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Tunisia: towards a second revolution?

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  • Cort Greene
    http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-towards-a-second-revolution.htm Tunisia: towards a second
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2013
      http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-towards-a-second-revolution.htm

      Tunisia: towards a second
      revolution?<http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-towards-a-second-revolution.htm>
      Written by Jorge MartinThursday, 07 February 2013
      [image: Print]<http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-towards-a-second-revolution/print.htm>[image:
      E-mail]<http://www.marxist.com/component/option,com_mailto/link,63c95cd58d974feaf61e5a0d37f5e04c48651ae7/tmpl,component/>

      On the morning of February 6th, the prominent left wing leader Chokri
      Bela�d was assassinated in front of his house in Tunis. Thousands have
      taken to the streets, attacked offices of the ruling Ennahda party, which
      they consider responsible for the assassination, and a general strike has
      been called for tomorrow, February 8th. This could be the incident that
      sparks a much needed second revolution, two years after the overthrow the
      hated Ben Al� regime.

      [image: chokri-belaid]<http://www.marxist.com/images/stories/tunisia/chokri-belaid.jpg>Chokri
      Bela�dChokri Bela�d was the general secretary of the Unified Party of
      Patriotic Democrats (PUPD), which describes itself as Marxist and
      Pan-Arabist, as well as being one of the leading figures of the Popular
      Front, a coalition of left wing forces including the Workers Party (PT,
      formerly the PCOT). Bela�d�s family and comrades lay the blame for his
      assassination on the so-called �Leagues for the Protection of the
      Revolution�, gangs of fascist thugs linked to the ruling Islamist party
      Ennahda. Hamma Hammami, the spokesperson of the Popular Front and main
      leader of the PT declared: �the government as a whole is responsible for
      this political crime�. The current government is a coalition between the
      Islamist Ennahda, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the social
      democratic Ettakol.

      On Saturday, February 2nd, a regional congress of the PUPD was attacked by
      Salafist gangs leaving 11 people injured. At that meeting Chokri Bela�d
      denounced Ennahda as being responsible for the attack, which was the latest
      in a constant and growing campaign of intimidation and violence carried out
      by Islamic extremists.

      As news spread of his assassination, thousands immediately gathered in
      protest demonstrations, both in the capital Tunis and in cities and towns
      across the country including Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, B�ja, Kasserine, Bizerte,
      Mahdia, Sousse, Siliana and Mezzouna. In many of these places the
      demonstrators ransacked and torched the offices of the ruling Ennahda
      party. Thousands gathered in the Habib Bourgiba Avenue in the capital and
      outside the Ministry of the Interior. Once again, the shouts of �the people
      want the overthrow of the regime�, which were the rallying cry of the
      Tunisian revolution against Ben Al�, were heard again.

      Incredibly, despite the official condemnation of the killing by the
      government and Ennahda, the state used riot police and tear gas against the
      demonstrators and against the procession which accompanied the ambulance
      transporting the body of Bela�d.

      Some of the demonstrations on the day and on Thursday have acquired
      insurrectionary proportions. In Sidi Bouzid youth clashed with the police
      throughout the night and attacked the police barracks, finally forcing them
      to withdraw, to be replaced by the Army on the streets. In Jendouba, a
      march organised by the regional UGTT trade union on Thursday 7, occupied
      the building of the regional governorate and demanded that the governor
      should leave the region. Similarly in Gafsa, paralysed by a general strike,
      demonstrators have clashed with the police while attempting to occupy the
      governorate building. There was also a general strike in Siliana, which had
      already seen a popular uprising in November
      2012<http://www.marxist.com/tunisia-armed-forces-clash-with-striking-workers-and-youth.htm>.
      In Kelibia (Nabeul), the offices of Ennahda were assaulted and the
      government delegate expelled. In El Kef, which was the scene of a regional
      strike two weeks ago, there were huge demonstrations yesterday and today
      and the offices of Ennahda were attacked and the people declared all
      government representatives *persona non grata* in the region. Media reports
      pointed out that police forces were completely absent and that militants of
      the Popular Front had organised stewarding to guarantee public security.

      Clearly, even before the assassination of Bela�d, there had been a build up
      of discontent and anger which had been accumulating for months. The current
      unstable coalition government has never had mass popular support. At the
      time of the Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011, with a turnout
      of just 50% of those registered to vote, Ennahda, the main coalition
      partner got barely 37% of the votes and its coalition partners got even
      less; CPR 8.7% and Ettakol 7%.

      The lack of legitimacy of the tripartite government was shown by the fact
      that the wave of strikes and regional uprisings which was unleashed by the
      overthrow of the Ben Al� government on January 14, 2011, continued
      unabated, though with ups and downs.

      The basic reason for this is that the social and economic conditions of the
      masses have not changed in any significant way. If anything, the situation
      has worsened after the overthrow of the regime. In the past, the Tunisian
      economy was heavily reliant on foreign investment, attracted by cheap
      labour and a stable political situation (ie. a ruthless dictatorial regime
      guaranteeing the suppression of social protests), tourism and the migration
      to Europe as an escape valve. With the onset of the capitalist crisis in
      Europe, these three avenues have dried up. Dozens of European companies
      have closed their factories in Tunisia, as there is no longer social
      �peace�, but also because Europe no longer provides a hungry market for
      their products. Tourism has also collapsed for similar reasons, with a 30%
      drop in the number of tourists in 2011.

      We have to remember that it was mainly the social and economic conditions
      which led to the revolutionary uprising which ended by overthrowing Ben
      Al�. Endemic rates of youth unemployment of over 35% and thousands of
      unemployed graduates with no future were amongst the main reasons for the
      movement. None of that has changed. Unemployment is around 17 to 18%
      overall (up from 13% before the revolution) and 40% for youth.

      The uprising in Siliana, where a general strike demanding jobs and economic
      progress in November led to clashes with the police, with the burning down
      of the Ennahda offices and over 300 people injured, marked the beginning of
      a new wave of protests. At the beginning of December, Salafist thugs (which
      act with the acquiescence of the national government) attacked the offices
      of the UGTT in the capital on the day the trade union was commemorating the
      anniversary of the assassination of its founder. The attacked provoked an
      angry reaction which forced the union leaders to call a national general
      strike for December 13. Even before that day the regions which played a key
      role during the revolution against Ben Al� came out on strike on December
      6: Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Sfax and Kasserine.

      The December 13 general strike was seen by all as a political strike, the
      only aim of which could be the overthrow of the government. Enormous
      pressure was brought to bear on the UGTT leaders which finally, at the last
      minute, decided to call it off. The decision was taken with only a very
      narrow majority and there was widespread discontent amongst the ranks.

      In any case, the calling off of the strike did not solve anything. Regional
      strikes and movements continued, as well as a wave of strikes in different
      sectors involving customs officers, secondary teachers, university
      lecturers, social security officers, hospitals etc. December 2012 ended
      with a regional strike in Jendouba and January 2013 started with a very
      radical general strike in El Kef, with tens of thousands participating in
      the demonstrations and establishing road blockades throughout the region.
      In a sign of the desperation facing many of the unemployed, some of those
      involved in a sit-in to demand jobs went on a hunger strike and decided to
      sew up their lips.

      This enormous pressure from below led to a crisis in the ruling coalition
      and all sorts of attempts to enlarge its scope, that is, to make more
      parties responsible for its economic policies. Throughout January there
      were calls for some sort of �national dialogue� commission to be set up,
      the main aim of which would be to rope the leaders of the UGTT trade union
      into some sort of deal to put an end to the wave of strikes and demands by
      the workers. Meanwhile the government has been in negotiations with the IMF
      for a 1.8 billion dollar loan. The conditions attached to such a loan are,
      in themselves, a recipe for a social explosion, demanding further
      deregulation of the labour market, cut backs in subsidies to basic
      products, a reduction in the number of civil servants.

      Under enormous pressure from below, the UGTT leadership today has decided
      to call a general strike for tomorrow, Friday, to coincide with the funeral
      of Chokri Bela�d. At the same time, the Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali
      decided to sack the government and call for the appointment of a new
      �technocratic government�. This has been rejected by Ennahda (the party he
      belongs to). The manoeuvres and dealings from above reflect the difficulty
      the Tunisian ruling class has in finding a government with enough
      legitimacy to carry out the anti-working class policies which are needed
      from their point of view. This is a reflection of the strength of the
      workers movement.

      The 2010/11 revolution in Tunisia was not completed. Ben Ali was
      overthrown, but his regime and the capitalist system he defended still
      remain. At the time of the revolution there was no clear alternative
      offered by any of the revolutionary organisations which could have taken
      the movement further beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy and towards
      genuine social transformation. In those conditions, the whole movement was
      contained and derailed along bourgeois democratic lines.

      The new revolution that is being prepared, demands that the lessons from
      the shortcomings of the previous one are studied and learnt. The only way
      to solve the pressing problems of the Tunisian masses of workers and the
      poor is through the expropriation of the handful of capitalist families and
      multinational groups which control the country�s economy, so that the
      resources of the country (material and human) can be put under a democratic
      plan of production to start addressing the needs of the masses.

      What needs to be stated clearly is that as long as the capitalist system,
      based on the private property of the means of production, is left untouched
      then, none of the problems of poverty, unemployment and oppression faced by
      millions of Tunisians can be solved. These are precisely the lesson of the
      last two years.

      Tens of thousands of workers and youth have already experienced the joys of
      capitalist �democracy� in Tunisia. They are ready and willing to fight for
      genuine liberation. What is needed is a revolutionary leadership armed with
      a program which can lead them to victory. A similar process is taking place
      in other Arab countries, particularly in Egypt. A new revolutionary upsurge
      in Tunisia will have an even greater impact across the Arab world than the
      overthrow of Ben Ali two years ago.


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