The Sidi Bouzid revolution: Ben Ali flees as protests spread in Tunisia

The Sidi Bouzid revolution: Ben Ali flees as protests spread in Tunisia

Friday 14 January 2011 -- After a dramatic 24 hours when Tunisia's dictator president Ben Ali first tried promising liberalisation and an end to police shootings of demonstrators and then, this evening at 16:00, declaring martial law, he has finally fallen from office. While the rumours are still swirling, one thing is clear, Ben Ali has left Tunisia and the army has stepped in. The comments after this article contain continuous updates of the uprising.

The day began with a mass demonstration called by Tunisia's trade union federation, the UGTT, in the capital Tunis. Between 10 and 15,000 people demonstrated outside the Ministry of the Interior. The initially peaceful scene broke down at around 14:30 local time as police moved in with tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd, some of whom had managed to scale the Ministry building and get on its roof. From then on, the city centre descended into chaos with running battles between the riot police and Tunisians of all ages and backgrounds fighting for the overthrow of the hated despot.

Finally, armoured cars from the army appeared on the street and a state of emergency and curfew was declared with Ben Ali threatening the populace that the security forces had carte blanche to open fire on any gatherings of more than three people. Soon, however, he disappeared from view and the rumours began to circulate. The army seized control of the airport and there were reports of convoys of limousines racing to the airport from the Ben Ali families palace. Finally the official announcement came. Ben Ali is gone. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi appeared on state TV to announce that he was in charge of a caretaker government backed by the army.

Tonight the long-suffering people of Tunisia may rejoice that their last four weeks of heroic resistance has finally seen off the dictator who ran the most vicious police state in North Africa over them for the last 23 years.

But tomorrow morning will find the army in charge. What will happen tomorrow and the days to follow is anybody's guess. But the people now know that they have the power to overthrow a long-entrenched dictatorship, how much easier to take on a new unstable regime.

Report by Workers Solidarity Movement

Comments

Auto
Jan 10 2011 22:28

I mentioned this to some friends at work (non-political types) and they were shocked that such a thing wouldn't get any major airtime on the news.

Where do people think this is going to go? Just following Mark's posts it seems like it's continually escalating... but to where?

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 00:42

El sindicalismo autónomo argelino, junto a la LADDH, declara su apoyo a la rebelión de la juventud argelina

Statements of support for the uprising of Algerian youth from autonomous unions in education and public administration, and from the Algerian league for the defence of human rights. This is a Spanish translation from the CGT North Africa site.

The CGT has links with some of these unions including SNAPAP and the CLA teachers union. There's an interview with an anarcho-syndicalist CLA member here.

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 00:15
Auto wrote:
Where do people think this is going to go? Just following Mark's posts it seems like it's continually escalating... but to where?

I've no special insights on this and I'd be interested in what people like Khawaga and Devrim think about it.

joselito
Jan 11 2011 05:20
Quote:
The struggles in Algeria in the 1990s and this century also showed no presence of Islamicist groups (except as very brutal counter-revolutionary forces).

I'm not sure if we lived through the same 1990's, but Algerian political formations during that time both in terms of political parties (FIS and later GIA) and generally among the urban haitiste and lumpen were either completely dominated by or extremely succeptible to islamicist ideas. The Islamic Group in Egypt played a similar role, in both cases casting a retrograde cultural shadow over all forms of political dissent and possibilities for social change. The situation in Morocco was similar as well, and in all countries continued throughout most of the 2000's

Quote:
I guess the main problem, as always, is the chasm between the unemployed and the employed working class - but I'd guess - in Tunisia at least - this is breaking down.
.

It has typically been the unemployed that were more vulnerable to islamicist ideas, while those with jobs and education would have more secular tendencies.

All I was saying initially was that more recent struggles stand in contrast to the above mentioned politics, no religious justifications have been trotted out in the price riots, unemployed worker fights, housing struggles and labor disputes going out throughout north africa.

Samotnaf
Jan 11 2011 05:38

joselito:

Quote:
I'm not sure if we lived through the same 1990's, but Algerian political formations during that time both in terms of political parties (FIS and later GIA) and generally among the urban haitiste and lumpen were either completely dominated by or extremely succeptible to islamicist ideas.

As I understood it, the movements in Kabylie In Algeria, where most of the riots and social movements of this century and the 1990s happened, were secular and had a general "socialist" outlook. Again, as far as I understood it, the FIS were very much violently opposed to these movements. Other movements in Algeria may well have been different, but not the Kabylie ones afaik. But perhaps we're talking at cross purposes here - I wasn't talking about "political formations" but about struggles - in particular, I was talking about riots; as far as i know (which, admittedly, is not saying very much) there were very few strikes other than those initiated by the FIS in rivalry with the government who'd over-ruled the election result which went the FIS's way in the early 1990s ('91? '92?).

But maybe you know something different...?

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 12:42
Mark.
Jan 11 2011 12:45

There's also a thread on the Tunisia uprising on urban75

touneyssa wrote:
Salam everyone, I am a tunisian living in london, as a matter of fact there is no tunisian organisation in london if we don't consider the gathering of some individuals who got political asylium in the 90's as an organistaion though they have all means and experience

I with few other tunisian activists and very amateur ones as well founded the tunisia solidarity campaign to inform in particular and centralize the support of the uk based tunisian diaspora.. we just created the website
http://tunisiasolidarity.wordpress.com/ so feeds will be more and more regular as we figure new ways to translate and pass the info efficiently for those interested.

If anyone has questions about what has been happening feel free to contact me at touneyssa[at]gmail.com

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 12:57

Tunisia: the brink of revolution

Quote:
The Tunisian regime was fighting for survival yesterday. Reports and videos of clashes between police and demonstrators circulated on the internet throughout the day – so many that it became difficult to keep track. In some of them civilians were shot and killed – though at this stage it is impossible to even guess at the numbers.

Perhaps most telling were the scenes, reminiscent of the fall of Saddam Hussein, where pictures of President Ben Ali were openly destroyed in the streets (two examples here and here).

The EU issued a statement echoing that of the United States, calling for "restraint in the use of force and for the respect of fundamental freedoms", as did the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

At 4pm local time, Ben Ali appeared on television and on this occasion his speech was not interrupted by a telephone call. It's a subjective assessment, but I felt from his demeanour that he looked more than a little rattled. Unlike his speech two weeks ago, where he was seated presidentially behind a gigantic desk, this time he decided to stand – as if ready to dash out of room at a moment's notice.

He began with some familiar bluster, deriding (and insulting) the thousands of protesters by blaming "hostile elements in the pay of foreigners, who have sold their souls to extremism and terrorism, manipulated from outside the country". This was so obviously untrue that, from then on, most of his audience probably stopped listening.

He followed this up with an implausible-sounding promise to create 300,000 new jobs within two years, and to hold a "national conference" next month (which nobody apart from the regime's most diehard supporters is likely to attend).

Clutching weakly for other things to offer, he announced "a new impetus to regional newspapers devoting space daily to all governorates of the country" and said the "people's representatives" would be asked to "intensify their periodic contacts with citizens".

He ended, very oddly, by thanking his "dear brother", Colonel Gadafy, for support and appeared to suggest that anyone who is unhappy with life in Tunisia should go to Libya. The situation must be truly dire if the only world leader you can publicly thank for support is Gadafy.

Following his speech, in which Ben Ali also lectured Tunisians on the importance the regime attaches to education, the education ministry demonstrated the regime's commitment by announcing that schools and universities would be closed until further notice.

Reports on Twitter overnight say access to Facebook within Tunisia has now been blocked in its entirety. Previously the regime had been blocking individual Facebook pages. If true, this is another blunder. Not only will it stir up further anger among Tunisia's youth; it will also be seen as a direct snub to the US, the EU and the UN, who have all made a specific point about the need for free expression.

Maybe the next step is martial law but, as of yesterday, all the signs point to the regime losing control. More civilian deaths mean more funerals, and more funerals mean more protests. And keeping kids out of school, without even Facebook to keep them occupied, is also a recipe for trouble.

Maybe Ben Ali will continue urging his security forces to redouble their efforts, but cooler heads in the police and army ought to be telling him (if they are not doing so already) that there is now only one action that can quell the riots: the departure of Ben Ali himself.

Brian Whitaker, 11 Jan 2011

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 13:09

Recently on twitter

A huge march is taking place now in the City of Baja (N-W of Tunis)

Tunis Now : Artists trying to protest peacefully are being aggressed by police

Movie and theater celebrities were beaten by police forces for joining a flashmob in Tunis

Now: Tunisian artists molested by police on Tunis main avenue

TUNINDEX -4.28% now

Today the facebook was censored for 5 h in Tunisia

Int'l human rights org "has names of 35 dead"; total "at least 50" http://tinyurl.com/5u9x3gy

The police deployed snipers on the roofs in Kassrin

Clash in Rades #sidibouzid http://fb.me/Etl1YNHd

new protests in a new city in tunisia in the north : BEJA

sabot
Jan 11 2011 13:26

Ya, I'm a bit suprised that we dont have any news articles on this yet. If I knew more about the situation over there I'd do it myself.

joselito
Jan 11 2011 17:54

Samotnaf, briefly not to derail this.

Quote:
As I understood it, the movements in Kabylie In Algeria, where most of the riots and social movements of this century and the 1990s happened, were secular and had a general "socialist" outlook.

True enough, the Kabyle struggle is in someways a parallel struggle to islamicism in Algeria. But it has been restricted by its principal political reps to a specific "cultural movement" about language and cultural expression. This did break down briefly during the Black Spring '01 when both partys headquarters were destroyed and arouch (something like neighborhood councils) were established. Nonetheless, the Kabyle struggle has proto-nationalist overtone due in part to the fact that the Kabyle were given special treatment by the French as a bulwark against the Arabs, they are strongly represented in the gov, many have lived andworked in France and today they are disproportionately represented among the elite, middle and upper classes in Algeria.

Again, as far as I understood it, the FIS were very much violently opposed to these movements. Other movements in Algeria may well have been different, but not the Kabylie ones afaik.

Yes, the FIS wanted sharia and continued arabization, which was not in the interests of the Kabyle, but recently a hybridization has taken place (in the past decade) at least with Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups using the Kabyle region as a base of operations and with some success recruiting among the Kabyle.

Probably stuff you already know.....

Valeriano Orobó...
Jan 11 2011 18:31

First of all, thanks a lot for this thread (specially mark's contributions) that i'm following everyday with the highest interest.

Second, to Joselito: this( http://infokiosques.net/IMG/pdf/Jaime_Semprun_-_Apologie_pour_l_insurection_algerienne.pdf ) is a text for those of you who read french by Jaime Semprún on 2001's upheaval and my only source about recent unrest in Algeria (i ain't counting here the conversations i've had with algerians that live here who fundamentally agree with the text) According to the info the berber cultural revindication tho it exists, plays no significant role in the movement. Even if the berber aarchs, that is assemblies, have historically played an important role in launching and organizing the revolt, this is no way a secessionist or berber fight against an arab majority. On the contrary back then and more than likely today, fight were fought jointly.

Try the text it's worth it. And long live Tunisian and Algerian proletarit's revolt!

Red Marriott
Jan 11 2011 19:16
sabot wrote:
Ya, I'm a bit suprised that we dont have any news articles on this yet.

Agreed.

Quote:
If I knew more about the situation over there I'd do it myself.

I wouldn't let that stop you or anyone else taking it on; thanks to Mark primarily (and others) there are already enough facts and links on this thread to create a very useful article. Doing that would be part of a learning process for anyone who wants to know more about the region, its history and ongoing events. An OK article would also be likely to attract those sympathetic to its viewpoint who had more direct knowledge of events.

On another thread posters are promoting the idea of libcom blogs being submitted for some bourgeois media prize - yet, despite many regular posters who shoot the bull on here, 2 weeks in and no news article on a major insurrection? Priorities are all upside down.

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 20:58

From the International Marxist Tendency site. I'm not enthusiastic about their politics but this is a useful article.

Tunisian revolt goes on unabated: ‘We do not fear you any more!’

Quote:
The movement that started in the Central and Western rural areas of Tunisia has by now reached almost all corners of the country. Unemployment, poverty and a suffocating police state are pushing the masses into action. In the last weeks many others villages and cities witnessed one form or another of protest. In some cities the demonstrators attacked and destroyed government buildings, banks, police headquarters and the offices of the ruling party, the RCD. In others, trade union activists demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the union, the Union Général des Travailleurs de Tunisie (UGTT).

In an about-turn, the domesticated leadership of the UGTT has been forced by the pressure from below to condemn the actions of the government. Demonstrations have been organised in the industrial suburbs of Tunis, in Ben Assour or in the workers bastion of Gafsa in the mining area. Local branches of the UGTT especially in the regions most affected by the revolt have been calling for strikes. The UGTT leadership instead called for “a one minute silence” of hundreds activists in front of its headquarter in the capital, Tunis.

School students and university students are also joining the uprising. Pitched battles between police and the students have taken place on campuses and in front of high schools. A lawyer's demonstration in Tunis was also brutally baton charged by the police.

[…]

This uprising is to a large extent the result of spontaneous combustion. There is no central democratic organisation of the uprising and no clear program. But a layer of activists is reaching new conclusions and is starting to increase the level of organisation and consciousness at local and regional level. Within the UGTT union the tensions are rising between the rank and file and the dictatorship-friendly leaders. The student union, UGET, which has a tremendous tradition of struggle but was also high jacked by elements of the regime is going through turbulent times. Militant students are trying to reclaim the union. Whatever the immediate result of this movement, Tunisia will not be the same again.

Django
Jan 11 2011 21:24

I've been planning to bang an article together on this (hopefully as the basis for looking into events in more detail, which is what they deserve), unfortunately I've not had enough time as of yet. But if someone has the time and inclination to do it it would be very useful.

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 22:33

Time's the problem for me really. I'm a slow writer and I know if sit down to try and write the article that needs writing it will mean taking a break from updating this thread.

Taking Red Marriott's point it does start to feel like people here can create endless threads about Russia in 1917 or Spain or decadence theory or whatever but have nothing to say when a revolution actually starts. Thanks to the people who have contributed though.

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 22:24

Today's events in Tunisia

Quote:
A brief summary of reported events in Tunisia on Tuesday:

Latest videos: Police attack demonstrators outside union building in Sfax; early morning incident in the centre of Bizerte; protest in Ben Guerdane.

Tunisian stock market falls again, to lowest since last May.

Biggest trade union, UGTT, calls for general strike; date to be confirmed.

Several pictures on internet of police armed with Steyr AUG guns (made in Austria).

Continuing reports of a heavy death toll in Kasserine. As many as 50, according to some sources.

Several reports on Twitter of undercover regime supporters looting and being filmed by police – presumably to discredit protesters.

Heavy police presence in Tunis. Shops, etc, closed in Avenue Bourguiba. Group of lawyers beaten up while preparing to hold a peaceful protest. Ditto, a group of 100 actors, musicians and artists trying to do a flashmob.

Rumours of a curfew in Tunis from 7pm tonight.

Facebook access reportedly returns after a five-hour break.

Police visit cafes in Tunis suburbs, ordering owners not to show al-Jazeera on the TV.

Radio Kalima journalist Nizar Ben Hassen arrested at his home in Chebba.

There is some speculation on Twitter about the role of the Tunisian military, with suggestions that the army, or at least sections of it, is refusing to take part in the repression. (I have no idea whether that is true or not.)

...

Brian Whitaker, 11 Jan 2011

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 23:13
Quote:
Radio Kalima journalist Nizar Ben Hassen arrested at his home in Chebba.
Quote:
En outre, Moez Jemai, correspondant de Radio Kalima à Gabès (400 km au sud de Tunis), a été arrêté par quatre policiers en civil, le 6 janvier dernier, vers 14 heures. Aspergé de gaz paralysant, il a été poussé de force dans un véhicule banalisé et transféré au ministère de l’Intérieur à Tunis. Lors d’interrogatoires portant sur sa couverture des évènements de Sidi Bouzid, il a été victime de mauvais traitements. Il a été relâché le samedi 8 janvier dans la soirée, à Tunis.

This quote, and the one in Spanish below, refers to another Radio Kalima journalist, Moez El Jemai, who also works with the CGT North Africa site. He was arrested on 6 January and tortured and interrogated before being released two days later.

Fin de semana sangriento en Túnez La represión es implacable

Quote:
Detenido un periodista, amigo de la CGT

Agentes de la policía política secuestraron el 6 de enero, en Gabes, al periodista Moez EL Jemai, corresponsal de Radio Kalima, en Gabès después de haberlo regado con gas paralizante. Fue trasladado más tarde al Ministerio del Interior en la capital donde, según sus declaraciones, sufrió malos tratos y torturas. Fue trasladado con los ojos vendados, por varios locales del Ministerio de Interior donde se le pregungtaba continuamente sobre su actividad profesional en la radio. Los policías le ha amenazado con acusarle de “incitación a la violencia” debido a su cobertura de las protestas. Fue puesto en libertad la tarde del 8 de enero.

Mouez El Jemal es amigo de la CGT y colabora con el equipo de trabajo de la CGT para el norte de África. http://www.kalimatunisie.com/

Mark.
Jan 11 2011 23:20
Quote:
Biggest trade union, UGTT, calls for general strike; date to be confirmed.

Embrasement dans la capitale

Quote:
Des sources d’Assabilonline ont affirmé que la Commission Administrative de l’UGTT, réunie aujourd’hui mardi 11 janvier, avait décidé de façon extraordinaire de grèves régionales et sectorielles générales sur tout le territoire pour protester contre le tir à balles réelles sur les citoyens de Sidi Bouzid et Kasserine…
Mark.
Jan 12 2011 00:08
gram negative
Jan 12 2011 00:01

I don't have anything to add, but thanks Mark. for everything that you have done on this thread.

Mark.
Jan 12 2011 00:21

From the BBC:

World Service broadcast: unrest in Tunisia forces schools to close

Report from and radio interview with BBC correspondent Chloe Arnold in Algiers. I can't say I'm that impressed really but at least the story is being covered.

'Dozens killed' in Tunisia protests

Quote:
At least 35 people have died in violent unrest in Tunisia, according to a human rights group.

The authorities have said 21 people were killed in protests in recent days.

Union and health officials suggest that 50 died in the town of Kasserine alone. Fresh protests broke out late on Tuesday in the capital, Tunis...

Tunisia protests: Fresh clashes in Tunis

Quote:
Fresh protests have broken out in a suburb of the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

Police reportedly fired into the air to disperse protesters in Ettadamen, 15km (9 miles) from the centre of Tunis...

Reaction to violence in Tunisia and Algeria

Quote:
Tunisians and an Algerian, who spoke to BBCArabic.com, react to the current unrest in their countries and discuss how closely the causes of clashes in the two countries are linked.

...

Intisar Kahreji wrote:
There is profound oppression in Tunisia.

My family had to flee the country because of my father's opposition to the regime.

This oppression, together with high youth unemployment - which led one young man to commit suicide recently - and corruption have created a sense of despair amongst young people.

A small minority of people live in villas and palaces, while the rest endure a harsh life.

It is meaningless to talk about helping young people or working to improve their conditions because quite simply the state's resources are monopolised by a small clique. The economic growth that Tunisia enjoyed over recent years benefited this small circle.

Had the suppression of the demonstrators we see now in Tunisia occurred in, say, Iran or China, Europe would have made a major issue of it.

However, the reaction of the EU, Tunisia's biggest commercial partner, has been very weak.

Indeed, the EU did not even issue a response until three weeks after the start of the unrest.

The last article is the most interesting, perhaps because it's letting Tunisians and Algerians speak for themselves.

Mark.
Jan 12 2011 00:29

Al Jazeera: Tunisia unrest spreads to capital

Quote:
Police have fired into the air to disperse rioters ransacking buildings in a suburb of Tunisia's capital.



The violence in the predominantly working class neighbourhood of Ettadem late on Tuesday was the first in Tunis since a wave of unrest that has killed at least 23 people, according to officials.



A reporter for the Reuters news agency said that hundreds of youths threw stones at police before smashing shops and setting fire to a bank.

He said the crowd had blocked the roads with burning tyres, set fire to a bus and two cars and also set fire to a local government office.



"We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God," the crowds chanted.

As well as warning shots, the police fired tear gas grenades to try to force people back...

Khawaga
Jan 12 2011 00:49
Mark. wrote:
I've no special insights on this and I'd be interested in what people like Khawaga and Devrim think about it.

Unfortunately I know very little about Tunisia, so I don't have any special insight either. What you're posting Mark. (plus some Egyptian bloggers, but they're not commies) is basically what I know about what's happening.

Mark.
Jan 12 2011 00:57

Khawaga - Fair enough really. I suppose I was hoping for some informed speculation about where this is leading, but that's actually quite difficult unless you've spent time in a country and know it quite well.

Mark.
Jan 12 2011 01:56

Recently on twitter

clashes now in the capital #Tunis in Malaseen & Tadhamoun neighbourhoods

Tunisians on IRC: "Authorities announce curfew in Tunis."

A Kasserine, le «chaos» relaté par les internautes tunisiens #sidibouzid http://bit.ly/dS48dI

French national TV TF1 reports from Kasserine: http://is.gd/kApFb (Video, French)

Video: Police open fire on protestors in Kasserine #sidibouzid http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=132831330114924

Communiqué du NPA. Répression en #Tunisie : halte à la complicité du gouvernement français. #sidibouzid #france http://bit.ly/hiuzji

Poursuite et extension du mouvement de protestation #sidibouzid http://post.ly/1TKpx

Algeria and Tunisia: Protests Threaten Repressive Regimes #sidibouzid http://yhoo.it/hiKK9H

Riots Present and Future #sidibouzid http://bit.ly/dHLoTi

EFF Calls for Immediate Action to Defend Tunisian Activists Against Government Cyberattacks http://goo.gl/BXLbE

A picture showing who is behind banks robbery in Kassrin #SidiBouzid http://fb.me/sRsd5tRT

More raids and arrests in Tala, and the cops are robbing the markets

Also, here a video showing the military protecting civilians: http://is.gd/kAhF6 | Kudos

Artistes were clubbed by the police after trying a flashmobe in front of the My Theater in the capital

Clash with the police in Al Tadamon(in the Capital) #SidiBouzid http://fb.me/DhCuS9CO

France wants to /assist/ the Tunisian police.... http://is.gd/kAxiq

According to a source in Rabta hospital there are 4 dead people in the streets and a lot of injured haven’t been evacuated

News is that some of my cousins are still under fire in Sousse, DenDen nearby Bardo is quiet, Nabeul is in riot

Video: Protests and Response by the "West" http://tinyurl.com/4rozzjz

Terrifying: Rape of girls committed by the BOP in Kasserine #sidibouzid @SBZ_news http://tiny.cc/wt1vn

Radio Kalima report about rape cases in Kasserine came from #FB profile of leading Human Rights activist Sihem Bensedrine

Right now a clash between the police and protesters in Gabes

Next is Egypt turn, and that will be huge! #sidibouzid Un vent de liberté souffle au Maghreb. Vive la crise des subprimes

France24 news just confirmed the protestations happening right now in the capital #Tunis. #SidiBouzid #JasminRevolt

.

It's getting quite hard to keep up with the information coming out of Tunisia. Just now there have been calls on twitter to "please be responsible, tweet only sure informations with video or photos", and of course claims may be unfounded or unconfirmed.

Khawaga
Jan 12 2011 01:06
Mark. wrote:
Khawaga - Fair enough really. I suppose I was hoping for some informed speculation about where this is leading, but that's actually quite difficult unless you've spent time in a country and know it quite well.

I could speculate based on similar occurrences in Egypt, but I don't know how worthwhile that would be.

Mark.
Jan 12 2011 01:11

Khawaga - Any thoughts on how people are reacting to this in Egypt or what influence it might have would be interesting.