Tunisia : where is the revolution heading?

Tunisia’s Yasmin revolution is at a crossroad; will the wind of protest stop with the fall of Ben Ali and the composition of a “unity government” already weakened by the resignation of four ministers? Or will the mobilization continue in order to impose a new form of governing system? The question is basically will we witness a socialist revolution in a near future or will the Tunisian protest movement ends with this democratic revolution? This is a common feature of any kind of revolutionary process across the world and across time, and the outcome has varied greatly according to the form of Revolution. The events of the past days are a good indicator of what is to expect for a near future.  
On Monday 17th of January, three days after ex President Ben Ali resigned from power and after one month of popular protest which caused 78 deaths, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian Prime minister, announced the new so called “unity government”. It includes three opposition leaders and few personalities from the civil society, while eight ministers were maintained from the previous regime of Ben Ali and they were also able to keep key posts such as the defense, foreign affairs, interior and finance. This unity government’s main duty is to prepare the presidential and legislative elections in the near future, according to the Prime Minister. Mr Ghannouchi also indicated that the Ministry of Information, accused of censoring the freedom of the press and expression in the country, had been suppressed. He has finally announced the upcoming release of all political prisoners and “total freedom of information” in the country.

The new “unity” government was met with anger and protests by many Tunisians throughout the country. On Monday up to 1,000 protesters gathered mainly near Tunis’ Habib Bourguiba Avenue to demonstrate against the announcement. Tanks and troops were deployed, and water cannons and tear gas fired against demonstrators who demanded that members of Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR) be excluded from the new government. “The revolution continues! CDR out! “chanted hundreds of protesters dispersed by the police. Similar rallies were held in Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Regueb. On Tuesday, demonstrations were also organized in the center of Tunis and several other cities such as Sfax to protest against this new government. In Tunis, riot police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters during a rally against the new government in the centre of the capital while security forces tried to prevent protesters from regrouping in different towns. The resignation of the interim President Fouad Mebazaa and the Prime Minister M. Ghannouchi from the former ruling party CDR on Tuesday night did not appease the opposition or the protesters.

Masoud Ramadani, a workers union activist, actually declared that this government did not answer the aspirations of the trade unions leaders. This feeling was translated politically on Tuesday, Tunisia’s junior minister for transportation and two other ministers members of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) resigned from the newly formed government. The union has decided on Tuesday not to recognize the new government at an extraordinary meeting near Tunis. The head of the UGTT Abdesalam Jerad has criticized the government to have included among its members “barons of the old regime who participated in the repression and in the system of dictatorship”. He added that he wanted a government that meets the aspirations of the Union and of the people. He added that they will continue to struggle with the people and workers to struggle in view to achieve this demand.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Democratic Forum for Labour and Freedom (FDLT) announced the suspension of its participation in the “unity” government, where it had a ministry.

The Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT) actually described the formation of the new government as a so called” small reform (reformette)” and said he will not present any presidential candidate. Hamma Hammami, the party’s spokesperson declared that this is a national government which has nothing national about it. He added that it intended to conserve the old regime in power with all of its authoritarian institutions in place. The islamist movement el-Nahdha, by the voice of his leader in exile in London, Rachid al Ghannouchi, said his party would consider joining the government if asked to do so. These two major political movements were not included in the new “unity” government and they are still prohibited in Tunisia.

One of Tunisia’s best known opposition figures, Moncef Marzouki, a 65-year-old medical doctor and human rights activist, was met by a crowd on his supporters at Tunis airport on Tuesday. He characterized the day before his country’s new government a “masquerade” still dominated by supporters of ex President Ben Ali and criticizing it as a “false opening”.

 The government has only included three opposition political parties which were already legalized under the Ben Ali’s regime. Members of opposition parties included in the interim government have defended its composition, however, saying that the members of the incumbent party who have been retained are not politicians, but are technocrats.

The Tunisian people are back in the streets to finish their Revolution and do not want to see anymore traces of the old regime. The General Union of Tunisian Workers with the important participation and involvement of the students are leading the movement of protests. These are the two sectors of society that have been the most affected by the liberal economic policies, advised by the IMF, of the regime these past years. The Tunisian economy is based primarily on service companies (43.2% of GDP in 2007), on products with low added value (olive oil, grains) and the export of phosphate (2nd world exporter). Economic development is also very uneven: predominantly focused on the Tell to the west (hills’ region) with phosphates and on the coast with industries and tourism. This leaves the South and the North with very significant poverty rates. The government economic liberal policy did not develop Tunisia; quite on the opposite it gave away the country to a small minority usually linked with the regime, as well as to foreign interests and Tunisian industries now enriches Europe. The privileged relationship between France and Ben Ali was notably explained by the fact that it was the foreign investor in Tunisia in 2008 with a record of 280 million euro investments. 1250 French companies are now active in this country, with a total of 106,000 jobs. The unemployment rate nevertheless doubled through the years, especially affecting graduate students who do not find any work opportunities, while the rate of enrollment in school declined and the country observed growing inequality in society.

 The General Union of Tunisian Workers has led the opposition to these policies from a while ago despite it has been severely weakened by a combination of repression, privatization of state jobs and sometimes accommodation by the union leadership. In 1978 and in 1983, it was already the workers from the UGTT who launched strikes against the new liberal policies which raised the cost of life. In 2008, it is once again the UGTT which are at the basis of the uprisings of the mines workers in the region of Gafsa. On Friday 14th, the UGTT called for a general strike which was followed massively by the workers and students gathering more than 10000 people in the streets of Tunis, while throughout the country few thousands were marching in their cities. Yesterday, the Union, as well as other opposing political parties including the PCOT, decided to not recognize the current “unity government”, therefore reflecting the feeling of the protesters. 

The movement of protest is showing its will to go further on with revolution refusing any reminiscences or symbols of the former regime. They want a real change in the nature of the political system, which does not allow the return of the old order in any way.

In this respect, the theory of “permanent revolution” of Trotsky, never seem so true in the Tunisian revolutionary process.

Firstly on the Tunisian level, we have seen that the democratic revolution did not get rid of the former regime. The unity government includes 8 ministers from it, and they hold the key portfolios such as the Interior minister which has the responsibility of the next Presidential elections. No plans have either been announced to socialize the economy or and to recuperate important parts of the economy held by the relatives of the Ben Ali family. The current “unity” government clearly does not respond to the expectations of the protesters. The Tunisian people want a government which reflects the movement of protests aspiration and needs, which are democratic and social.

The working class, with the mobilization of students, should take the next step in order to not let the older regime to threaten to return anymore and in any ways. A solution is notably to take the same measures which were taken at the liberation of Tunisia in 1956 by the nationalization of the main resources of the country. In 1956, Tunisia nationalized the resources that had been stolen and then the state managed 80% of the economy, provoking strong growth. Today large sectors of the Tunisian economy have been privatized.

Important sectors of the economy have been sold through the years to a small minority linked to the Ex president family, strongly facilitated by the corruption of the regime. They now control banks such as the International Arab Bank of Tunisia (BIAT), Tunisian bank, Zeitounia and Mediobanca; services companies which were privatized and bought by them such as the Tunisian Navigation Company (CTN), the national company Ennakl of Tunisian transports and the company MAS involved in the management of services the airport of Tunis; as well as the main propagandas instruments are in their hands from radios, to television channels and newspapers. The Ben Ali’s family for example possesses the Cactus company which holds 60% of the national channel incomes. The Ben Ali clan also stole people’s lands; tens of hectares of farmland have actually been distributed to the family. They were finally able with the complicity of the Central Bank, to transfer massive amounts of money overseas. All transfers of money from the Ben Ali’s family relatives was estimated in the period 1987-2009 to about $ 18 billion, the equivalent of the Tunisian debt. 

Therefore in order to secure political democracy and to try to put an end to inequality, exploitation and oppression, the movement of protest led by the workers and the students must be able to achieve a socialist revolution. This will nevertheless not be possible if all means of production, as well as the mental ones, are in the control of this small minority of capitalists linked to the former regime which supported them. The workers and the students should continue to organize in committees in neighborhoods and in village, as it was witnessed throughout the country since Friday, to continue the struggle and spread the message of full revolution. Democratic rights will be guaranteed not through a so called unity government vastly composed of former regime members and discredited already by the resignation of ministers linked to the UGTT, but by the working class accession to power.

St Just, a leader of the French Revolution of 1789, actually declared: “Those who make half a revolution dig their own grave.” This appeared to be very true across history, especially if we compare the half way German revolution which had ups and downs until 1923, but ended with the victory of capitalism and the rise of Nazism, while the Russian full revolution allowed the establishment of the Soviet Union, as well as workers councils to rule Russia until they were destroyed by Stalin in the late 1920s. 

Secondly in order for the socialist revolution to be successful and to secure its achievements from foreign interferences it needs to spread to other countries in the region. The neighboring authoritarian regimes remained silent during the whole period of the revolt and until now, fearing similar events in their countries. Lybia, which has by the voice of its leader Khadhafi publicly regret the departure of Ben Ali, has helped the ex Tunisian President flee out the country, as well as assisted some groups of looters to create more anarchy in the street, according to some sources.    

Many regimes of the region share actually the same patterns than Tunisia: authoritarian, strongly corrupted, no democratic rights, high unemployment, especially affecting graduates student and higher cost of living, while social rights have been more and more cuts through the years following IMF policies. The Arab street welcome and congratulated the Tunisians for the Yasmin Revolution, witnessing images of people waving Tunisian flags or tearing pictures of Ben Ali all over the region.    

Many protests took place in several Arab countries following the revolution in Tunisia, the far majority with social crisis features. In Jordan, thousands of people in different cities of the country marched to protest against high unemployment and higher cost of living. The protesters asked as well for the resignation of the current government, and in a communiqué delivered by Jordanian Unions they declared that the revolution in Tunisia is a lesson for all and calling the Arab crowd to start an uprising against their authoritarian leaders. Fifty Jordanian trade unionists staged a sit-in on Saturday in front of the embassy Tunisia in Amman, and called for the spread of the revolution of Tunisia. In the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Sunday, a thousand of students, called on Arab nations to rise against their leaders, just like Tunisians. In Oman, about 200 people demonstrated in the capital Muscat Monday to denounce the high cost of living, a rare phenomenon in this monarchy. In addition to these demonstrations, the Tunisian who set himself on fire has been taken as an example elsewhere in the Arab world. Thus, people repeated his gesture these past few days in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania as a way to protest against their conditions of life.

Few authoritarian regimes have besides understood the danger of similar events in their country and have announced social plans in order to avoid them. Koweit has decided for example to grant 4 billion USD to the indigenous population and to provide free food for 14 months during a series of national celebrations with the anniversary of the Emirate. In Syria, which is witnessing more and more inequality among people in society since few years, a presidential decree  announced on Monday the creation of a “National Fund for social aid” of 250 millionUSD, intended to assist some 420 000 families living in extreme poverty. The Syrian government announced its intention to invest 14 billion USD in human development within its five year plan (2011-2015).

The Tunisian revolution might spread a movement of protest throughout the countries of the region which suffer from the same ills than the Ben Ali regime. The revolutionary process in Tunisia will definitely be strengthened by similar events in neighboring countries and the toppling of a second authoritarian regime. Progressist movement could then gather their forces against reactionary and imperialist forces, as well as be basis for other progressive movement struggling in their country.

Trotsky permanent revolution theory never has been so current; the Tunisian movement of protest has refused the “unity” government, as well as all the reminiscence and symbols of the former regime. It has shown its intention to continue the revolution and make it permanent. The workers and students have now to continue the struggle by challenging the current bourgeoisie linked to the former regimes and create new forms of power in order to achieve the socialist revolution.  

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