TUNISIA TOWARDS THE SECOND REPUBLIC
What you call the “Arab Spring”, I call a collective sacrifice that a “lobby” has orchestrated to change “the balance” and protect their power.
Giving power to religious extremists is an agenda known to all. This has been chronologically and consistently repeated in a never ending “copy and paste”. I will begin with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, the war between Iraq and Kuwait, Iraq and any I am forgetting to mention, then the term “Arab Spring” which will start with Tunisia, then Egypt and Syria.
The wicked fairy godmother disguised as a benefactor decided to rid the poor Arab countries of their dictators, however Tunisia is neither a neighbour to Israel, nor does it possess coveted riches; nevertheless the common and strange theme remains the rise in power of the “Islamists”, who, not all that long ago, were considered as “Terrorists” and put on the black list!!
So, what happened? Why this turnaround? Why have these Islamist delegations miraculously received recognition by the American, French and other governments...! To the point where they are receiving awards...!!! I should mention that Ghannouchi, leader and cofounder of the global organisation the Muslim Brothers, who called for normalisation with Israel, a state that practices apartheid, colonisation and the most abject discrimination, and which confuses pacifism with compromise and dishonour, was awarded the Chatham House Prize 2012, and the Ibn Rochd Prize 2014 in Berlin (for more information see: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rached_Ghannouchi )
The events began with Algeria, which for the last 10 years has endured the worst years of its history, with massacres and exactions in the name of religion, calling out to Allah Akbar, as if God had ordered them to cut up pregnant women and strangle their babies in their stomachs. Then Iraq and the tribal war that is tearing the country apart, causing chaos under the collective assassinations of a population now living in absolute poverty and injustice. And Egypt, robbed of its “revolution” by the Islamists and more recently by its despotic army, the main cause of the popular uprising in Egypt!! Then Syria, obviously, to relieve an Israeli government tired of the opposition movement that has grown against it, a “Lobby”, purely and egotistically for economic and financial reasons... This repetitive scenario is keeping the “Arabs” stuck in a quagmire of violence and the race for power has been leading to civil war since 2011, for certain countries, and others have been expedited to the bleakest dark ages in the history of humanity, as has happened in Afghanistan to name but one. However, for me the most striking example is still Algeria and its 10 years of massacres... and the risk remains...
The Spectre of Religious Obscurantism after the 2011 Elections
It is useless for me to go into the details as I am not an economist or political analyst, just a citizen of the world, but a Tunisian citizen first and foremost whose only concern is for the future of my country, the children of my country, including my own, the young people and the women of my country, and I do not believe that the Islamists will be the saviours of Tunisia or any other country, as religion and politics have never mixed well... give me an example of one country, just one, that has succeeded in its social, economic and political rise in a religious state, whether Islamist, Christian or Jewish. There are widespread and innumerable injustices in the “secular” countries that fight to protect human rights, let alone those based on religion, interpreted to suit the tastes of certain individuals, making faith into law in order to oppress, subjugate and degrade men, women and children.
In December 2010, the Redeyef miners and the unemployed workers of the phosphate company Gafsa and their families started a protest movement which played a vital role in the immediate future of Tunisia in the 21st Century. This movement, which was sparked by the deep injustice and clientelism at the heart of the phosphate company and the poverty that the families had been living in for generations, with 60% of people unemployed, is the real epicentre of the dispute and popular uprising which caused the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Ben Ali on 14th January 2011, and not Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice.
This wasn’t a spontaneous feat, the General Labour Union and Movement of Unemployed Graduates played a primary role.
Economic uncertainty, the declining purchasing power of households, unemployment, and the pay freeze have boosted protest movements and caused them to grow, with strikes all over the country for 4 years as governments have succeeded one another, in particular the three governments of Troika (President of the Republic of the “Congress for the Republic” Party, President of the Government of the “Ennahdha” Party, and President of the Constituent Assembly of the “Ettakatol” Party.
The poverty and instability faced by households have reached a point where certain families have lost their homes as they have not been able to pay bills and bank loans, and factories have closed due to the growth in imposed taxes. The unemployment rate has reached 30% over the years, with women representing 2/3 of that. Violence against women has increased, taking on unusual forms, such as the excision of young girls, rape, verbal, physical and psychological violence, clandestine sacrifices and forced abortions in poor conditions (as the Islamist Party had banned abortions in hospitals even though they had been legal under Tunisian Law since 1956). As well as this, prostitution under the guise of Orfi marriage or “marriage of pleasure” is encouraged and supported by the Ennahdha Party, under the pretext that too many women and girls are celibate, which has the direct consequence that children born to these occasional couples are thrown out like garbage, and the growth of the HIV virus has become uncontrollable.
A single positive point: The strength and determination of the Tunisian Civil Society is a guarantee of what is to come
The imbalance that Tunisian society has seen has helped to multiply and strengthen protest movements, demonstrations and denunciations in the street, everywhere from north to south and from east to west, against the abuse, attacks and demonization campaigns carried out by the militia of the Ennahdha Islamist Party against intellectuals, artists, journalists, teachers, lawyers, actors, comedians, civil society activists and militants, and students, destroying art galleries, attacking libraries and banning the sale of certain books considered to be prohibited under sharia law; closing cinemas and banning theatrical performances. Not forgetting the destruction of marabouts (Sufi cult locations) where the poor have access to housing, food and clothes; even farmers have not escaped these acts of violence.
This violence and abuse have reached such extremes that they led to the assassination of the leader of the opposition. Leader of the Left Front, Chokri Belaid, was repeatedly threatened before being cold-bloodedly executed in front of his home.
The violence and abuse have been so serious in some cases, that appeals have been presented to the International Tribunal at The Hague. The chaos reaches all corners of society, all professions, this crisis is everywhere the point where we are seeing cases of suicide, the worst of which being young schoolchildren.
One single positive point, however, is that the social movements are even more numerous and determined than ever and have constantly been working on all fronts, every day and night, they have held multiple sittings, demonstrations, conferences and visited the most remote regions to mobilise men and women, young and old and raise their awareness of their rights and their duties.
The democratic achievements are fragile and still limited with very little significant economic change, sometimes none at all. There is an open battle between those who consider the revolution to be over and those who want to take it further and bring it to its ultimate goal. Young people and militants on the left demonstrate daily that they are determined to not allow their demand for a revolution to be hijacked, whether by the remains of the old regime or by the Islamists who have come to power and who, despite appearances with a new president and new government, are still there.
With the municipal elections taking place in a few months, the social movements are already out on site, busy raising awareness, getting mobilised to organize municipalities in a transparent way.
The World Social Forum or a Glimmer of Hope
Since the first meeting of the World Social Forum was organised in January 2001, as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum in Davos, there is a lot of water under the bridge. The WSF was born from the ashes of the anti-globalisation movement and against war, having become the only point of recognition of a new global resistance against the disasters of neoliberal globalisation. After having played an important role in the struggles throughout its first meetings, it lost its political centrality despite a high involvement.
Today, with the opening of a new cycle of protests born from the “Popular Uprisings”, with the Indignés and Occupy movements, the World Social Forum represents the space for another possible world, despite being seen by some as an instrument of days gone by. In particular it remains as a glimmer of hope and solidarity, a renewing force in light of the developments in various countries where new social movements have emerged, criticised for their fragile coordination faced with the challenge of recreating new spaces for articulation on a global scale.
The Tunis WSF 2013 was, without a doubt, one of the most successful social Forums since its creation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001. The widespread revolutionary process and popular uprisings, led by Tunisia, have cradled the rebellion in the Arab world. The Tunisian civil society has shown its strength, its discipline and its determination to assert human rights and to be the key player in the Tunisian Second Republic, despite all the difficulties.
Instability and Unemployment: Without the right to employment there is no right to dignified housing
In this gloomy atmosphere, clouded by the fatwas seen on television and radio, housing speculation reached its peak, causing families to struggle with debt and the middle classes to narrow and be integrated little by little into the ranks of the poor. Families have been forced to relocate to poorer areas, built in days gone by in random locations on the outskirts of cities, now overpopulated, forgotten and marginalised. These different faces of poverty are created by a policy that marginalises people, and the absence of a housing policy that is real, democratic, inclusive and focussed on equal opportunities.
Violence is at an extreme high in rural areas. The main electorate of the Islamist party, they received promises and offers so they would vote “Islamist” but were quickly disenchanted by broken promises. Certain regions have reached such a level of poverty that slums and steel sheet shantytowns have reappeared in the most remote corners. It is also important to mention the increase in the number of homeless people, above all women, and there are more than 3000 children on the street within the capital, Tunis.
During the World Social Forum and within the framework of the World Assembly of Inhabitants, in Tunis, March 2013, the subject of bad housing and homelessness was outlined and discussed, sparking the opinion that this is an urgent matter. Following this was the notable success of the invitation to join the civil society, and associations launched by the development group derived from these meetings gave life to The First Conference for the Right to Housing.
The involvement of the General Union of Tunisian Students has enabled us to organise a launch party press conference at the journalists’ union headquarters, a highly symbolic place in the fight for human rights, mainly the right to the freedom of speech that has been prohibited for a long time. The Tunisian Association for the Integrity and Democracy of Elections also established a collaboration with the National School of Architecture and Urbanism, which offered its facilities.
Targeted meetings, three days of discussion. A film to raise the difficult questions about the right to decent housing; investigative films about inhabitants in difficult situations. Testimonies of international and Maghreb experiences. Multiple and various topics, such as poverty in the areas on the outskirts of cities, SDFs, homeless men and women, property speculation and its impacts on households and on social housing projects, the problems of students without homes or decent places to live and pursue their university studies normally, household debt, national debt, legal questions and exchanging information and experiences on national and international scales, have enabled Tunisians from the south, centre and the north to be found, heard and to share, finally raising their heads and deciding on an advisory topic for human dignity. According to the demands of the revolution, work, freedom and dignity, the meetings have focussed mainly on the constitutionalisation of the universal human right to dignified and decent housing, and the application of a housing policy that responds to equal opportunities. Unfortunately, only 93 people at the National Constituent Assembly voted in favour, not enough, another 32 votes were needed for the right to housing to be adopted by the new constitution.
In Conclusion : Welcome to the World Assembly of Inhabitants (WSF Tunis, 24-28 March 2015)
Present governments, whether elected or enforced, have failed to enforce policies that call for changes that break with the past, and that goes for all sectors. In other words, these are the same neoliberal economic choices, the same public policies, the same guidelines imposed by the international financial institutions (IMF, The World Bank, etc.) that led to the revolution and to the popular uprisings that are continuously being sparked today, just with even more rigour.
Nevertheless, while being vigilant, we must remain positive and build for the future, as we have been working together do to since October 2011. We must also deal with the new opposition setup, which combines the left and Islamists with moderate and radical tendencies (?). It is important that we unite our efforts and all our energy to help or cause the new government to adopt policies in favour of the underprivileged, to reduce the gap between the classes, to rebuild the middle class, and take socio-economic questions seriously by providing practical solutions that can be quickly applied on the ground. Civil society must rekindle the flame of enthusiasm and continue to be a driving force behind proposals, placing pressure and a vigilant eye on the construction of a second republic that embodies the struggles and sacrifices made by our martyrs who have fallen under the terrorists’ blades in the name of Allah.
International solidarity is essential. We welcome your participation at the WSF in Tunis, from 24 to 28 March!