Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tunsian Workers, Youth Rise Up Demanding Fundamental Changes

Regional rebellions worry imperialists and their clients

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Jan 26, 2011 4:53 PM

Jan. 24 — Tunisia’s workers and youth have continued mass demonstrations and strikes aimed at removing the neocolonial regime and replacing it with a representative government of national unity.

The teachers’ union, which is affiliated with the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), struck on Jan. 24. That same day the government sought to reopen schools closed since Jan. 10 following more than three weeks of mass demonstrations, strikes and rebellions. These struggles forced the Western-backed former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, into exile and prevented his RCD party from forming a successor coalition regime.

As teachers struck, other demonstrators fought running battles with the police, hurling stones and smashing windows at the Ministry of Finance building in the capital.

The teachers’ main demand was to abolish the existing regime, which is still dominated by the discredited and repressive party of the former president. In defiance of the RCD-led government’s curfew, demonstrators set up outside Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi’s offices, saying they will not leave until the current regime resigns.

“We will stay here until the government resigns and runs away like Ben Ali,” a student named Othemene told the French press agency (Jan. 24). Small business owners have largely remained sympathetic to the strike or afraid to open up and challenge the protesters.

In efforts to assuage the masses, the new government detained some leading figures who were cronies of former President Ben Ali. State television reported on Jan. 24 that a political adviser, Abdelaziz bin Dhia, and former interior minister and leader of the upper parliamentary house Abdallah Qallal — as well as the head of a private media network — were placed under house arrest for attempting to hamper political reforms. These reforms are still minimal.

The United States and France have been cautious in their statements. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Ghannouchi and told him that the Obama administration was encouraged by moves to bring about an inclusive government in Tunisia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his government’s willingness to extend financial emergency aid to the regime in Tunisia, a former colony. Both imperialist powers had backed Ben Ali until the end.

Liberation Caravan travels to capital

Hundreds of Tunisians from the southern city of Menzel Bouzaiane marched 30 miles, then boarded buses to Tunis, the capital, where they joined protesters on Jan. 23 outside the prime ministry. They tore down a barbed wire barricade and then “completely overwhelmed” the security forces outside Ghannouchi’s office. (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 23)

“They’re chanting the same slogan that has echoed across the country — Down with the regime, down with the former party, down with the interim president and with the prime minister. They’re saying that the fight will continue for as long as it takes, until they see a radical change in Tunisia.” (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 23)

Ghannouchi has promised to leave politics and has publicly resigned from his leadership position in the ruling RCD party, but he has announced no specific date for national elections.

Some leading banned political parties have issued statements rejecting the RCD’s attempt to maintain power through the appointment of selected ministers without any fundamental change in the division of power inside the state.

The exiled leader of the al-Nahda or Renaissance Party, Rachid al-Ghannouchi (not related to the prime minister), who is still banned from Tunisia, said that his organization “is 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.” (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 23)

The al-Nahda party called for a “Constitutional Council which represents all political tendencies and civil society institutions such as trade unions, the Association of Lawyers, and representative bodies of unemployed graduates who played an important role in the revolution, with the aim of building a democratic constitution for a parliamentary system that distributes and decentralizes power on the widest scale possible and puts an end to the corrupt era of one party and its pharaonic leader.” (Monthly Review, Jan. 19)

The RCD government has also announced the release of some 1,800 political prisoners, although some members of the Muslim Brotherhood may still be jailed. (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 20)

Also on Jan. 20, demonstrators attacked the ruling RCD headquarters with a large steel cable that ripped down the name of the organization from the building. The crowd carried placards reading, “We are no longer afraid of you, traitors” and “RCD out!”

During the first few weeks of the uprising, security forces, especially from the 130,000-strong police organization, shot down scores of protestors. The army, which only numbers 45,000 troops, has been more restrained in their approach to the unrest. On Jan. 20 outside the RCD headquarters, an army captain told the crowd, “I am with you. We are not going to shoot you.” (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 20)

Other political parties have issued statements calling for the resignation of the RCD.

The Communist Workers’ Party (PCOT) noted, “All forces which played an effective and crucial role in toppling the dictator, whether political, trade unionist, human rights, or cultural, whatever organized or otherwise, are, alongside the masses, to be involved in drawing Tunisia’s future and cannot be represented by any other figure or body in any negotiations or communications with the government.” (Monthly Review, Jan. 19)

At the same time, the Congress for the Republic party criticized the political maneuvering of the RCD government, calling it “an attempt to abort the revolution and return to the very same old state on the basis of the laws and constitution of dictatorship, and to take us back to the same state, but with a new fa├žade.” (Monthly Review, Jan. 19)

Impact on the region

Demonstrations have also continued in neighboring Algeria, where similar conditions of high unemployment and rising food prices have sparked anger. On Jan. 22, police clashed with protestors in Algiers, where multiple casualties were reported. (Deutsche Welle, Jan. 22)

In Aden and in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, students at the university held demonstrations on Jan. 22 and 23 calling for the resignation of the U.S.-backed regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Jan. 23 thousands of students entered the streets in protest against the arrest of Tawakul Karman, a woman student leader and a member of the Islah Party, who has called for support of the Tunisia uprising. (Al-Jazeera, Jan. 23)

In Egypt, a coalition of opposition groups including the Karama, the April 6th Movement, the National Association for Change, the Popular Democratic Movement for Change, the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists, called for national demonstrations against the U.S.-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25. (Al Ahram, Jan. 24)

Egypt, which is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid next to Israel, is reported to have between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners. The regime of Mubarak has violently suppressed mass protests and strikes over the last several years.

What role for anti-imperialists in the U.S.

These developments in North Africa and throughout the Middle East region have prompted the concerns of U.S. and French imperialism. These states usually defend their foreign policy concerns in terms of a so-called “war on terrorism” against “Islamic fundamentalism.” The secular character of these latest demonstrations, rebellions and uprisings makes them more easily understood by progressive forces inside the Western states.

The economic crisis of capitalism — its failure to provide jobs, food and services — is worldwide. The demands put forward by the workers and youth in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Egypt have significance for the proletariat and the oppressed nations inside the U.S.

Coalitions opposing the U.S. imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan should extend their support to the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Workers and the oppressed inside the U.S. and other Western capitalist states can learn from the efforts of their counterparts in these regions.
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