يمنع عناصر النظام البائد من ممارسة أي نشاط سياسي على آعتبار تواطؤهم مع السلطة السابقة في إقحام البلاد في فترة مظلمة سادها الظلم والإستبداد والفساد والبطالة وإهدار غير مسبوق لثروات الوطن على حساب أبناء عامة الشعب الذين عانو جميع أشكال الكبت والحرمان

عاش الشعب... عاشت الثورة

المجد للشعب... المجد للشهداء... المجد لثورة تونس من أجل الكرامة والحرية

الساعة: 15:40

This is an extraordinary state of affairs, in which the people have not only taken power in the whole of the Siliana governorate, but are standing strong in the face of the attempt of the army to restore the old mayors back in power. We see how, like in the statement from the Provisional Council of Sidi Bou Ali, they call for a provisional government to be formed, composed of nationally recognised figures not linked to the old regime. We think that it should be the revolutionary committees and councils themselves who should organise such a transitional body, which should be charged with convening a genuinely democratic national assembly.

Meanwhile, the masses continue their direct action, deepening the scope of the revolution also into the workplaces. There are many reports of journalists in state owned newspapers, radio stations, TV channels, etc., which used to be nothing but disgusting mouthpieces of Ben Ali’s propaganda, getting organised and taking over the editorial line.

This is the case at the state-owned La Presse. El-Heni, a journalist in the foreign desk explains:

We had an important meeting and decided to create two elected editorial committees to supervise the editorial line, and we told the boss that he would no longer have any editorial control… He is only here for finance and administration. He was clever enough to understand that.

One of the La Presse journalists, who had been sacked for political reasons, has been reinstated as the head of the journalists’ union in the paper.

In state-owned companies, ministries and private companies owned or linked to the Trabelsi family, workers’ assemblies and strikes have been organised to drive out the hated RCD managers, CEOs and high ranking officials.

On January 18, UGTT workers at STAR, one of the country’s main insurance companies, went on strike and expelled the company’s CEO, Abdelkarim Merdassi, in protest at his links with the Trabelsi clan. This video (above) captured the extraordinary moment when the workers physically expelled him from his office while singing the national anthem.

Similar movements developed at the oil distribution company SNDP, where the CEO Rafaa Dkhul was also kicked out by the workers, who criticised his close links with the Trabelsi family. Dkhul had given the Trabelsi clan concessions of a number of petrol stations worth millions of euro. At the Banque de Tunisie, its general director Alia Abdallah and all high-ranking officers have been barred by the workers, organised by the UGTT, from entering their offices, in order to prevent the destruction of potentially incriminating documents. The workers have seized all sensitive documents and computers.

Also expelled from their positions by the action of the workers and their trade unions are Moncef Bouden, from the tax office, Moncef Dakhli, CEO of the National Agricultural Bank and Montassar Ouaïli, CEO of Tunisie Telecom. The outgoing minister of sport, Abdelhamid Slama was prevented by the workers from entering his old ministry to pick up his things. The list of companies where the workers have taken action is very long. Today, the workers of the Tunis public transport went on strike also demanding the dismissal of the CEO of their company.

The Tunisian business press is full of articles complaining about the “lack of respect for the law” and asking “what is the Ministry of the Interior doing” about these actions on the part of the workers. An opinion article on the business website Web Manager Centre implored “Let’s not put businessmen on their knees”. Another was entitled “Discipline – ‘comrades’”.

[Read the full article at http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-revolutionary-initiative-of-masses-continues.htm.]

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January 24, 2011 -- Reports coming in at the end of last week referred to the resumption of production at the country’s main industrial centres by January 21, meaning that they had been paralysed, either by strike action or the general chaos caused by the revolutionary events, for nearly a week.

As we reported on January 21 (see above), workers in state-owned companies and in others that have been privatised have been taking all sorts of direct action (strikes, occupations, sit-ins, petitions) to demand their rights and particularly to remove the most corrupt managers and those with links to the Ben Ali Trabelsi clan.

As well as the examples we already reported (STAR insurance, National Agricultural Bank, Tunisie Telecom, national tax office, etc), there were also strike movements and occupations at the National Water Company, where workers occupied the company’s buildings demanding the removal of managers and directors linked to old regime. In Béja, workers and doctors at the local hospital demonstrated demanding the removal of RCD symbols from the premises. Also in the Béja region there were reports of peasants occupying land which they said had been confiscated from them by Ben Ali’s nephew.

Air stewards of Tunisair marched to the central headquarters of the company in the Charguia industrial area, demanding the removal of the company’s CEOs but also the regularisation of their contracts. Civil Aviation Office workers also demanded the removal of their director whom they said had been involved in handing over public property and airport concessions to Ben Ali’s relatives. In Monastir, airport workers have announced the occupation of the installations today (Monday, January 24). Political demands against corruption, for the removal of managers, etc., have been become united with social demands, for better wages and conditions, etc.

The movement is not only affecting traditional sectors of the working class, but also “liberal” professionals, middle ranking layers, etc. In Tunis, scientists and other personnel at the City of Sciences also decided to occupy the installations until the director is removed. Thousands of culture workers (artists, theatre workers, cinema technicians, writers, etc) gathered on Saturday night outside the National Theatre to demand the resignation of the government and pay tribute to the martyrs of the revolution.

Meanwhile, in Siliana, where the revolutionary people have created local and regional councils and decided to take power, a mass demonstration on January 22 marched on the regional governor’s office. The governor had to be whisked away under the protection of the army and the masses proceeded to occupy the governorate building. With their actions they proved that their statements were serious and that they meant business. Siliana is now under the control of the revolutionary people. We recommend all our readers watch the video footage of this glorious episode of the Tunisian revolution.

`Liberation Caravan'

Image removed.Soldier guarding the Prime Minister's Office. Photo: Nasser Nori.After a week of regional strikes and mass demonstrations against the government, a growing feeling of anger and frustration was developing among sections of the movement. They could feel that Gannouchi’s government was stealing the revolution from the workers and youth and that something was needed to put an end to it.

The initiative came from the revolutionary youth in Sidi Bouzid, which quickly spread throughout the country. They organised a “Liberation Caravan” that has marched on the capital with the aim of “overthrowing the government”. At first the march was supposed to walk all the way to Tunis, but the youth got impatient and they decided to drive, in order to get there faster. By January 23 afternoon, some 1000 youth from Sidi Bouzid, Regueb and other towns and cities from the interior had arrived in the capital and camped in the yard outside the Kasbah, the site of the Prime Minister’s office. “The Kasbah is the Bastille of Tunis, and we will bring it down like the French sans-culottes destroyed the Bastille in 1789,” said one of the demonstrators. Another added: “We have overthrown Ben Ali, but we have not yet overthrown his system.”

The sit-in was in clear violation of the curfew imposed by the government, but there was not much the police or the army could do at that point (see video). There were reports of similar caravans coming from other towns and cities in the country, but also of movements by the army to stop them, even leading to clashes. On January 23 evening, protesters from Borj Cedra and Soliman, South of Tunis were blocked by the army when they were on their way to the capital, but it seems that after some wrangling they were allowed through. On the same day, the army attempted to stop three buses and a number of cars leaving the mining city of Gafsa for the capital. After the youth threatened to go back to Gafsa and declare a general strike, the army allowed them through. A similar situation developed in Kasserine, when the army also blocked the caravan leaving for the capital and even fired warning shots against the crowd. After some struggle the youth fought their way through.

Early this morning (January 24), there were clashes between the police and the protestors outside the prime minister’s building. The army and the police had cordoned off the Kasbah. According to some reports, the Army put itself between the protestors and the police and broke up the skirmishes with warning shots in the air.

We can see in these skirmishes how the government is already testing the ground, trying to reassert its authority and seeing how strong the movement is and how much they can use the forces of repression against it. So far, all the reports of mostly minor clashes between the army and the police and the revolutionary people have ended up with the masses imposing their will.

[Read the full article at http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-overthrow-the-government.htm.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 13:12


Last Modified: 23 Jan 2011
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Police, national guard members and firemen have begun to distance themselves from the government [Reuters]

Thousands of demonstrators, including police officers, lawyers and students, have taken to the streets of Tunisia's capital, Tunis, in another day of unrest in the North African country.

At least 2,000 police officers participated in Saturday's demonstrations, according to the Associated Press news agency. They were joined by members of the national guard and fire departments.

Crowds gathered in front of the office of Mohamed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister, and on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main street of Tunis.

The rally was the latest in a month of turmoil that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's longstanding ruler, sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia on January 14.

While many demonstrators are continuing to demand the dissolution of the interim government, the police officers who have joined the protests are seeking better working conditions and an improvement in what they call unfair media portrayal.

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, said that the police officers marched with protesters, wearing red armbands in solidarity with the marching crowds.

"They said they want to be with people now, they want to be part of the revolution," she said.

"They no longer want to be persecuted - they say, 'Please don't blame us for the deaths of the protesters'."

At the prime minister's office, Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported, protesters broke through barricades but no violence occurred.

He reported that the anti-riot squad pleaded with the crowd, saying: 'Do whatever you want to do but please don't storm the office of the prime minister. That is a red line."

But protesters were already starting to break the barricades by late afternoon.

Masoud Romdhani, a trade union activist who was at the demonstration, told Al Jazeera that the protests must continue in order to oust entirely the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), the former ruling party.

Many Tunisians are angry over the inclusion of several prominent members of Ben Ali's administration in the new interim cabinet.

Romdhani said labour activists feel that "nothing is done" until the RCD is removed.

Countering such criticism, Sami Zaoui, the Tunisian secretary for communication technologies, told Al Jazeera that "civil society" and opposition parties account for more than two-thirds of the transitional government.

He also rejected the view that Ghannouchi was "in a difficult situation" and played down the ongoing protests as "very local demonstrations".

"We cannot say that the entire country is currently demonstrating," Zaoui said.

Dissolution demanded

Thousands of protesters have been holding daily protests, demanding the dissolution of the interim administration, since Ben Ali fled earlier this month.

In an effort to dampen the anger, Ghannouchi, who is a former ally of Ben Ali, pledged to quit politics after elections that he says will be held as soon as possible.

In an interview on Tunisian television on Friday, Ghannouchi said he would leave power after a transition phase that leads to legislative and presidential elections "in the shortest possible timeframe."

Despite resigning his RCD membership, he has been struggling to restore calm under a new multiparty government that the opposition complains retains too many members of the party. Interim president Fouad Mebazaa also resigned his RCD membership.


"My role is to bring my country out of this temporary phase and even if I am nominated I will refuse it and leave politics," Ghannouchi said.

He did not specify when the elections would be held, though the constitution requires a presidential vote within 60 days. He said the elections must be a success "to show the world that our country has a civilisation."

Ghannouchi also said that all of the assets held abroad by Ben Ali's regime had been frozen and would be returned to Tunisia after an investigation.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Tunis, said that Ghannouchi also announced that the state would provide compensation to those who died during the uprising, as well as their families.

The army and the justice department have been ordered to preserve any documents and evidence that can be gathered during the unrest in order to investigate the old government, our correspondent said.

The transitional government has also said that it would lift a ban on political groups, including the Islamist al-Nahda (Renaissance) party.

The exiled leader of the formerly banned party, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that al-Nahda is democratic and should not be feared and rejected any comparison between him and Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"We are a moderate Islamic movement, a democratic movement based on democratic ideals in ... Islamic culture. Some people pull Khomeini's robe over me, while I am no Khomeini nor a Shia," he said.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister (not related to Rachid al-Ghannouchi) has said that the Nahda leader cannot return to Tunisia until a 1991 prison sentence is lifted. 

Al Jazeera and agencies

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 14:27


January 21, 2011 -- It was driven by disenfranchised young people, but are professional politicians now trying to take over?

Dubbed the Jasmine revolution, Tunisia's uprising was driven by the youth of the country.

It all started with a young man who set himself ablaze, igniting a popular rebellion.

The young dominated the scene and over the past month dozens of young people have been killed confronting the authority's use of deadly force.

In a country where half the population is under the age of 25, that is a lot of disenfranchised, disenchanted ... just plain dissed young people.

It was a popular, organic revolt, with no external influence or firebrand clerics leading it. There was really no prominent leadership at all - just young people expressing their seething frustrations and taking to the streets.

Some have called it the Facebook or Twitter revolution because social media played a critical role in fanning the flames of discontent and spreading the news to a captivated world.

But is Tunisia's Jasmine revolution entering a new phase? Driven by the youth and trade unions, are professional politicians now hijacking the Tunisian uprising? How do the young people of Tunisia feel about the course their revolution is taking?

In this special show from Tunis, Inside Story presenter James Bays discusses with: Fidaa al-Hammami, a graduate student and opposition activist; Haifa Jmour, a tour guide and blogger; and Dhouha Bokri, a graduate student and activist.

This episode of Inside Story aired on Thursday, January 20, 2011.