A mass wave of riots by ordinary people against the government have swept Tunisia for the last three weeks under a near-total media blackout in the West. We look at what's been happening and why it's being kept off our TV screens.
On Saturday December 18th, the Tunisian police stopped Mohamed Bouaziz, an unemployed university graduate, and seized the hand cart of fruit and vegetables he had been selling to support himself and his family. Enraged by the injustice and despairing of any escape from destitution and starvation in Tunisia's impoverished economy, increasingly ravaged by rising food prices, the young man set fire to himself in protest, outside the town hall in Sidi Bouzid, 200km south-west of the capital Tunis. The young man was later to die in hospital.
Angered by the incident, several hundred local youth, equally suffering from unemployment and repression from the police and state of Tunisia's corrupt dictatorial regime, gathered to protest the incident. Local police responded with tear gas and violence. Since that time, mass rioting and violent clashes with the police have swept the country for the last three weeks. In Kesserine, another inland town, far from the tourist industry of the coastal region, the death toll estimated by local doctors and hospital staff has exceeded 50 over the last weekend alone.
But the savagery of the virtual civil war that has broken out between the people of Tunisia, from unemployed youth, school and university students, trade unionists, artists, intellectuals and even lawyers, against the corrupt cabal around dictator in all but name, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, may as well not be happening as far as the TV news schedules of RTE, the BBC or the rest of Western media. Commentators at Al Jazeera and other Arab language media have bitterly pointed out the hypocrisy of Western media that splashed the Iranian Green movement's resistance to Ahmedi Nejad's stealing of the last elections all over the nightly TV broadcasts, but is now censoring the biggest story in the Arab world today. Could this be because the Ben Ali regime is a "friend of the West"? The wall of silence imposed by our "fearlessly independent and even-handed" media speaks volumes.
Meanwhile in the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria, ordinary watchers and bloggers are seized with enthusiasm for what they are calling the Tunisian Intifada. The experience of being squeezed between corrupt, dictatorial and repressive regimes and rising food prices is common to most people in the region. Even though the Tunisian government has closed opposition newspapers and arrested and tortured journalists who dare cover the struggle, coverage is still passing out through Twitter (follow #sidibouzid ), although Facebook has fallen over itself to help the Ben Ali regime (and its CIA backers) by taking down the pages of any journalists or ordinary Tunisians covering the story.
The initifada is still carrying on, yesterday it reached the suburbs of the capital Tunis, and troops were deployed on the streets for the first time. Ben Ali has belatedly tried to signal changes by sacking his interior minister and promising that he will start a programme to create 300,000 jobs in the next two years. But members of his family have been reported as fleeing the country.
Victory and liberty for Tunisian workers! Down with the Ben Ali dictatorship!
Details of the developing situation in Tunisia have been regularly posted in this thread in the libcom forums.