Tunisia, Egypt and the region: will the Revolution continue and spread?
The call for change and revolution from Tunisia has actually echoed to the masses and spread to other countries of the region, especially Egypt where we witnessed huge demonstrations, gathering to 15000 to 50000 people, throughout the country against the regime on Tuesday 25th of January. The demonstrations were organized by the ‘ Movement of April 6 “and other groups who called for a “day of revolt against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.” Violent clashes between police and protesters lasted into early Wednesday morning, as security services sought to disperse a crowd of thousands that had planned to sleep in Tahrir Square in central Cairo. The “Movement of April 6 “, which was one of the initiator of the demonstration on Tuesday, has called for a second day of mobilization on Wednesday and next Friday in Egypt, yesterday several thousand people gathered in Cairo and throughout the country, while Clashes happened between the police and the protesters in Cairo and in the town of Suez. More than 500 protesters were arrested. On its Facebook page, the group called on Egyptians to gather at the main square in Cairo, where 10,000 people, according to official figures, had already demonstrated Tuesday. The role of cyber activists was very important in the mobilization of protesters and spread information, and as well as a way to express themselves. In 2008, according to the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, on approximately 160 000 blogs in Egypt, 20% were political in nature. These blogs continually attracted popular attention until now, by criticizing public officials and officials’ practices, as well as denouncing torture and human rights violations by state security forces. The Egyptians regime has actually on Wednesday 26th of January shot down Twitter and Facebook for a while during the day.
On Tuesday, Two protesters died in the port city of Suez, east of Cairo, during Tuesday’s unrest and a policeman was also killed, while security officials also said that 250 protesters had been wounded and another 200 arrested.
It is important to notice that neither the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition political party in the county with strong mobilization capacity, the Wafd, the first secular opposition party, as well as the Communist Paty Tagamou have issued a formal call to march, but indicated that their young activists could join the procession.
Egypt suffers from worse socio economic patterns than Tunisia with IMF and World Bank policies implemented in the country since the seventies with Sadate arrival to power, the Egyptian government dismantling systematically since then the social services of the State and increasing privatization. Firstly on the social level the youngsters have suffered from the economic reforms made by the Egyptian government to attract foreign investments and develop exportations. These reforms were able to boost Egyptian macroeconomic results, but the consequences on the social situation in the country were harsh and costly for the majority of Egyptians. The suppression or the diminution of subventions, particularly for goods of first necessity, combined to inflation, of around 10% these past years, resulted in harder life conditions for the Egyptian population. The issue of unemployment is also important: since 2000 the right for an automatic job for the graduate was once again reconsidered (in the seventies the government had already weakened this disposition). This stemmed from the Egyptian’s government will to encourage the private sector to play a greater role in the creation of jobs. Unfortunately, in spite of an increase in education enrollment, poor educational standards and educational system poorly attunes to the needs of the labor market is the rule. These elements, the government absence to furnish jobs and weak education system, have produced high unemployment and underemployment levels among youth. 83 % of the unemployed are in the age group 15-29, and 47% between the ages of 20-24. Youth with secondary education or above constitutes 95 percent of unemployed youth. In addition to high unemployment levels, youth also suffer from underemployment. Around 72% of labor market entrants are employed in the informal and low wage sector. Besides, in addition to the social degradation, the sanitary level is deteriorating, actually, health systems have witnessed an increase in disease nearly eradicated, particularly linked to malnutrition and to the bad quality of water.
Students and workers have suffered from this neo liberal economic policy, just as in Tunisia, and this is why they were the two main actors in the demonstrations of Tuesday, like it happened in the past with the strike of al Mahala al Kobra in April 2008 where we observed a joint mobilization as well.
Egyptians are challenging the authoritarian regime of Moubarak, which implemented destructive neo liberal policy impoverishing the society as a whole except a small minority of corrupted bourgeois linked to the regime and foreign interests, especially American interests.
In Tunisia the revolutionary process is still and more than ever at a turning point. The first signs of counterrevolutionary movements supported by members of the former regime are observed, while the demands of the protest movement, except the resignation of Ben Ali, have actually not been met by the so called unity government, which was born dead and lost all legitimacy following the resignation of Ministers from the Unions and some opposition parties. The need to continue the revolution is crucial in order to secure the democratic and social rights of the people. The movement has understood this threat and is therefore maintaining the pressure on the so called unity government as we can observe events of the past few days in Tunisia.
The mobilization of the movement has actually not weakened, and is still powerful. A general strike was on Wednesday 26th of January in Sfax, the second biggest city in Tunisia, which mobilized around 50 000 people, demanding the dissolution of the Rally Constitutional Democracy (RCD and a new government. The protests continued these past few days in Tunis and in several regions within the country, waiting on the formation of a new unity government cleaned from former members of the ruling regime. The protesters also called for the complete dissolution of the RCD and some socio-economic reforms. Hundreds of participants, from cities in west-central Tunisia such as Sidi Bouzaid, Kasserine, poor rural areas where the movement of protest started, have actually formed a “caravan of freedom” and they are camping on the Kasbah square, in front the office of the Prime Minister, demanding the departure of the members of the former ruling party from the government and social economic issues. On Monday 24th of January, teachers of primary schools launched an unlimited strike demanding as well the resignation of former Ben Ali’s Ministers. The national union of secondary school called as well for a one-day strike Thursday, January 27, and to organize demonstrations calling for the dissolution of the government which was imposed on the Tunisians.
The running out of the popular protest, which was counting on the so called unity government, did not occur. This latter tried to appease the protesters through symbolic measures such as to provide emergency aid to victims’ families and merchants who were damaged during the revolts and to provide a monthly grant of 150 dinars (80 euros) for unemployed graduates who will also benefit from a social security cover and preferential tariffs for transport. These decisions aim to put an end to the movement of protest and not address the fundamental socio economic problems of Tunisia. A monthly grant will not solve the issue of unemployment or high cost of living. The movement of protest, which was initially based on social and economic demands and still is, was nevertheless not influenced by these attempts from the so called unity government. The whole Tunisian economic system will have to be changed, because the Tunisians have seen the terrible consequences based on relatively low wages ensuring a genuine social doping and that encourages foreign direct investment. This economic option is actually presented to countries poor in raw materials as the price to pay to ensure employment and the development of a country that otherwise can not rely on anything else than tourism. But economic dependency clearly has its downside. From the reversal of the international economic environment in 2009, Tunisia was found trapped by an artificial model with all the negative consequences on employment and domestic incomes. Policies of the IMF and World Bank have actually created more dependency and more underdevelopment.
The so called unity government has not only tried to put an end to the movement of protest by these symbolic measures, but as well in ordering the police to disperse the different demonstrations against the unity government, tear gas being used against the protesters systematically, notably in front The Prime Minister office, in the Kasbah square. In addition to this the security apparatus that used to oversee the police state established by Ben Ali has not been dismantled, stressed on Monday, human rights organization.
Former ruling members in the government are definitely trying to gather counterrevolutionary forces against the movement of protest. On Tuesday 25th of January for example, a pro-government rally took place on Avenue Bourguiba, gathering more than 2,000 demonstrators. They chanted slogans in favor of the current Prime Minister and also against the head of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) Abdessalem Jrad. At Gafsa, capital of the mining area of west-central Tunisia, shaken by social unrest in 2008, it took the intervention of the army, to end clashes between divergent groups outside the headquarters of the regional union association. The Union became through the movement of protest one of the leading actors on the Tunisian political scene and refusing to participate in the so called unity government composed of former Ben Ali’s minister.
The workers and the students have to face this counterrevolutionary threat which could put an end to the movement of protest as well as to its demands for social, economic and political change in Tunisian society. The threat of a return of the old order, an authoritarian bourgeois regime liked to foreign interest, is clearly present. The need to continue the revolution and make it permanent is crucial for the Tunisians to be able to secure their future democratic and social rights, and this is also why it is important for the revolution to spread in the region to strengthen the movement in Tunisia and liberate other masses from their authoritarian regime.
Similar signs of discontent among Arab masses happened these past few days with demonstrations mixing social and political demands, most notably in Jordan, another important western backed regime. Firstly it is important to remind that some 25% of Jordanians live below the poverty line, according to a study of the Economic and Social Jordan. The Hashemite kingdom has been implementing neo liberal policies for years now, and this path was accelerated by kind Abdallah II’s arrival to power in 1999. These policies included opening the trade regime, privatizing state-owned companies, and eliminating most fuel subsidies. The global economic slowdown, however, has depressed Jordan’s GDP growth while foreign assistance to the government in 2009 plummeted, hampering the government’s efforts to reign in the large budget deficit. Export-oriented sectors such as manufacturing, mining, and the transport of re-exports have been hit the hardest. Unemployment rates are estimated to around 30%.
Last Friday, thousands of people demonstrated in cities across the kingdom to protest against inflation and unemployment, and also to demand the downfall of the government, despite the release by the latter of 120 million dinars (169 million USD) to bring down prices and create jobs. The government has also decided to increase salaries for civil servants and pensioners of $ 28 per month.
Protesters nevertheless called for a new demonstration on Friday 28th of January and demanded for a “constitutional amendment” that would limit the powers of the king. They asked that the head of the Parliament becomes the de facto Prime Minister or the Chief Executive, who is actually elected directly by the people. The Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint or dismiss the prime minister of his choice.
The ruling bourgeois class of Egypt and Jordan, not only have they been serving financial foreign interests impoverishing their societies; they were as well tools of imperialism policy. Both regimes are close ally of the USA and have defended its policy at all cost, especially in the Palestinian issue. It’s the only two countries that have made peace with Israel and concluded economic as well as security agreements with the Zionist State. Egypt has played an important role in collaborating in the siege of Gaza.
We can observe how once again neo liberal policies and imperialism policy are linked and reinforce each other. It is basically a bourgeois comprador ruling class enriching itself through the implementation of neo liberal policy and serving foreign economic and political imperial policy.
The Permanent revolution is again more than needed. Movements of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere are based on social and political demands, and the students and the workers are the main actors in these events. These movement of protests grew and increased from social injustice and authoritarian and corrupted regimes. A socialist revolution would assure political democracy as well as it would try to put an end to inequality, exploitation and oppression of the people from their regimes. The only solution to liberate the people and put an end to destructive neo liberal and imperial policies is permanent revolution. The people of the region has understood it and they are in the streets now.
Article also available on Counterfire: http://counterfire.org/index.php/articles/international/9582
Article also available on Counterfire: http://counterfire.org/index.php/articles/international/9582