Tunisia: towards a second revolution?
Tunisia: towards a second
Written by Jorge MartinThursday, 07 February 2013
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.
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
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
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
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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