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

Posted By

Jan 12 2011 00:41


Attached files


Feb 26 2011 15:55

Alma Allende

Venezuela en la Qasba

machine translation

Live firing by police in Tunis yesterday, one protester killed

Feb 26 2011 16:18


4.02pm: Tunisia: In Tunisia, where the current unrest in the Arab world began, hundreds of journalists and technicians from the state-run TV broadcaster have gone on strike over what they say is continued government censorship of their dispatches, Reuters reports.

The industrial action has halted state TV news bulletins. One striker said: "We are on strike demanding an end to all the pressure and to stop the censorship, and to allow us to work freely ... We will not accept restrictions any more."

Feb 26 2011 16:42
Feb 26 2011 22:46

Four dead in Tunisia after renewed violence

Four people have died in new unrest in the Tunisian capital between stone-throwing protesters and police on the sidelines of demonstrations against the interim government, officials said Saturday.

The Interior Ministry, in a statement, blamed "provocateurs" for fomenting violence in otherwise peaceful rallies and for allegedly using young people as human shields in renewed demonstrations.

The ministry said three people died Saturday, without elaborating. State TV showed a funeral of a 19-year-old man who was killed Friday after being shot through the neck during protests on a central avenue.

Demonstrators fear the interim government has hijacked the revolution that drove Tunisia's longtime autocrat from power on Jan. 14, sending shock waves through the Arab world.

Officials said nearly 200 people were arrested in the last two days.

On Saturday, police and troops backed by tanks used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. Officers were seen chasing some youths through town after the rally ended.

Authorities then ordered a temporarily ban on vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the capital's central Bourguiba Avenue until midnight Sunday - the first of its kind since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia...

This video appears to be from today's clashes

Feb 27 2011 17:06

EA Liveblog:

1510 GMT: In a televised interview, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has resigned. Ghannouchi, criticised by some as a leading member of the deposed President Ben Ali regime, declared, "I am not a man of repression, and I never will be."

On Friday, more than 100,000 Tunisians demonstrated for the replacement of the transitional Government.

Live Stream from Tunisia of the crowd hearing the news....

1330 GMT: AFP follows up on the report (see 1305 GMT) of more trouble in Tunisia:

Security forces and anti-government protesters clashed in the Tunisian capital Sunday, with police firing tear gas and warning shots to disperse stone-throwing youths in a third day of violence.

Security forces acted to stop protesters, who were chanting anti-government slogans, from reaching the interior ministry.

Rampaging youths hurled rocks at buildings to break the windows and threw up barricades to impede the police who were not able to disperse them with tear gas and warning shots.

Feb 27 2011 23:44

EA liveblog

1950 GMT: Tunisia’s interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, has named a former government minister, Beji Caid-Essebsi, as Prime Minister.

Caid-Essebsi replaces Mohamed Ghannouchi, who resigned earlier today (see 1510 GMT) amidst protests calling for the replacement of the transitional Government.

Human Rights Watch has condemned violence by police against protesters on Friday and Saturday, which killed at least four people, and more use of force today.

HRW claims that security forces, some dressed in the dark uniforms of anti-riot brigades, worked with plainclothesmen who carried sticks and clubs, to chase rock-throwers into narrow streets and beat them. HRW asserts that police also fired numerous rounds of teargas toward the protesters, who lit bonfires in the street and erected crude barricades across the street.

A policeman who observed journalists and HRW filming from hotel balconies pointed a gun at them, and the police then entered the hotel to ensure that the filming stopped.

Armoured personnel moved along the main avenue, with guns pointed out, and helicopters circled at low altitude.

Feb 28 2011 16:29

Guardian - another ZABA era cabinet member resigns.

2.20pm - Tunisia: The Tunisian industry and technology minister has resigned from the government, according to the official TAP news agency.
Mohamed Afif Chelbi was one of only two remaining ministers who served in the cabinet under the ousted president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. His exit comes in the wake of yesterday's resignation of the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who held the same post under Ben Ali.
Ghannouchi quit after renewed violent demonstrations in the country by protesters angry about ties of members of the post-revolution government to the old regime.
Feb 28 2011 16:54
Mar 1 2011 17:41

The Tunisian equivalent of "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" articulates the local version of the Daily Mail perspective. However much I may find the general politics of the statement repellant, there are some interesting details, plus it's a useful reality check to keep tabs on anti-left perspectives.

from Angry Arab blog

[Middle] Class analysis of Tunisia
Khelil wrote me this (I cite with his permission and I can confirm his analysis. I have indeed received emails from irate Tunisians who told me that they did not want Ghannushi to step down):

"1) The middle class (adult and youth) is greatly irritated that Ghannoushi stepped down (over 2,000 gathered at his home after his announcement to call for his return in a spontaneous affair; Mr Gannouchi, mes excuses chui 1 de la majorité qui ont choisi le silence is a Facebook page and another for Ghannoushi has over 10,000 fans) and now what is being called the "silent majority" is starting to stand up against the UGTT union which is behind the continuing protests. A majority of Tunisians, especially the middle class, is growing resentful that leftist and Islamist factions are claiming to speak in the name of "the people" and "the revolution" and that the UGTT is undermining efforts to get people back to work. Protests are starting to attack the UGTT and the self-proclaimed committee that they have set up with Nahda claiming to "protect the revolution". The middle class does not want the UGTT to claim their voice, and this includes the youth of middle class families as well who are starting to attack the UGTT.

2) The far-left is making much of the noise and has set up righteous committees: The January 14 Front is another case in point, a gathering of leftists, communists and even the Ba'ath movement. These committees speak presumptuously about how they are the vanguards of the revolution and they are seeking to protect it, and thus they should play a larger role in the transition. But the middle class, represented by much of the establishment press, has begun to push back and decried these groups as opportunists whose demands for, say, higher wages at a fragile economic time is selfish, that they are simply a loud minority, and that their policies would wreck the nation's economic prospects. The January 14 Front and UGTT have both made far-left calls for nationalization et cetera which are opposed by the middle class, mainstream opposition, and by France (which has been the beneficiary of many privatizations).

3) The Islamists are also anxious to get recognition and want to have a role in crafting the constitution but they are simply now riding the coattails of the far-left and UGTT. Ghannoushi is being ambiguous and the Islamists also discredited themselves with the hateful fest in front of the Synagogue and efforts to burn brothels (neither of which Nahda condemned) and the strong showing at the lacite march I think has made them coy a bit and to decide to adopt a more low-profile and behind the cover of UGTT (which is actively working with them).

4) Expect in the next days and weeks an onslaught by the middle class to discredit and even disband into the UGTT into several unions which would be easier to keep the far-left restrained; as its claim to be representing the revolution is being challenged by the middle class opposed to its economic proposals. Its president is already the focus of attacks (degage) and people are circulating his past photos and efforts with Ben Ali. A lot is being posted all around Facebook. And a new Facebook page titled UGTT, je bosse demain et je t'emmerde has already got over 17,000 followers in just eight hours after being put up. I have seen several Facebook pages against UGTT and many have over 10,000 fans. And there was a small demonstration against UGTT today in front of their offices and a large one is being planned this Saturday March 5.

The middle and upper-class is pissed at the continuing protests and there is a growing hatred of the UGTT and other leftist groups (the attacks are becoming very vociferation) and fear that continued instability will ruin the economy, lead to far-left and Islamist power grabs, and even threaten a political vacuum that will lead to a new strongman. Basically, the camped demonstrators in the Casbah and the UGTT will no longer be able to claim that they speak for the revolution and they act in the name of Tunisians as this message is being strongly rebuked. A centrist party will likely be formed to counter the far-left. The middle class is energized now.

5) There is clear class division between the coastal middle and upper class and the interior working poor and the southern city of Sfax, Tunisian's second city, long shut out from power and now seeking to make their voice heard. Until now they had the platform, but remember that Tunisia is a majority middle class people with middle class aspirations, most people just want to return to work and gradually rebuild the nation and dislike fiery words and radical platforms. The demonstrators in front of the Casbah are far removed in education, social and political values and dress from the mainstream middle (there is also a heavy condescending attitude toward them as the middle class considers them to be poorly educated, if not illiterate, and just "ga3rah" as Tunisians say, i.e. uncivilized) The far-left is really just talking to itself about "neo-liberalism" et al, they are energized but in the minority. And remember that the press and the army are rooted in the middle class, France supports that approach as well, and the far-left and Islamists will lose in the end. It is still going to be noisy and messy for now but the growing anger against the UGTT means that it has overreached in its demands, the middle class is now calling for the UGTT to stop playing a political role. A demonstration took place Feb. 25 attacking the UGTT's call for strikes. As I said it will still by messy in Tunisia for now, but in a country like Tunis the center will eventually win and I think that the middle class is so angry now that they will come out stronger in the election and the far-left and Islamists will be the worse off for it. The far-left has alienated and scared off most of the country with their pronounced platforms, I think they really misread the scene. And hoodlums have used the disorder of protests to loot shops and attack cars and while they were simply opportunists (and some were even found to have been paid by the last vestiges of the Ben Ali goons), people are blaming the UGTT for creating the circumstance.

6) Lastly, whatever happens in Tunisia I believe is only a taste of the class-divide battle which will take place in Egypt, where the class inequality is even more pronounced. Tunisia's division between the far-left, union and the middle class, business class (which represent the center-left, center and center-right) is tame and will be, I think, quick to quite down in comparison to the debates that will soon dominate a far larger nation like Egypt."

Red Marriott
Mar 1 2011 18:49

That is pretty much the development we could expect coming from these revolts; an eventual polarisation of class relations based on conflicting expectations of the aftermath, with the middle class rallying round the state as a force of order and helping reconstitute the new regime. Meanwhile the poor - while gaining valuable experience of collective self-organisation, cohesion and a few concessions - confront many of the same economic realities as before.

Mar 2 2011 11:16
the middle class rallying round the state as a force of order and helping reconstitute the new regime.

Don't you understand? - "middle class" is just a sociological category. </heavy sarcasm>

Mar 2 2011 12:00

A footnote to a long article about Algeria on the Moor Next Door blog

In Tunisia competing segments within the middle and upper classes seem to be divided between those preferring the preservation of the Ben Ali status quo (or significant parts of it) and those pressing for continued revolutionary change and reform. The important segments of the revolutionary movement there, drawn from the middle and lower middle class but also the southern poor, have allied with the UGTT and the former elite segment in pushing on the transitional government to pursue constitutional and political change more aggressively and throwing out ex-RCD members. The former group from within the middle and upper classes are pushing for the retention of ex-regime players in hopes of safeguarding their old positions. One sees this in the protests and violence against the UGTT, street fighting by ex-RCD partisans and the actions of some of those supporting Ghanouchi; the RCD would appear to be reorganizing for a comeback in hopes of staving off or rolling back losses as a result of the fall of the old regime. This is something that deserves more attention and more varied analysis; the same is true for what is taking place in Egypt...
Mar 2 2011 12:34

I think the chimera of the "middle class majority" always rests on a more or less explicit decomposition of the class along indentitarian lines. Whether it be racism as in the US, or more regional considerations as apparently in the Tunisian case. All the evidence is that there is a strong tension between the coastal "core" of Tunis and the Sahel (the north east coast around the Gulf of Hammamet, including Sousse) and the "periphery" of the interior - Kef, Gafsa, Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid; and the excluded southern coastal towns of Sfax and Gabès. Having said that, the perspective outlined in the piece above seems to assume that all the people in those core cities are of one mind, regardless of their place in the actual social hierarchy or how many of the low-status workers in the "core" are in fact migrants from the impoverished regions, and might be expected not to share the quasi-racist characterisation of their home townsfolk as illiterate and "ga'rah".

Although the general pattern of a movement of reaction getting itself together in the weeks and months following the initial moment of rupture in the ongoing transformative process, to defend their positions in the economic and political niches they held in the ancien regime, is common. What is interesting is that this is couched in a discourse that is not primarily nationalistic or religious, but more explicitly class based (even if to the subjectively delineated "middle class") and founded on (capitalist) economic rationality.

Mar 3 2011 11:40

'Tunisia frees last political prisoners'

At least that's what the headline says

Red Marriott
Mar 3 2011 22:18

I don't want to derail too much here, but the denial of the middle class as anything but a "subjective" "chimera" or "sociological" category is of no use when trying to analyse these events and how class relations will develop. (Note that Egyptian bloggers refer to the obvious existence of a middle class and their ability to organise and represent their interests politically - surely not mere "chimerical" deluded "subjectivity".) If a class is portrayed as existing without any material/economic basis to its emergence and continued existence but the "chimera" of "subjectivity", well that may be an amusing ideological conjuring trick but not one that will fool many people outside the confines of libcom, least of all those in more strictly delineated countries outside the West. Trying to reduce it to racist/regional attitudes is also unconvincing.

Mar 4 2011 10:34

I said the "middle class majority" was the chimera. Do you believe that the majority of Tunisia's 10.5 m people are middle class? What is the material/economic basis of this class? Do you also accept that if the majority are middle class, then the remaining rump minority (other than the rich) must therefore be an underclass of marginals and excluded, that, by the same token the working class no longer exists?

Red Marriott
Mar 4 2011 19:25
Do you believe that the majority of Tunisia's 10.5 m people are middle class?

Not at all, though recent govt. figures may be the source of such claims;

Sorry if I misunderstood - partly cos at the end you said "the subjectively delineated "middle class"", which could apply to such a category whatever its relative size. I'm misjudging you due to such a viewpoint being oft-expressed on libcom as "2-class 'theory'". I assumed you were denying the m/c its genuine independent material existence as anything more than subjective, sociological etc - so subsuming the middle class into the working class, as has been common on libcom. In my arguing against that fictional categorisation I apparently made you think I was trying to do similar - ie subsuming the working class into the middle class.

Mar 7 2011 11:57
Red Marriott wrote:
Do you believe that the majority of Tunisia's 10.5 m people are middle class?

Not at all, though recent govt. figures may be the source of such claims;

OK, the original is actually far better than that blogger's re-interpretation. Unfortunately for English reader's it's in French, but a hack translation of one section in the original:

Before going any further in this "analysis" [...], remember what was said by the Tunisian Head of State, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on the occasion of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic. "The average annual income per capita has been increased to 4,000 dinars, and the poverty rate was reduced to 3.8%, which helped expand the middle class in Tunisian society to reach 80%!" For those who want a scientific explanation, the per capita income (GNI and per capita income or per capita), is defined as gross national income (GNI) for one year, divided by the total population, for this country or region. Thus, for investigators, or those at the Ministry of Development have been reading the numerical results of the investigation, the threshold of wealth in Tunisia would equal the annual income per capita is 4000 DT!

So the 80% middle class figure is key claim in the Ben Ali story of what great things the RCD have done in Tunisia, based on a patently absurd interpretation of the national statistics.

Red Marriott wrote:
Sorry if I misunderstood - partly cos at the end you said "the subjectively delineated "middle class"", which could apply to such a category whatever its relative size. I'm misjudging you due to such a viewpoint being oft-expressed on libcom as "2-class 'theory'". I assumed you were denying the m/c its genuine independent material existence as anything more than subjective, sociological etc - so subsuming the middle class into the working class, as has been common on libcom. In my arguing against that fictional categorisation I apparently made you think I was trying to do similar - ie subsuming the working class into the middle class

That's a much bigger debate, which probably would be a derail. But briefly my own position is, I guess, somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand I do reject the orthodox Marxist conception of objectively existing class with subjective false consciousness. But I do relate class to situation within the relations of production, rather than simple income level. I would take an operaisti/autonomist conception of a historical dynamic between technical composition of social production and political (de-/re-)composition. That is, that even though class has material foundations in the technical composition, subjectivity is necessarily the form of appearance of class, as interests must be aprehended/constructed within consciousnesses. So, like Malatesta against Monatte, the existence of material relations of dispossession, exploitation etc, does not mean that the emergence of a self-awareness of common class interests, overriding all capitalism's competitive pressures that set sectional interests against each other, is neither automatic nor apolitical.

So even though situations such as those managing workers either for the benefit of a capitalist enterprise or, more nebulously, for the benefit of capitalist society as a whole (and there are big differences between those two) can lead to the individuals involved seeing their interests as distinct and sometimes opposed to those of the working class. But, OTOH, the subjectivity of alienation from and opposition to working class interests, is simply too good for capitalists to let lie. Hence Thatcher's "we're all middle class now", not to mention the US discourse that assumes that the vast bulk of the North American working class is middle class by dint of either a) not living in a trailer park, or b) not being ghettoised and black (slight caricature).

What I would say in relation to MENA countries and other regions gradually emerging out from the neo-colonial frying pan (and into the global money market fire), is that there are strong divisions in the technical composition, almost as if there were different economies, first and third world, now operating side by side within the same territory. So on the one hand you would have a workforce incorporated into the salaried, (relatively) 'guaranteed' sector, with access to consumer credit (mortgages, bank accounts, credit cards, car loans, etc) and an interaction with the globalised economy. On another hand a relatively small section of workforce still labouring in the old neo/colonial economy, often under almost serf-like conditions. And a larger, ever-expanding un- or under-employed labour force that currently has no real place in either economic sector but must scrabble around in the informal sector or rely on family or clan charity.

Because the material gulf between the first sector and the other two is huge, you could see how a middle class identity could potentially accrete around the first sector in relation to the other two. In Argentina we saw this in the 1990s when the employed, "first world" sector looked on the activities of the piqueteros with disdain or even violent hostility. It was only with the crisis of December 2001 when the global worker or "middle class" sector lost the contents of their bank accounts, followed in many cases by their jobs, that you had a reconciliation between cacerolazos and piqueteros and a recognition of common interests (however brief).

Mar 7 2011 16:54


Tunisia unveils new government
(AFP) – 1 hour ago

TUNIS — Tunisia's interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi announced on Monday a new government free of any members of the regime of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled in January in an uprising.

The new 22-member interim government, called the "public authority", includes five new ministers and two women.

The removal from government of figures from the Ben Ali regime was a key demand of protests that continued after the fall of the authoritarian leader on January 14.

Following the protests, the previous interim prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, and two other ministers who had also served in Ben Ali's government resigned last week.

Two ministers from the opposition quit days later.

edit: additional details from Reuters

[...]Two previous caretaker administrations collapsed as they included members regarded by demonstrators as being too close to Ben Ali's old guard, such as former interim premier Mohamed Ghannouchi.

The members of the new cabinet will not be allowed to be candidates in future elections.

By unveiling a new team entirely made up of technocrats rather than career politicians, Caid Sebsi is seeking to assert his authority and see through a delicate transition in which Tunisians will elect a constituent assembly on July 24 to rewrite the constitution.

Mar 9 2011 11:38

EA liveblog

0855 GMT: The Constitutional Democratic Rally, the party that controlled Tunisia from independence in 1956 until the fall of President Ben Ali in January, has been formally dissolved by a court.
Apr 11 2011 10:51

Reports from a CGT delegation to Tunisia

Crónicas desde Túnez (1) ----- machine translation

Crónicas desde Túnez (2) ----- machine translation

Crónicas desde Túnez (3) ----- machine translation

I'm not sure these reports dig very deep but it's interesting that some of the towns where the uprising started still seem to be under the control of committees to safeguard the revolution.

Apr 11 2011 20:27
Tunisian boat people rioted Monday on the Italian island of Lampedusa in a protest against their imminent deportation under a controversial deal struck between Rome and Tunis last week.
"Freedom! Freedom!" shouted some of the migrants at a compound in which hundreds are being held. Some of them started a small fire at the centre which was quickly put out by the fire brigade, and dozens fled the enclosure.

- from here.

Apr 14 2011 11:14

Part 4 of the CGT reports. This one is an analysis of the Tunisian unions and is worth reading. The machine translation is more or less readable.

Crónicas desde Túnez (4). La UGTT: entre la traición y la lucha.

machine translation

Apr 17 2011 22:51
Apr 18 2011 20:40
Apr 21 2011 17:57

Part 7 - the committees to safeguard the revolution

Crónicas desde Túnez (7) Los comités de salvaguardia de la revolución. El ejemplo de Bizerta

Edit: The FdCA has now started translating these reports over on Anarkismo


The Committees to Safeguard the Revolution: the example of Bizerte

Since 14th January numerous committees to safeguard the revolution have been set up in many places throughout the country, with a variety of forms, constitutions and functions.

Municipal bodies almost everywhere in Tunisia have been swept away, and temporary bodies for managing municipalities have taken their place. The form and make-up of these institutions depends on the balance of forces in each locality. In some cases, they have been created on the basis of proposals by the committees to safeguard the revolution, in others they maintain links with the old local political bosses.

The Bizerte committee to safeguard the revolution

Bizerte is a city of 200,000 inhabitants (the province, or governorate, has around 700,000) and lies on the Mediterranean coast at a distance of 66 km from the capital, Tunis.

Around 25 people, mostly women, are waiting for us at the House of Culture (now run by the committee to safeguard the revolution) to exchange experiences and ideas with us.

The Bizerte committee is of an open, assembly-based nature. Between 500 and 1,000 people attend the meetings, where decisions are made. The committee is then responsible for implementing these decisions. People attend as individuals, not as representatives of parties and trade unions. The main force is the Union of Unemployed Graduates who have organized more than 10 branches in the province, in addition to the one in Bizerte. Lawyers, teachers, trade unionists and young people all participate in the provisional running of the city. The assembly has elected 25 people to the City Council, which was submitted to the governor of the province.

It seeks to foster participation and direct democracy. Each person has the right to vote at the assembly and everything is done to make sure the interests of all rather than party interests are catered for. It also seeks to encourage people to be active in everyday tasks. It is clearly run as an example of an attempt at counterpower and social self-management.

A difficult task ahead

We discuss the lack of experience in taking on so many responsibilities and the need for training and cooperation. On the one hand, it seeks to continue the process of dissolving all of the dictatorship's apparatus of repression. We talk about the example of El Kef, a town where the committee to safeguard the revolution has produced a dossier containing the photos of all the corrupt individuals and those who were involved in repression. But also about the biased judiciary and government who have freed the police officers and corrupt individuals who were brought to justice by the people.

On the other hand, we also discuss the process of building a new society that will carry on a consistent struggle against unemployment, defend human rights, establish new economic and political criteria that can enhance strong cooperation between the workers and the people as a whole.

Factory closures

More than 4,500 metal workers from Menzel Bourguiba, in the governorate of Bizerte, are on strike against the threat of a lockout. The bosses have responded to the creation of a union in the factories and the state of mobilization and worker participation with layoffs and relocations. Shipyards have been the traditional industry in the area. Employers are now seeing their profits threatened and are trying to move to other countries or else waiting for better times, for the revolutionary tide to subside.

Mutual aid - a necessity

The Bizerte comrades tell us: "There has been an insurrection in Tunisia, now we need a revolution". And for that, they need help: publicity, information, training, support of all kinds.

Our discussions brought up the idea of twinning the committee to safeguard the revolution with European bodies (federations, trade unions, associations, etc.) with a commitment to maintain an ongoing relationship where information on the activities and needs of the committee can be exchanged, together with practical mutual aid.

After the talks, we visited the former premises of the political police that were burned down by the people. This was a tangible expression of the people's strength against the dictatorship. But now there remains the hardest task of all: that of making sure that change does not remain a purely formal affair, a new coat of paint on the old house. Change must mean a real, profound transformation of this society.

Our commitment and our support is needed. How? By following with interest the current situation of what is happening in Tunisia, by taking part in the campaign to cancel Tunisia's foreign debt, by twinning with the committees to safeguard the revolution, through solidarity and support for the struggles of the workers, the unemployed and the Tunisian people. But also, through our struggles at home, fighting our own governments and multinationals, the accomplices of Ben Ali who still keep to their neo-colonial view of the countries of North Africa, the back yard of the European Union.

Solidarity and mutual aid with the people of Tunisia.


North Africa Working Group of the CGT International Secretariat

First published (in Spanish) on 19 April 2011.

Apr 21 2011 18:00

Translation of part 1


The voice from the streets is clear: the revolution in Tunisia has just begun

Avenue Habib Bourguiba is a hive of activity. The hum of debate rebounds on all sides. From the steps outside the Municipal Theatre, the megaphone is passed from hand to hand. People talking, shouting, freely stating that the revolution must go on. Ben Ali has not gone away: his political police, though hidden, is still at work, his web of corruption is still in place, his people from the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) are still there, though today mixed in with various political parties and are preparing for the right moment to return to power, which they never really left.

Calls for a "Third Kasbah" are repeated, spread and discussed in the streets. It is the response to the words of the new prime minister Essebsi, who speaks with the arrogance of power and a legitimacy that the people have not given him. And the people have responded. They say that they are still there, alive and well, and have no intention of yielding easily to a "normality" that does not involve real change in Tunisian society.

From all those places where social isolation and exclusion is the norm, from Sidi Bouzid, Redeyef, Thala, Kasserine... spreading throughout the whole country, the Tunisian people on the streets carried on this revolution of dignity. No office, no hidden power, no party, no-one drew up their programme. It is the people of Tunisia themselves who have been writing their own history, not with jasmine, but with the dignity and the blood of their young, their martyrs.

During the First Kasbah, the caravan of the revolution, thousands of people from the poorest areas of Tunisia all over the country occupied the Prime Ministry in the Kasbah from Sunday 23rd January until the 28th, when they were brutally evicted. They had no intention of accepting a government where the majority of members were in Ben Ali's party, starting with his prime minister, Ghannouchi.

With the Second Kasbah, Ghannouchi was toppled. They had already brought down two governments after the fall of the dictator. The Tunisian people took yet another step forward, ignoring the support being offered Ghannouchi's government by the European Union and the United States. The main police chiefs from the Ben Ali era were removed from their positions, political prisoners were freed and the RCD was dissolved but the people wanted still more. The counter-revolution had not been stopped.

April 1st. Calls for a Third Kasbah have brought together several thousand people. It has become impossible to reach the Kasbah square. Police and military personnel control access points. The army is also visible on the streets. Tanks and trucks everywhere. Along the road leading to the square, several police cordons block the way of those who are gathering. There are impromptu speeches by the people. Meher, a young man who has been vocal in the debates, talked to me about the revolution, about how the murderers are going unpunished and the corrupt go free. They want real change. They want to destroy the whole party-state apparatus. They want another Tunisia. They have no trust in parties or trade unions. They know that their strength keeps them on the streets.

Suddenly, the crowd starts moving. Some are receding, most are pushing towards the police. It seems that the police have started to charge - then the pushing starts, blows, stones fly, paving stones are ripped up and the air fills with tear gas, causing the crowd to disperse into the streets of the Medina.

But the gas follows us through the streets. An asthmatic comrade from the CGT falls to the ground in a faint. But the people are here. From the houses come women, men, children, to care for the wounded. Milk, lemon, blankets... everything. A young girl gives my comrade some ventolin. And kisses her on the forehead out of respect. The love and solidarity of the people. Another comrade from Solidaires has got lost and is overcome by the gas. The same response. He is quickly welcomed into a house to for treatment and to avoid arrest. There have been about twenty arrests, they tell us.

People are already arriving on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba and gathering in front of the Municipal Theatre. There are discussions and debates. A young student talks to us, aware that he is an important part of what is happening. He rejects the continued interference by the West in his country's affairs, our sense of superiority. He speaks of a tolerant Tunisia, where people can live together and build a different democracy, more real than ours. He breathes conviction and self-confidence from every pore. He is the image of a people which is organizing itself, which has hope and the ability to build and move forward.

The unemployed university graduates have mobilized and are organizing themselves. In just two months 45,000 unemployed people have come together in real grassroots organizations. Committees for safeguarding the revolution are everywhere, some whose operations are more closed (coordination of organizations), some more open (assembly-based). In practice, many municipalities are being run by them. Big protests are being prepared against the government if it fails to dismantle the old apparatus of power and does not send those responsible for murders committed during the revolution to prison.

And all this time, the debates of the councils working on constitutional changes and preparing new elections, initially scheduled for 25th July, the struggles and alliances between political parties, continue. The situation is difficult. And there is no shortage of people with an interest in slowing down the process or using to their own advantage.
But the voice from the streets is clear. The revolution in Tunisia has just begun.

First published (in Spanish) on Saturday 6 April 2011.

English translation by FdCA-International Relations Office

Apr 21 2011 23:11

From english Wikipedia

In a March 2011 opinion poll, the Renaissance Party was ranked first with 29%, followed by the Progressive Democratic Party at 12.3% and the Movement Ettajdid at 7.1%.[21] It was also found that 61.4% of Tunisians "ignore political parties in the country."[21]
Apr 23 2011 23:20

Translation of part 2 of the CGT reports


In the heart of Tunisia. Thala: the occupied police station

Thala, Kasserine governorate (province), 300 kms from the capital. A poor city, on the fringe, whose only resourse is agriculture which depends on rainfall: wheat, prickly pears... without industry.

Upon our arrival, we were surprised to find an outdoor museum filled with graffiti. Graffiti demanding freedom and dignity, against Ben Ali and his henchmen, tributes to the 6 who died in the revolution, a sign of the inhabitants' desire to be true to their memory. The free expression of the people on the walls of this small, abandoned city of the Tunisian interior.

Young people throng around us to see us taking pictures of the graffiti. They tell us the story of their struggle. As early as 24th December they held their first solidarity march with Sidi Bouzid, where the first call in all of Tunisia was made demanding the fall of Ben Ali. On 3 January, students from the town's two schools - one at each end of the city - decided to protest. The principals of the schools called parents in an attempt to stop the students taking to the streets. But they only achieved the opposite: the parents joined their children and all the people took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration.

The hated Colonel Youssef Abdelaziz ordered to fire on the demonstrators. Marouan Jemli, 19, was the first martyr in Thala. The struggle not to lose his body, fearing that the police would try to hide their crime, caused a second death - another 19-year-old. Finally, the young people were able to carry Marouan's body to his grandmother's house after a 10-hour walk over mountain trails.

Marouan's funeral was used by the criminal colonel Youssef as an opportunity to shoot at the people carrying the coffin. A 32-year-old comrade who was preparing for his wedding in March and a disabled man were both hit by police bullets and died beside the coffin, the latter with five bullets in his body! The mothers had originally tried to carry the coffin themselves (in Muslim culture, it is the men who accompany the dead to the cemetery), but the young men instead had decided to carry it.

Between 3rd and 6th January, Thala - a town of 15,000 inhabitants - was completely surrounded by 1,800 police. It was impossible to leave or to enter. Supplies of water, bread and sugar were cut off. Cries were heard in every corner of Thala, "YES to bread and water, NO to Ben Ali". 150 people were imprisoned and a great many young men, women and children were tortured and abused. But through Facebook and other social networks, the young were able to publish videos of the repression and publicize the police murder of 5 young people and their siege of the town.

On 8th January, Col. Youssef was overthrown and replaced by another police chief. But the movement had spread throughout Tunisia and the rebellion had reached the capital. On 12th January, yet another person was killed by the police outside his home. New police chief, new murder.

The orders to the police in the early days were clear: crush the rebellion in the Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine (home to Thala) governorates in order to prevent it from spreading to the rest of Tunisia. The 1,800 police officers who surrounded the town for days had clear orders to kill, to crush resistance, like elsewhere.

Thala, a town without police, without a municipality, managed by the people

But Thala, a town with a revolutionary tradition, resisted and won. Today, there are no police in town. Young people take it in turns to deal with security. Only the military presence reminds us that there is a state.

The committee to safeguard the revolution runs the town and has "justice for our dead" as its prime demand. They have submitted a list of people involved in the killings, complete with names, and for 17 days in March they organized demonstrations to demand the imprisonment and trial of the murderers. The Justice Department of the interim government has asked for 15 days in which to respond. If in the first week of April there is no answer, the struggle will be taken up again.

They do not recognize President Fouad Mebazaa, nor prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi. They are calling for the dissolution of the three councils that have been created: the political and constitutional reform council, the council investigating the repression since 17th December and the anti-corruption council. They do not trust them, as they were created by Ghannouchi and are filled with people from Ben Ali's RCD party. How can they investigate themselves?

The police station transformed into a social centre

After the death of Marouan, his friends were consumed with anger. One of them, filling his motorbike with petrol, set it on fire and crashed it into the police station, causing a fire that forced the police to leave the town.

On 17th February, Nemri Bassem, a mechanical engineer unemployed since 2004, occupied the police station and stayed there, demanding his right to work. This action is only one of hundreds of actions that have been carried out in Tunisia by the Union of Unemployed Graduates.

Nemri is not alone. Many young people joined him for his hours at the police station, which has today been converted into a place where you can listen to music, play cards and talk about revolution.

We said goodbye to Thala. Marouan's father points out to us the place where they killed his son: "I will never forget this place". And so says the graffiti that he did there.

Neither will the Tunisian people forget.


Translation by FdCA-International Relations Office