Tunisia: Masses create people's power bodies in neighbourhoods and workplaces
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.]
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
(1 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 (2 حل مجلس النواب ومجلس المستشارين اللذان أسقطت عنهما "الثورة الشعبية من أجل الحرية والكرامة" جميع مظاهر الشرعية (3 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
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
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
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’”.
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
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.
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.]
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
He also rejected the view that Ghannouchi was "in a difficult
situation" and played down the ongoing protests as "very local
"We cannot say that the entire country is currently demonstrating," Zaoui said.
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
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
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.
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.
young dominated the scene and over the past month dozens of young
people have been killed confronting the authority's use of deadly force.
a country where half the population is under the age of 25, that is a
lot of disenfranchised, disenchanted ... just plain dissed young people.
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
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.
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.