The protests against the high cost of living, unemployment and corruption have been growing since the end of the year throughout North Africa, spreading through both Tunisia and Algeria in more and more cities and involving more social sectors, to the extent that the situation in both countries has become extremely unstable - much to the concern of the United States and the European Union, the top two international guarantors of the oligarchic political systems that are perpetuated in the Maghreb, posing as "buffer states" against the advance of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
Bouteflika in Algeria and Tunisia's Ben Ali (not to mention Mohammed VI in Morocco) are presented to the outside world as "strong men" who need a strong hand to subdue and keep out the enemy within, at the cost of plunging their populations into poverty and keeping them disciplined with an iron fist, crushing or hindering as much as possible any attempt by the people to organise themselves or seek political change, crushing ethnic minorities and working - through the apparatus of the State - to ensure the continuity of the system by supporting compliant social, labour and political agencies and organisations. All this with the support or complicity of the "international community", which values - over and above any respect for human rights - the existence of stable allies, both in order to carry on the "war on terror" and as good trading partners.
The self-immolation of a fruit vendor in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid to protest the injustices of the regime and the lack of any prospects in life was the spark that set off a protest movement which began in that town and its surroundings and has since spread all over Tunisia, with people demanding greater democracy and a reversal of anti-popular economic policies dictated by the international financial organisations. Shanty-dwellers near coalfields, lawyers, journalists, young people from poor neighbourhoods… these are the most active and visible elements behind the protests. The television channel Al Jazeera and internet sites and blogs - despite all the attempts to control and silence them - have become two major sources of information and contact for coordinating and expanding a movement that the official media agencies - the only legally-permitted ones - are trying to hide and minimise.
Demonstrations have spread in recent days to neighbouring Algeria, which is experiencing a very similar political and social situation. The rise in the prices of food and other basic goods, growing unemployment especially among the young and a suffocating political system that prevents the expression of popular demands in other ways, have all led to thousands of people taking to the streets in mass demonstrations that have been violently suppressed. The Algerian government is facing up to the situation by means of the time-honoured method of the carrot and stick: on the one hand, it has announced lower taxes on basic goods and easier procedures for importing them, while on the other - like its Tunisian counterpart - it is using blood and fire to repress the protests, threatening to bring down the full weight of the law on their leaders and assuring - in a nod to its international backers - that everything is due to an unseen hand that is trying to destabilise the country, a reference to the jihadist threat. Algeria, as well as being a stronghold in the fight against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maghreb, is a major exporter of gas and a key player in Europe's energy supply.
It is vital that we publicise and support the struggle of the people of North Africa as much as possible. The best way to stop the spread of fundamentalism in the region is not by encouraging corrupt, oligarchic governments or the faithful followers of the IMF's austerity policies, who are exactly the ones that are responsible for fundamentalists finding an audience among the neglected areas of society. What is needed is to promote basic structural changes in the area's economic and social policies that can raise the standard of living of the masses, promote their involvement in politics while protecting their autonomy, and increasing the amount of control they have over the rich natural resources of the region.
It is clear that this policy would not suit the "international community", whose interests require a "good political climate" for its investments and for its control over the region's strategic raw materials, so that numerous Western states can be ensured cheap supply.
The only ones who can open the way for a secular Maghreb with genuine democracy and social justice are popular movements, born from the womb of the oppressed classes, which fight for their interests in a relentless battle against the scourge blighting them. We must strengthen our ties with them.
10 January 2011
Details of the developing situation in Tunisia have been regularly posted in this thread in the libcom forums.