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


Jan 20 2011 14:02
Jan 20 2011 14:18

Nouvel Obs

Contrairement à ce qui s'est passé ces derniers jours, les manifestants ont réussi à atteindre le ministère de l'Intérieur et à poursuivre leur marche jusqu'au siège du RCD, franchissant sans violences les maigres barrages de police disposés sur l'avenue Habib Bourguiba.
Les chars déployés depuis plusieurs jours par l'armée devant le siège du parti n'étaient plus là jeudi matin. "Je suis avec vous. On ne va pas tirer sur vous, l'essentiel c'est que le rassemblement soit pacifique", a déclaré à la foule un colonel de l'armée, qui tentait de calmer les manifestants, qui l'ont applaudi.
Unlike what happened in recent days, protesters have managed to reach the interior ministry and to continue their march to the headquarters of the RCD, crossing without violence scarce police roadblocks placed on Avenue Habib Bourguiba.
Tanks deployed for several days by the army in front of the party headquarters were not there Thursday morning. "I'm with you. We will not shoot at you, the essential thing is that the rally is peaceful, " an army colonel, who was trying to calm the demonstrators, declared to the crowd, who applauded
Jan 20 2011 15:41

hmm, it seems a correction is in order on my previous speculations about Bouazizi having travelled to a coastal town to ply his wares. It appears that it was Sidi Bouzid where the last confrontation with the police took place. The reference to going up to the big city in the original report was presumably an interview with lads from the village he was from outside town.

But the issue of regional underdevelopment remains, coming out repeatedly in the UGTT reports. As it happens BBC reports a demo today in one of those regions

There were also reports of protests on Thursday in the towns of Gafsa and Kef - the first demonstrations outside Tunis since Mr Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia last week.

Gafsa and Kef being the cities/governates mentioned by the union federation, alongside Sidi Bouzid as particularly deprived regions.

NB the contention that this is the first demo outside of Tunis since the 14th does not stand up, as the above thread records.

Jan 20 2011 16:12

An interesting background piece on the 2008 struggle in the phosphate mining region in Gafsa, around Redeyef.

Land-grab, repression, in Tunisia's phosphates belt

The 5,000 company jobs, together with funds set aside for reconstruction, are managed in close collaboration with the UGTT (the regional union of Tunisian workers). Until recently, regional stability was maintained by meagre handouts from the enormous profits generated by the phosphates industry, keeping a subtle balance between the clans and families favoured by the union branch and by the ruling party, the RCD (the Constitutional Democratic Party). Local managers were used as go-betweens with the main tribes, the Ouled Abid and the Ouled Bouyahia. But continual contraction of funds, plus widespread corruption, destroyed this balance, even when the price of phosphate on world markets rose spectacularly. The UGTT's regional office became the centre of a parasitic network ensuring that the phosphate bonus went only to friends and close relatives. The union is the most powerful local representative of what people now see as an unjust foreign power.

"We, the mining community, are never unjust, but if people are unjust to us then..." runs the banner across one of the roads into Redeyef - the slogan ends in a curse. This is a poor and marginalised area, scene of recent skirmishes with the police, where the protest has continued since January. Action by unemployed graduates is backed by strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins involving the whole community. Families of those injured or killed working at the mine join sacked workers. Women whose sons or husbands were imprisoned after the first demonstrations have called for a general strike. At night young people patrol Redeyef in small groups for self-protection, sounding the alarm by beating stones against a metal bridge - "the drums of war" - and sharing what food they have. There's an impressive solidarity that the forces of law and order can't break. Despite state control of media outlets, the protests have become the longest-lasting, most powerful and best-organised social uprising in Tunisia's recent history.

Jan 21 2011 00:35

Palestinian authority blocks Tunisia rally

The Palestinian Authority refused to grant permission for a rally to celebrate the overthrow of Tunisia’s authoritarian president on Wednesday in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported that a few dozen Palestinians who defied the ban arrived in the square in Ramallah where the rally was to take place only to find that they were outnumbered by members of the ruling Fatah party, who chose the same time and place to stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

According to the Palestinian Maan news agency, “It was not clear whose demonstration was planned first.”

A correspondent for Le Monde, Benjamin Barthe, observed that a police cordon around the square and “the presence among the demonstrators of many mukhabarat (secret police) officers left little doubt about the Palestinian Authority’s intention to prevent any expression of solidarity with the ‘jasmine revolution’ ” in Tunisia, which led the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee into exile.

The reporter added that just as one young Palestinian began to wave a Tunisian flag, an officer grabbed it, on the grounds that it was disturbing the demonstration in honor of the prisoners.

Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian human rights activist who was present at the thwarted celebration, told the French newspaper: “It’s unbelievable. … The police are in the process of confirming the charge that the Palestinian Authority is on the side of Ben Ali and that it also fears the people and the street.”


Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, told Le Monde that it was the president’s office that had banned the demonstration and “all use of the Tunisian flag.” He added that his contacts in the Palestinian government indicated that “they were scared of the slightest spark leading to an uprising against Israel or people demanding accountability from the Palestinian Authority.” ...

Jan 21 2011 12:55

Protests erupt in Yemen, president offers reform

Thousands protested in southern Yemen on Thursday to reject political reforms proposed by the government, including a limit on presidential terms, saying they did not go far enough.

The government announced its reform plans in the face of growing discontent that sparked sporadic protests this week.

Opposition parties said they would meet on Saturday to discuss the offer, as thousands of people demonstrated in the southern town of Taiz.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen for over three decades.


Yemenis in the north said dwindling protest turnouts in the capital Sanaa meant widespread revolt was unlikely. Analyst Abdulkarim Salam in Sanaa said the tribal systems that dominate Yemeni life were the biggest impediment.

"Of course it's hard to know what will happen in the coming days, but the situation here is different because allegiances here lie first with tribes, clans or even families" he said.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, is facing soaring unemployment and the oil reserves that buoy its economy are dwindling. Almost half of its population of 23 million lives on $2 a day or less.

Two protests this week at Sanaa University criticised autocratic Arab leaders, including Saleh. Protesters held signs with the warning: "Leave before you are forced to leave." ...

Edited to add: Yemeni protesters target Salih (

Jan 21 2011 01:00

On twitter

Important upcoming dates for protests: Algeria 22 Jan, Egypt 25 Jan

A warning message to the Algerian government, video version:

Jan 21 2011 02:00

The sixth in a series of daily reports from Tunis...

El sexto día del pueblo tunecino: haciendo planes

En el sexto día del pueblo tunecino circula un chiste entre la gente: “hemos echado a Ali Babá, pero se han quedado los 40 ladrones”.

Por sexto día consecutivo, cientos de ciudadanos violan la ley marcial, que impide reunirse a más de tres personas, y alcanzan esta vez la Avenida Bourguiba, invadiendo el boulevard central. La policía deja hacer. La atmósfera, bajo un cielo a franjas blancas y azules, es completamente distinta del día anterior. Toda la tensión se ha esfumado. Se tiene la certeza de la debilidad del gobierno o al menos de que su estrategia, a la espera del consejo de ministros aplazado hasta el jueves, pasa por no usar la fuerza. De hecho, hemos llegado hasta allí por calles de nuevo populosas, con muchas tiendas abiertas y felizmente abastecidas, y en medio de un tráfico relativamente nutrido. Los bancos, que aún no entregan dinero, están también abiertos. Pero no es la normalidad. O sí: es precisamente la normalidad. Da la sensación de que, por primera vez en 23 años, en Túnez ocurre algo normal. Como si se hubiese levantado la tapa del cielo sobre sus cabezas.

En el boulevard de la Bourguiba, los manifestantes manifiestan, al mismo tiempo que su rechazo al RCD, su simple existencia, su anchura y longitud, el despliegue máximo de su realidad compartida. Gritan de nuevo consignas vigorosamente abstractas (“Pueblo, libertad, patria, dignidad”), hacen ondear la bandera de Túnez, cantan una y otra vez el himno nacional. Abren sus apretadas filas para que pasen los tranvías, que exhiben en los parabrisas leyendas contra el RCD y el ilegítimo gobierno de coalición, y se cierran de nuevo para seguir alzando sus voces. Se dejan llevar por la sensación, quizás peligrosa, de que ya han vencido. Y convierten el boulevard en una concentración, pero también en un desfile festivo, donde cada participante expresa a su manera, en un trozo de papel, mediante una frase o una imagen, su decisión: “Respetad la voluntad del pueblo”, “Bel Ali+RCD=terrorismo”, “Fuera Ghanouchi”. Seis jóvenes vestidos de negro pasan muy deprisa, adelante y atrás, cargando sobre sus hombres un ataúd en el que está escrito: “RCD, al basurero de la historia”. Y todos nos conmovemos cuando pasa un hombre mostrando un montaje fotográfico en el que aparece Mohammed Bouazizi, el mártir de Sidi Bousid, con la cinta presidencial cruzándole el pecho sobre una leyenda que dice: “Bouazizi, presidente”.

Hay alegría y orgullo; de pronto los tunecinos se han convertido en el símbolo de la resistencia contra las dictaduras y muchos no se creen lo que han sido capaces de hacer. Ines Tlili, cámara de cine, dice exultante de felicidad: “Ayer veía las noticias en la tv y me sentía perpleja y feliz: ¡somos nosotros!”.

Grupos de militantes e intelectuales discuten en corros excitados. Se cita a Lenin, a Rosa Luxemburgo, la revolución francesa, la rusa, la china. También se citan los casos de Cuba y Venezuela.

- Podemos organizarnos de manera autónoma -dice el hermano de Ben Brik, el famoso periodista perseguido por el régimen, y continua: - Hay que aprovechar la autogestión defensiva de los barrios para formar consejos y comunas.

- Necesitamos una alternativa organizada -dice otro.

- Precisamente no hay nada más organizado que la espontaneidad.

- Pero piénsalo un poco. La economía de nuestro país depende del turismo, la emigración y el sector textil en manos extranjeras. En un mes todo eso puede venirse abajo. Pueblo y libertad son ideas abstractas. Necesitamos un plan concreto. ¿Lo tienes?

- Lo tengo. Jóvenes organizados en los barrios y un gobierno de unidad nacional formado por la UGTT y los partidos de izquierdas.

Que el régimen siga en pie, que las milicias de Ben Alí no hayan sido derrotadas, que la ruptura no se haya consumado, no es obstáculo para esta eclosión de febril actividad constructiva. Hay formas de alegría que demandan precisamente planificación, aunque no se disponga aún de los medios para ello.

Amira, joven actriz, hace también planes para difundir la cultura en los pueblos más castigados y en los sectores más desfavorecidos de Túnez. “En el sur la vida de los jóvenes es desoladora. El único recurso que se les ha proporcionado es la prostitución del turismo. No hay cine ni centros culturales ni teatro ni nada. Es necesario llevarles todo eso como factor inseparable de la soberanía política y de la conciencia colectiva, quebrada intencionadamente por la dictadura de Ben Ali”.

Las situaciones de excitación revolucionaria actualizan todos los mitos, que son en realidad atajos celerísimos hacia la armonía total. Najib es un contable cuarentón que trabaja en una institución pública. Se ha mezclado con los intelectuales y militantes y ha discutido con ellos en pie de igualdad, haciendo gala de una vasta, aunque vacilante, cultura histórica autodidacta. Se define como musulmán, aunque declara enseguida que no votaría jamás por el Nahda. Tiene su propia solución: no se trata de acabar con el RCD sino con todos los partidos, todos los sindicatos, todas las instituciones. ¿Y entonces? ¿Cómo gobernar el país? “El pueblo”, dice con aplomo, “el pueblo tunecino está preparado, es inteligente, es genial. Cualquier tunecino puede poner en marcha un avión o gestionar un hospital”. Después de lo que el pueblo ha hecho en los últimos treinta días, es fácil creer en los milagros.

Se canta, se baila, se cuentan, por lo demás, historias que abonan la excitación emancipatoria. En distintos lugares de la ciudad los trabajadores habrían expulsado a sus patrones y tomado sus centros de trabajo. Los empleados de la compañía de seguros Star habrían obligado al director a abandonar descalzo el edificio de la compañía. De otras ciudades de Túnez siguen llegando noticias de asaltos a sedes del RCD. Se anuncia además un inminente comunicado de todos los partidos de izquierda, reunidos para coordinar una estrategia común frente al gobierno de Ghanouchi.

De vuelta a casa, en un Túnez extrañamente festivo en el que los tanques alegran casi la vista, nos emociona ver a un viejo que reparte su baguette de pan, mendrugo a mendrugo, entre los paseantes y más adelante un pequeño puesto de verduras en el que puede leerse el siguiente anuncio: “el que tenga dinero que pague, el que no que coja gratis”.

Unas ochenta personas permanecen toda la noche en la Avenida Bourguiba para esperar el aluvión del día siguiente.

Estamos a punto de engañarnos y acostarnos contentos.

Pero a las 10.30 llegan noticias del Mourouj. Las milicias del dictador están asaltando el barrio y se enfrentan a tiros con el ejército, que ha pedido a los comandos de autodefensa que se refugien en las casas para evitar víctimas civiles.

A veces los humanos han cambiado ya mientras las estructuras siguen en pie. Y eso es bueno si se quiere tumbarlas.

Alma Allende

A rough translation of a few extracts from this article:

"We can organise ourselves in an autonomous manner," says the brother of Ben Brik, the famous journalist persecuted by the regime, and continues: "It's necessary to take advantage of the defensive self-management of the neighbourhoods to form councils and communes."

Najib is an accountant in his forties who works in a public institution. He has mixed with the intellectuals and militants and has argued with them on an equal footing … He defines himself as a muslim, although he declares straight away that he will never vote for El Nahda. He has his own solution: it consists not of finishing with the RCD, but finishing with all the parties, all the unions, all the institutions…

In different places in the city the workers have thrown out their bosses and taken over their workplaces. The employees of the Star insurance company have forced the director to abandon the building barefoot. News keeps on arriving from other cities than Tunis of assaults on RCD offices…

Jan 21 2011 05:35

thanks for this thread!

here's an article on some of the reactions in china to the uprising:

Tunisia's Uprising an Inspiration for Chinese

Jan 21 2011 11:11
Entdinglichung wrote:
an interview with an exiled Socialist from Tunesia:

For anyone who hasn't clicked on the link here is part of that interview with London based exile Nadim Mahjoub.

It is said that there are decades when weeks happen and weeks when decades happen. Clearly in Tunisia we are witnessing a shift from the former to the latter...

In 2003 we also saw large-scale demonstrations of students and trade unionists against the regime, but these were suppressed. What has changed now?

Something deeper has happened - I have never seen such determination from people on the streets. For them it is not about Ben Ali, but about toppling the whole regime. The current protests can certainly be seen as a continuation of the opposition organised by, for example, the leftwing coalition of trade unions in 2003. These demonstrations were organised independently of the UGGT (Tunisian General Union of Labour), which really has been a tool of the state in maintaining social peace. Just like in 2003 it is the trade unions that organised the protests and demonstrations, but what we are seeing now is on a different scale - the army has sided with the protests, for example.

What about the student movement? What explains its relative strength?

The student movement has always played an important opposition role. The regime made a big mistake because, although it tried to clamp down on all currents in the student movement, its focus was on the Islamists. So leftwing students had more leeway and continued to organise. Now that the universities have been closed down, thousands of students are on the streets, alongside workers and a section of the middle class and intellectuals.


What are the main forces on the left?

I will not speak about those supposedly ‘left’ groups who joined the coalition government. Of the rest, the Workers Communist Party of Tunisia is the biggest and has been dominant in the student movement for quite a long time. In addition there are various Trotskyist groupings which are very small in size - it is very difficult to assess their relative strengths without being on the ground, but they too were largely confined to the university campuses. The WCPT is in part successful because it combines underground activity with open work in the media - it has appeared on Al-Jazeera, France 24, etc. But they are not a large force across the country as a whole, and tend to be concentrated in particular areas amongst students and union militants.

The WCPT’s call for a constituent assembly is finding some resonance amongst the trade union left: ie those leading the marches and demonstrations currently. With such agitation there is a good chance that they can spread this message and even influence the army. This is crucial actually. As long as the army is on the side of the protestors then there is a real possibility of the movement spreading. But all this is very difficult to predict at the moment.


I am involved in the Tunisia Solidarity Campaign (although I am giving you my personal view). We are holding our second meeting this week and one of the things we will be discussing is how to link the British workers’ movement with trade unions in Tunisia.


What is your own political background?

I left Tunisia legally in late 2000, having previously been deprived of a passport for seven years. I was tortured in 1991 for distributing a tract. I was banned from teaching in state schools because of my political activities in the underground Communist Union of Tunisian Youth, which is linked to the WCPT and is very active in the universities. I am no longer involved, but I am pleased the party refuses to join the ‘national unity’ government coalition.

Jan 21 2011 11:02

The 9 Points of the Workers Communist Party of Tunisia

1. The success achieved so far is only half of the way and the other half is achieving the wanted democratic change and implementing it on the ground.

2. The democratic change cannot spring from the same party, the figures, the institutions, the apparatuses and the legislations that maintained the dictatorship and deprived the people from basic rights for more than half a century, 23 years of which under Ben Ali.

3. The interim president is one of Ben Ali’s clique and a president of an appointed body which does not represent the people in any aspect whatsoever, and the plan to hold presidential elections in a 60-day time has no purpose but to maintain the continuation of the dictatorial regime through one of its former leaders.

4. The most dangerous of what could happen now is robbing the Tunisian people of their victory and their legitimate ambitions for freedom and a dignified existence and sacrifices through preserving Ben Ali’s regime without Ben Ali and through forming a democratic decor around it.

5. The democratic change, with its political, economical, social and cultural dimensions, requires a real end of the repressive regime by taking a direct step which consists of forming a provisional government or any other body that has executive powers and undertakes the task of organising free elections for a Constitutional Assembly which would establish the bases of a real democratic republic in which people would enjoy freedom, social equality and national dignity.

6. All the forces, whether they are political organisations, unions, human rights groups, cultural organisations, organised or non-organised, and the people, that have played an effective and decisive role in toppling the dictator, have the task to decide on Tunisia’s future, and no one could replace them in their negotiations or contacts with the authority.

7. It is of a high urgency that the democratic forces form a national and unified body to carry out the democratic change and has the tasks to protect the gains of the revolting Tunisian people and to negotiate with the authorities to yield power to the people in a peaceful way.

8. All the democratic forces all over the country have to unite in organisations, committees, or local, regional and sectorial councils in organising the popular movement and to undermine the manoeuvre of reaction and the acts of looting and vandalism perpetrated by hidden groups aiming at spreading fear among the citizens, threatening their safety and scaring them of a democratic change to compel the people to surrender to the repressive apparatuses.

9. The armed forces, which consists in the main of the sons and daughters of the people are required to provide safety for the people and the motherland and respect people’s aspirations towards freedom, social justice and national dignity, which requires lifting the state of emergency as soon as possible so that it doesn’t become an excuse that prevents the Tunisian people from continuing their struggle and achieving their goals.

For a provisional government

For a constitutional assembly

For a democratic republic

Hamma Hammami, Workers Communist Party of Tunisia 15 January 2011

Translated from Arabic by Nadim Mahjoub

Jan 22 2011 01:44

Tunisia Solidarity Campaign

The Tunisia Solidarity Campaign is campaigning for a fundamental change in Tunisia. Our main task is to support the ongoing movement for a free, progressive, secular and a democratic Tunisia. Our specific objectives are:

• to show solidarity with the Tunisians who yearn to a real change in Tunisia through linking with them and reporting on their struggle.

• to reply to any media distortions of what is happening in Tunisia.

• to draw attention to the human rights situation in Tunisia, and to oppose the criminalisation of any social protest.

• to link with other solidarity campaigns in the UK and abroad.

• to oppose any foreign state or imperialist intervention believing that this will only oppose the will of the people, maintain the status quo and thus abort any real change in the country.

• to draw attention to the role that is played by the successive Western governments, companies and institutions in supporting the Tunisian regime, plundering the country and exploiting the majority of the people.

Jan 21 2011 11:28


1040 GMT: I guess the protests are getting boring for correspondents. CNN's Ben Wedeman writes from Tunis, "Another big demonstration on Habib Bourgiba Avenue...but off to do something different today."

0900 GMT: Tekiano reports on a strike on Thursday at Tunisia Telecom, where employees asked management to explain several cases of suspected fraud, including the awarding of contracts. The strikers also criticised cronyism and favoritism in recruitment policy.

Jan 21 2011 11:53

International anarchist communist statement

‎تونس.الثوره لم تنتهس بعد

Tunisia: the revolution is not over

After a month of popular insurrection, the tyrant has fallen. Ben Ali and his gang have chosen the road to exile. It's a huge victory for the Tunisian people, and one that cannot but be welcomed by every freedom-loving person. It is also an example and a great hope for all the peoples of the region living in police States.

But the revolution is not over, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) still holds power with 161 out of 214 seats in parliament, and interim president Fouad Mebazaa and prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi are pillars of the dictatorship. Rather than real change, the first steps taken in the emergency mostly show the desire of those in power to calm the streets. There will be elections in sixty days but they will be held according to the rules of the current constitution, tailored by the RCD. Consultations for the establishment of a government of national unity have begun, but the RCD is choosing which parties can participate. The aim of the operation is clear: to nullify the victory by the people by channeling the revolt into the political ground. There is a serious risk that the ruling party will co-opt the servile opposition and introduce a sham democracy once the fires of rebellion have died down. Neither can we rule out the possibility of the rise of a new dictator who, like Ben Ali, will have the backing of the Élysée Palace and the White House.

Ordinary Tunisians are aware of the pitfalls that endanger the freedom they have just snatched at the cost of dozens of deaths. Across the country, they are organizing themselves into self-defence committees in order to fight against the militias of the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan that continue to ravage the country. They are not fooled by the manoeuvres to keep the RCD in power. Defying the state of emergency which is still in force, protesters were again on the streets on 16th January demanding real change, shouting: "We did not revolt so that a new government of unity could be formed with the cardboard opposition parties".

The revolution is not over, because none of the substantial issues have been resolved: poverty, mass unemployment, corruption, cronyism, inequality, and so on. In addition to that of setting up a democratic system, the social question remains the central concern of Tunisians. The problems facing the country can only be solved by an active policy of redistributing wealth, breaking with the dictatorship of the markets.

Our organizations affirm their full solidarity with the struggle of the Tunisian people for freedom and social justice and our support for militant anti-capitalist Tunisians. We condemn the attitude of the Western States and more generally their political classes, both right-wing and social democratic, who have always actively supported the authoritarian power of Ben Ali.

19 January 2011

Alternative Libertaire (France)

Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (Italy)

Organisation Socialiste Libertaire (Switzerland)

Union Communiste Libertaire (Québec, Canada)

Libertäre Aktion Winterthur (Switzerland)

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (South Africa)

Jan 21 2011 12:04

Primera semana del pueblo tunecino: siempre adelante

Lo importante - lo impresionante - es que todos están organizándose sin esperar a tener un gobierno. Por la mañana leo la iniciativa de un grupo de ciudadanos que propone la creación de un Frente de Liberación Popular de Túnez, al margen de los partidos pero que también los interpela, para expresar algunas reivindicaciones comunes a todos: “llamamos a continuar la creación de comités populares sobre todo el territorio tunecino y en el extranjero y a su coordinación, a fin de organizar la lucha del pueblo y alcanzar su derecho legítimo: el acceso al poder”. El comunicado llama también a la defensa del país por parte de estos mismo comités en colaboración con el ejército -al que invita a reforzar la confianza del pueblo - al mismo tiempo que pide la disolución del gobierno, de la policía política y del RCD, la nacionalización de los bienes del partido y del clan Ben Alí y el juicio de todos los responsables del saqueo de la nación. Más importante que todo esto: en el interior del país se forman ya consejos que gestionan las vidas de los pueblos. En Qasserine, uno de los símbolos de la revolución tunecina, tumba de mártires, cuna del nuevo día, una verdadera Comuna formada por sindicatos, partidos de izquierdas y células juveniles, han pasado a dirigir el “gobernorado”, devolviendo a las fuerzas del orden a sus cuarteles. Aquí y allí todos reclaman la disolución del RCD y el gobierno provisional y el establecimiento de una asamblea constituyente…
Jan 21 2011 12:40

Parallels between Tunisia and Portugal in 1974, continued...

photo from Tunisia

photo from Portugal

Jan 21 2011 12:49

The calculations of Tunisia's military (Foreign Policy)

Aren't Middle Eastern militaries supposed to crack down and kick butt? Aren't they supposed to be the "backbone" of regimes? The guarantors of last resort? The ultimate instrument of political control? Read any account of civil-military relations and the Middle East -- including my own -- and the answers to these questions are a resounding yes. So when the Tunisian armed forces, allegedly at the command of General Rashid Ammar, told Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali that the military would not shoot protestors demanding the strongman's ouster and then pushed him from power, the commanders were clearly not playing to type. The role that the military has played in the Tunisian uprising thus far is intriguing and as Tunisia grapples with phase two of the post-Ben Ali era, what the military does (and doesn't do) will be critical in the country's political trajectory...
Jan 21 2011 13:01

On twitter

'Wow! this could be very interesting RT @dima_khatib: Demos in#Jordan. At least 10k in Amman. Asking government to step down'

Jan 21 2011 13:45

If you're going to make a comparison with the Portuguese revolution, which seems very premature imo, the idea of an army liberating the people is a dangerous one, since reliance on the army in Portugal, reliance on its left-wing, was one of the weaknesses of the movement - people looked too much to Cavalho to protect them against the right, which was partly a result of failing to seize arms directly; sure, Portugal was more compicated than this (for one thing, there was a lot of open discussion in the army a bit like the Agitators during the English civil war) but hope from the army, as opposed to hope from a mutiny in the army, was still an expression of the limitations of the autonomous aspects of the movement.

"We can organise ourselves in an autonomous manner," says the brother of Ben Brik, the famous journalist persecuted by the regime, and continues: "It's necessary to take advantage of the defensive self-management of the neighbourhoods to form councils and communes."

Is there any evidence that this is more than wishful thinking on the part of this guy - I've seen cars going through popular areas being stopped and searched by the movement, but anything else happening?

Jan 21 2011 15:24

The following interview with exiled opposition journalist and writer Ben Brik as to why he thinks he should be the next president, is notable only for the kind of extreme ego-maniacal self-aggrandisement and messiah-complex that I haven't come across since Salvador Dali died. At least with Dali you got the inkling that he was taking the piss on some level... (literally in the case of Impressions of Upper Mongolia)

"Je suis le prophète de la révolte tunisienne"

But this little snippet jumped out

Tapez mon nom sur Google et vous verrez ! Je suis partout.

Mais vous n'êtes pas le seul, le bloggeur Slim Amamou, nommé secrétaire d'Etat à la Jeunesse dans le gouvernement de transition, est aussi une figure de la révolution très présente sur le web...

- Mais son père est au RCD ! Il a été approché par le nouveau gouvernement pour faire bonne figure. Comme lui, à l'heure où Ben Ali tombait, une cohorte de gens s'est précipitée pour se déclarer opposants. Mais ce sont des inventions. Moi, j'ai toujours été dans le viseur du président déchu.

[...]Type my name into Google and you'll see! I am everywhere.

But you're not alone, blogger Slim Amamou appointed Secretary of State for Youth in the transitional government, is also a figure of the revolution with a lot of presence on the Web ...

- But his father is in the RCD! He was approached by the new government to make it look good. Like him, at the time when Ben Ali fell, a cohort of people rushed to declare themselves oppositionists. But these are inventions. I have always been in the gunsights of the deposed president.

oh, and just in case you thought I was kidding about the delirious megalomania...

- Puisque que les jeux sont ouverts, pourquoi pas imaginer un Ben Brik, qui a combattu farouchement un Ben Ali pendant un quart de siècle, à la tête de la Tunisie ? Depuis 2004, je me présente à l'élection présidentielle. Cette fois c'est la bonne, la vraie. Si cette élection avait lieu, je serais le premier président élu démocratiquement par les révolutionnaires.

Mon parcours d'opposant de toujours plaide pour moi. Je suis le prophète de cette révolte car j'ai prédis l'histoire de la Tunisie à travers mes livres. Mes écrits sont prémonitoires. Dans un de mes poèmes "La complainte de janvier", j'ai anticipé ce moment. Je disais qu'un janvier engendrerait un autre janvier. De ce janvier, la Tunisie s'est offert aujourd'hui son jour de gloire. Qu'on le veuille ou non, je suis le symbole pré-historique de cette opposition à Ben Ali. Je suis le père légitime de la révolution, le Montaigne, La Boétie de la Tunisie. Ce trophée m'appartient.
- Since the game is now afoot, why not imagine a Ben Brik, who fought fiercely against Ben Ali for a quarter century at the head of Tunisia? Since 2004, I am running for the presidential election. This time it is the right time, the real one. If this election was held, I would be the first president democratically elected by the revolutionists.

My path of opposition of always speaks for me. I am the prophet of revolt because I predicted the history of Tunisia through my books. My writings are premonition-like. In one of my poems, "Lament of January, " I anticipated this moment. I said one January would engender another January*. From this January, Tunisia has offered itself today's day of glory. Like it or not, I'm pre-historic symbol of this opposition to Ben Ali. I am the legitimate father of the revolution, its Montaigne, the La Boétie of Tunisia. This trophy belongs to me.

* this actually has a historical meaning in the Tunisian context, other than the apparently idiotic tautology.

Jan 21 2011 18:30

It appears that reports of Imed Trabelsi's death have been exaggerated, more's the pity.

le Parisien - Tunisie : Imed Trabelsi, un proche de Ben Ali, est vivant

II avait été déclaré mort à la suite d'une blessure à l'arme blanche à l'hôpital militaire de Tunis. Mais Imed Trabelsi, le neveu de l'épouse de l'ex-président tunisien Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, est bien vivant.

La preuve ? Il est ce vendredi interrogé par la police, a annoncé Ahmed Friaa, le ministre de l'Intérieur.

Son décès avait été annoncé au lendemain de la fuite de l'ex-président tunisien. «Le chouchou de Leïla (la femme de Ben Ali, ndlr) a été poignardé ces derniers jours et admis aux urgences. Il est décédé vendredi», avait annoncé un membre du personnel soignant. Mais depuis plusieurs jours, des rumeurs le donnaient encore en vie, après la diffusion sur internet d'une vidéo le représentant aux mains de la police. Les autorités tunisiennes avaient affirmé jeudi que 33 membres de la famille de l'ancien président et de son épouse avaient été arrêtés, mais sans dévoiler leurs identités.
He was pronounced dead following a stab wound to the military hospital in Tunis. But Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of the wife of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is alive and well.

Proof? It is this Friday questioned by police, announced Friaa Ahmed, Minister of the Interior.

His death was announced shortly after the leak of former Tunisian president. "The darling of Leila (wife of Ben Ali, ed) was stabbed in recent days and admitted to the emergency. He died Friday, "announced a member of staff. But for several days, rumors had him still alive after the internet broadcast of a video showing him in the hands of the police. The Tunisian authorities had said Thursday that 33 members of the family of former president and his wife were arrested, but without revealing their identities.

Jan 21 2011 23:15
Samotnaf wrote:
If you're going to make a comparison with the Portuguese revolution, which seems very premature imo, the idea of an army liberating the people is a dangerous one, since reliance on the army in Portugal, reliance on its left-wing, was one of the weaknesses of the movement - people looked too much to Cavalho to protect them against the right, which was partly a result of failing to seize arms directly;

I agree that the idea of the army liberating the people is dangerous, and I've read the occasional, and rather alarming, statement that is quite favourable to the idea of a military takeover of some kind. This may owe something to political naivety, but also to the fact that the army has been on the streets of Tunis shooting it out with elements of the police and the RCD, in some kind of coordination with the opposition and the people manning neighbourhood barricades. So far there doesn't seem to be much sign of conflict between the army and the opposition but quite likely it will happen sooner or later and maybe ideas will develop accordingly.

In comparing Tunisia to Portugal I'm not trying to make a value judgement, I'm just looking for anything that might help in understanding what is happening and how the situation might develop. Portugal might also offer some lessons in how not to do things. My thoughts on all this are very tentative though and I'd welcome anyone else's opinions.

By the way why do you think making a comparison with the Portuguese revolution seem premature?

sure, Portugal was more compicated than this (for one thing, there was a lot of open discussion in the army a bit like the Agitators during the English civil war) but hope from the army, as opposed to hope from a mutiny in the army, was still an expression of the limitations of the autonomous aspects of the movement.

I get the impression that decisions in the Tunisian army are coming from the top, rather than from discussion in the ranks, or at least I haven't seen anything to suggest otherwise.

"We can organise ourselves in an autonomous manner," says the brother of Ben Brik, the famous journalist persecuted by the regime, and continues: "It's necessary to take advantage of the defensive self-management of the neighbourhoods to form councils and communes."

Is there any evidence that this is more than wishful thinking on the part of this guy - I've seen cars going through popular areas being stopped and searched by the movement, but anything else happening?

I'm not sure tbh. The quote is in the context of random opinions from people at a protest in Tunis so I'm not sure how much to read into it, but I thought it was interesting that this kind of idea is even being suggested.

The situation may be different outside Tunis. For example that last report in Spanish claims that Kasserine is under the control of the movement with the army back in barracks. The writer describes it as a 'real commune formed by unions, parties of the left and cells of the young'. There could well be some wishful thinking here as well, but with very little reporting of what is happening outside Tunis there isn't a lot to go off.


Edited to add this comment from an American blogger in Tunis:

The attitude at the barricades is very apolitical. Everyone I have talked to has expressed hatred of the former regime, but this was because of their corruption, brutality and incompetence, not their ideology. Also people often praise the army and hope for "stability." So far I have heard no endorsement or even much mention of any political party, or ideology.
Jan 21 2011 22:33

Tunisia's civil servants revolt

Tunisia's revolution reached the corridors of power yesterday as civil servants rebelled against the new caretaker government.

Street protests also continued in an attempt to rid the country of the remnants of the old regime.

At the Ministry of Youth and Sport, staff packed the corridors and stairwell to force the departure of their new minister and his old, politically appointed chief of staff.

The aim of the civil servants' uprising was to force the national unity government to drop members of ousted president Zine El Abedine Ben Ali's ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party. The new government said yesterday it was confiscating all assets of the former ruling party.

At the ministry, staff quickly convinced Slim Amamou, the new Secretary of State and a former jailed dissident blogger who was on his first day on the job, not to start work.

"I went to the Ministry of Youth for the transfer of power. There was a demo, no transfer but a big argument," he said on Twitter. "The officials of my ministry don't want any government, including me and my minister."

Mr Amamou later attended the first cabinet meeting and tweeted live from inside the room. "Everyone hates Ben Ali," he reported.

Hrichi Hedi, the chief of staff at the Youth Ministry, put up more resistance to stepping down. Civil servants crowded around his office door, remonstrating with him. Finally, he agreed to leave the building. He was escorted to the car park by his own rebellious staff, who took the keys of his official car. To cheers, he left in the car of a friend.

"We just want to put an end to the RCD," one civil servant said. "Now we will return to our offices to wait."

Similar staff uprisings have already taken place at state television, two state-run newspapers and, it is reported, at private firms controlled by the former president's family. Filmmakers held an extraordinary meeting to oust the party-approved head of their union.

The protests shifted yesterday from the hated Interior Ministry to the RCD's skyscraper headquarters on Avenue Mohammed V, blocking the main artery into the city. Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside, tearing down the party sign. Soldiers fired into the air but demonstrators later put flowers in the barrels of their guns.

"We are demanding the departure of the RCD because the RCD is not a party. It's an intelligence service. It's an armed militia," said Hafeh Mesrati, a physics professor.

"They destroyed the country. They follow people and threaten them. That is what they do. We have to destroy the RCD machine because it's dangerous." ...

Jan 21 2011 22:45
Jan 21 2011 23:18


1955 GMT: AmmanNet has posted a series of photos from today's march in the Jordanian capital, with up to 10,000 people (see 1405 GMT):

1900 GMT: Tension may be rising in Algeria. The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy has called for a march on Saturday but officials in Algiers have said the gathering is prohibited because it is "without authorization of the competent administrative authorities".

The Algiers authorities "asked citizens to exercise wisdom and vigilance and not to respond to any provocation intended to undermine their peace and their serenity".

The RCD maintains, that it followed procedures in submitting an application for a march and, as it was denied without explanation, the party will proceed with the rally "demanding the release of prisoners arrested during recent demonstrations, the lifting of emergency rule, restoration of individual and collective freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, and finally the dissolution of all 'elected' bodies".

Three buses with students of Tizi Ouzou University travelling to the rally were stopped at a police roadblock and ordered to turn back. The students got off the bus and tried to walk to central Algiers.

1845 GMT: Last week it was reported that Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of the wife of deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali, had been stabbed just before the fall of the regime and had died of his wound.

On Wednesday, we posted footage which claimed to be of Trabelsi just before his death but now it appears the video may be of preparation for a failed escape. Tonight Minister of Interior Ahmed Friaa has said that Trabelsi is alive and in prison in Tunisia.

1810 GMT: In Algeria, a group of 30 academics, journalists, and activists has called for democratic change with "the convergence of all...citizen initiatives, associations, unions, and political parties going in the direction of lifting the yoke of public life and for advent of democratic change in Algeria".

The statement has been disseminated by e-mail, Facebook, and the website of the Algerian daily Le Matin. Those signing include Among them, the academic and journalist Fodil Boumal, former legislator Haidar Bendrihem, academics Zoubir Arous, Lakhdar Hamina and Ahcène Bechani, war veteran Boudiaf Said, and editor Youcef Boussad Wadi.

1715 GMT: Tunisia's main trade union, the UGTT, has called for a "collegial national salvation government to be set up, in accordance with the demands of the street and political parties".

Earlier this week, the three union-backed Ministers resigned from the Cabinet.

Journalist Taoukif Ben Brik, who was jailed for criticising President Ben Ali, has said that he will run for President: "I feel I am the favorite candidate because I was the only one who during all those years openly fought Ben Ali."

Ben Brik follows opposition leader Moncef Marzouki into the race for the Presidency.

1640 GMT: Video of police in Tunis marching (see 1605 GMT) against the former ruling party RCD:

1625 GMT: More protests in Jordan on "The Day of Rage"....

In addition to the estimated 10,000 in Amman (see 1405 GMT) and the march in Irbid (see 1325 GMT), hundreds of Jordanians have protested in front of the Al Omari Mosque in Karak in southern Jordan, calling for the dismissal of the Government, dissolution of Parliament, and reduction in taxes on basic commodities.

Hundreds also marched in the southern governorate of Tafileh, chanting, "The loaf of Bread is a red line," and calling for an end to government corruption.

1620 GMT: In Saudi Arabia, an elderly man has attempted to set himself on fire in the village of Samtah.

1605 GMT: A story is emerging in Tunisia of police protests against the old regime. A Tunisian website reports that officers at the barracks in Boushousha have marched to support victims during the recent demonstrations and to protest their general situation. The site says there is news of other marches, such as in the city of Gafsa.

One of those marches, according to this video, was in Tunis.

1405 GMT: While Associated Press says 5000 people participated in the "Day of Rage" in two Jordanian cities, Al Ghad says that there were about 10,000 in Amman alone. The march moved from the Al-Husseini mosque towards the main square in the area of Ras al-Ain, protesting the living conditions and high prices.

Security personnel distributed bottles of water and juices to protesters at the start of the march.

1325 GMT: In Jordan, more than 5,000 people from across the political spectrum, including the Muslim Brotherhood, left-wing groups, and trade unions, staged a "Day of Rage" on Friday in the capital of Amman and in northern town of Irbid.

The protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai and called for Jordanians to be able to elect their Prime Minister and Cabinet, who are currently appointed by King Abdullah II.

1315 GMT: Thousands of protesters, chanting anti-Government slogans, gathered along Habib Bourguiba Avenue and in front of the Minister of Interior this morning. Police blocked the protesters at the Ministry and prepared water cannons. Demonstrators dispersed, with many heading toward the headquarters of the main labour union UGTT, calling for a general strike.

Jan 22 2011 01:13

A Trotskyist version of events... (follow the link for the full article)

Tunisia: the revolutionary initiative of the masses continues

Yesterday we reported that there had been demonstrations throughout the country of tens of thousands in every town and city, even the most remote. The growing anger against the government of Ghannouchi (Ben Ali’s prime minister) has developed into a national movement of protest which is spreading to all sections of society. Today there were even reports of a strike and demonstrations by police officers in Monastir, Bizerte and even parts of Tunis. Some were at work, directing traffic, but wearing red arm bands in protest.

The demonstrations continue and regional general strikes have already been called for today, Friday 21, in many different regions, with demands for the dismissal of the government of Gannouchi. “You stole the country’s wealth, but you will not steal the revolution – Resignation of the government – we will always be loyal to the blood of our martyrs” were amongst the slogans.

Yesterday we reported how a Provisional Council had taken over the running of all affairs in Sidi Bou Ali. We have now received a report that a similar development has taken place in the city of Siliana, in the North West where “the citizens have set up a local council for the protection of the revolution and the management of public affairs”. Their founding statement says that “faced with the vacuum of power created by the flight of officials linked to the RCD”, they have decided to create a local and a regional council “to protect the revolution and to manage the running of the city and the governorate.”

In a very significant development the Army seemed to be testing the ground as to how far they can go in restoring “order”, i.e. the old authorities, in the towns and cities which have been taken over by the peoples’ revolutionary committees. In the town of Sidi Bou Rouis, also in the Siliana governorate, the “Council for the Protection of the People's Revolution” has issued the following statement:

The Army Commander has called the Bou Rouis local committees and told them that within the framework of things being brought back to normal functioning, the return of council members and mayors has been approved.

As a result of this dangerous development ‘the Bou Rouis Council for the Protection of the People's Revolution’ has called an emergency meeting this evening to discuss the new situation and how to deal with it, and calls for the mobilisation of the whole people today and tomorrow in mass rallies and agrees the following urgent demands:

1) The formation of a national transitional government consisting of national figures known for their integrity and who were not involved with the former regime to run state affairs and draft a new constitution and new electoral rules.

2) The dissolution of the House of Representatives and the Council of Advisers, which lost all semblance of legitimacy during the people's revolution for freedom and dignity.

3) The issuing of a ban to prevent elements of the former regime from exercising any political activity on the grounds of complicity with the former ruling party which plunged the country into a dark period dominated by injustice and tyranny, corruption and unemployment and the wastage of an unprecedented amount of wealth of the country at the expense of the public who are subject to all forms of repression and deprivation.

Long live the People... Long live the Revolution

Glory to the people... Glory to the martyrs... Glory to the revolution of Tunisia for dignity and freedom.

Time: 15:40, Bou Rouis, 20 January

This is, again, an extraordinary state of affairs, in which the people have not only taken power in the whole of the Siliana governorate, but are standing strong in the face of the attempt of the Army to restore the old mayors back in power. We see how, like in the statement from the Provisional Council of Sidi Bou Ali, they call for a provisional government to be formed, composed of nationally recognized figures not linked to the old regime. We think that it should be the revolutionary committees and councils themselves who should organise such a transitional body, which should be charged with convening a genuinely democratic national assembly.

Meanwhile, the masses continue their direct action, deepening the scope of the revolution also into the workplaces. There are many reports of journalists in state owned newspapers, radio stations, TV channels, etc., which used to be nothing but disgusting mouthpieces of Ben Ali’s propaganda, getting organized and taking over the editorial line.

This is the case at the state-owned La Presse. El-Heni, a journalist in the foreign desk explains:

"We had an important meeting and decided to create two elected editorial committees to supervise the editorial line, and we told the boss that he would no longer have any editorial control… He is only here for finance and administration. He was clever enough to understand that."

One of the La Presse journalists, who had been sacked for political reasons, has been reinstated as the head of the journalists’ union in the paper.

In state owned companies, ministries and private companies owned or linked to the Trabelsi family, workers’ assemblies and strikes have been organised to drive out the hated RCD managers, CEOs and high ranking officials.

On Tuesday, January 18, UGTT workers at STAR, one of the country’s main insurance companies, went on strike and expelled the company’s CEO, Abdelkarim Merdassi, in protest at his links with the Trabelsi clan. This video captured the extraordinary moment in which the workers physically expelled him from his office while singing the national anthem.

Similar movements developed at the oil distribution company SNDP, where the CEO Rafaa Dkhul was also kicked out by the workers, who criticized his close links with the Trabelsi family. Dkhul had given the Trabelsi clan concessions of a number of petrol stations worth millions of euro. At the Banque de Tunisie, its general director Alia Abdallah and all high ranking officers have been barred by the workers, organized by the UGTT, from entering their offices, in order to prevent the destruction of potentially incriminating documents. The workers have seized all sensitive documents and computers.

Also expelled from their positions by the action of the workers and their trade unions are Moncef Bouden, from the Tax Office, Moncef Dakhli, CEO of the National Agricultural Bank and Montassar Ouaïli, CEO of Tunisie Telecom. The outgoing Minister of Sports, Abdelhamid Slama was prevented by the workers from entering his old ministry to pick up his things. The list of companies where the workers have taken action is very long. Today, the workers of the Tunis public transport went on strike also demanding the dismissal of the CEO of their company.

The Tunisian business press is full of articles complaining about the “lack of respect for the law” and asking “what is the Ministry of the Interior doing” about these actions on the part of the workers. An opinion article on the business website Web Manager Centre implored “Let’s not put businessmen on their knees”. Another was entitled “Discipline – ‘comrades’.”

The workers feel confident and are moving forward, not just against the bosses, but also against their own bureaucratic trade union leaders who until very recently were supporting the dictatorship of Ben Ali. An appeal is circulating for an extraordinary national congress of the UGTT to be convened in order to remove the current leadership...

Jan 22 2011 01:24

Part of the previous day's article from the same group. Again I couldn't say how accurate the account or the interpretation is, or whether there's an element of wishful thinking...

Tunisia: as the ruling class manoeuvres at the top elements of dual power develop from below

In more than 30 towns and cities in the provinces massive demonstrations, mainly gathering outside the offices of the UGTT trade union, have marched on the RCD headquarters and occupied them. As a matter of fact, as the RCD controlled not only the national, regional and municipal governments, but also controlled all aspects of public life (professional associations, the police, the judiciary, etc), the destruction of the power of the RCD means that power is passing from the old regime to the masses on the streets and to the neighbourhood committees which have sprung up over the last week. These committees are tasked with maintaining public order and defending the population against the remains of the old regime (police officers, secret services, the presidential guard), which are still desperately trying to protect what is left of the old dictatorship.

The most advanced example of these emerging elements of dual power that we know of is in the town of Sidi Bou Ali, in Sousse, with a population of just over 10,000 people. There, on Sunday 16, the masses gathered in the town square and after deliberating about the “new” national unity government, decided to take power into their own hands. This is the statement that was passed which we reproduce in full:

Following the decision to entrust ‘Mohamed Ghannouchi’ with forming a new government tasked with overseeing the new presidential elections for the country; following the administrative vacuum and in the city of Sidi Bou, Sousse Governorate; we, citizens of the town of Sidi Bou meeting in the "People's Square" in the city resolve the following:

• We reject this decision which is based on an undemocratic constitution, not a peoples’ one, which has been violated many times and does not guarantee the rights of all national opinions in the country;

• Our rejection of the domination of the ruling party over the political life of the country, represented by all symbols in the current government and its lackeys;

• The public election of a provisional local council in order to manage all city affairs and to work at a local level, and in coordination at regional and national level, to maintain the normal functioning of civilian life, economic, cultural and political life in the country until the drafting of a new constitution of a democratic and popular character, which will pave the way for elections to ensure the peaceful transfer of power and without a monopoly over it, and ensures that all the national parties are represented.

• The functions of this Council will be:

• The formation of committees to protect the neighbourhoods and their coordination;

• To work to restore economic life and to secure the necessities of daily life for the citizens;

• To work to re-establish working civilian institutions (banks, hospitals, municipalities, schools, institutes, post offices, the tax office ...);

• To protect public property;

• Coordination with local and regional councils formed;

• Communication and contact with the national army as the only existing force in the country.

• We have decided on the distribution of tasks amongst the following commissions:

• The commission on Publicity and Media;

• Commission on contacts with the National Army;

• Defence Committee for the Protection of the Neighbourhoods;

• Commission on protection of municipal property;

• Commission of supply of essential goods;

• Awareness, leadership and culture Committee

This statement is most extraordinary, and we have no doubt that similar action has been taken in many other towns and cities. Faced with the vacuum of power left by the destruction of the old institutions the youth, the workers, the people in general, have taken it upon themselves to start building a new “institutionality”, based on democratic committees “publicly elected” in mass meetings.

In Sidi Bou Ali, the “provisional council” which has been set up is not just a committee of struggle, but has taken over the running of all affairs (public order, provisioning, the economy, the post office, education, etc). They have de facto taken power in the town.

These are in fact, in embryonic form, soviets (i.e. workers’ councils), the emergence of which is a true sign of a genuine revolution taking place. It is clear that in some cities it has been the local executives of the UGTT trade unions which have taken the initiative in creating such committees.

These are the first steps in the right direction. These committees must now be generalized in every factory, in every workplace, in every neighbourhood. The committees should be coordinated at a local, regional and national level through representatives elected democratically and subject to the right of recall, as the resolution from Sidi Bou Ali clearly points out.

We would like to make two comments on this statement which are relevant for the whole of the revolutionary movement in Tunisia. The first is in relation to the question of the Army. The statement talks of liaising and communicating with the Army. It is clear that the Army at this point commands a lot of respect amongst the people. As we have reported before, there were many instances of fraternization between the Army and the demonstrators during the uprising last week and it was the police and the presidential guard, rather than the Army, which played the key role in the brutal repression of the people which took between 100 and 200 lives. In the last few days, the Army has fought running battles with the remains of the Ben Ali loyalist police forces. This explains the attitude of the people.

However, we must warn that one thing is the rank and file soldiers and even some lower ranking officers who can be won over to the side of the revolution, but the Army as an institution and particularly its top command is a completely different matter. The Army is part of the capitalist state apparatus of the Ben Ali dictatorship and if the revolutionary movement of the people presents a decisive challenge to the capitalist system, it will either split down the middle along class lines or side with the ruling class.

In the last few days we have already seen incidents in which the Army has been used to “maintain order” as against the anti-RCD demonstrators. In the capital marchers were allowed to demonstrate but prevented by the Army to reach the Ministry of Interior. The reason is probably that inside the Ministry of the Interior, the Ben Ali henchmen are busy destroying any proof of their brutal repression, torturing and spying on the Tunisian people.

On the evening of January 19, a small group of a few hundred youth decided to challenge the curfew (starting at 8pm every night) declared by the “new” government. A detachment of the Army went to try and disperse them. A tense situation developed. The army officer in charge, a Colonel, was received with shouts of “long live the Army”. He argued that “the army is with the people”, that they had a “legitimate right” to demonstrate, and that the “Army would not fire on the people”, but that they had “to respect the curfew”, that “a palace of gold cannot be built overnight”, that they should be “patient” and “return the day after”. In the end the standoff ended in a draw and the protestors stayed, therefore breaking the curfew. The day after, January 20, when thousands marched on the RCD offices in Mohammed V Avenue, the Army fired warning shots in the air to try to disperse them. In the end the building was taken over by the protestors.

These are early days regarding the Army. The top generals know full well that they cannot use the conscript soldiers, infected by the virus of revolution during the last few weeks, against the people, and it would be foolish to try to do so. However, step by step, they will work to reclaim the streets, and if the revolutionary people lowers its guard, and withdraws from the streets, then the Army will be back in power as the armed wing of the ruling class and its state apparatus and it will be used to defend the interests of the capitalists, not those of the people.

For this reason, it is necessary to build and strengthen the links with the army ranks, with the soldiers and lower ranking officers which are closer to the people. They should be encouraged to set up their own committees and send representatives to the local revolutionary councils. The soldier’s committees must take it upon themselves to denounce the reactionary officers, all those who were directly involved in repression, those who had personal, economic and other ties to the ruling class and the Ben Ali regime and publicly expose them, arrest them and put them on trial.

Soldiers committees linked closely to the revolutionary committees of workers and youth would be a guarantee that no-one has either the power or the strength to make a move against the will of the people.

The second observation we would make on the statement of the revolutionary people of Sidi Bou Ali is that it talks about a new constitution, democratic elections and the representation of all parties (it is understood that the RCD would be excluded). We would say that this can be achieved through a constituent assembly, but who would convene such an assembly? As of yet there is no power which has the legitimacy to do so. The “new” national unity government is nothing but the continuation of the old regime. But if the revolutionary councils were to be linked at a regional and national level, they would have the legitimacy to convene such a constituent assembly to decide over the profound reorganization of the country’s life...

Jan 22 2011 01:43

Does anyone have any thoughts on the above posts? It's important after all and I'm surprised there isn't more discussion on here about events in Tunisia.

Jan 22 2011 06:41
I'm surprised there isn't more discussion on here about events in Tunisia.

I'd guess that one of the reasons is that most people don't know all that much about Tunisia and also it's difficult to know what's happening. For instance, that International Marxist Tendency text about the declaration of the meeting in the city square - if it's as it says it is it's clearly an interesting development - and maybe my saying that the comparison with Portugal in the 70s was premature was itself premature, because it sounds like events could be moving very rapidly. Whether this moves on to occupations etc. is another matter. One of my objections, though, to comparing with previous revolutionary movements is that it blocks people from seeing what is new by imposing a safely clear model from the past onto a situation which is often quite different. Sure, there might be useful comparisons - but generally they're more the comparisons with the limitations of previous movements to try to make sure they don't get repeated than with the strengths (strengths which failed to develop because of these limitations). One of the limits of Portugal was the influence of the Catholic church amongst a large peasantry which generally played a conservative role there. How much does Islam effect people in Tunisia? How powerul is the peasantry there? I know very little about this (the Tunisian guy I know lives quite far away and he's not on the phone, but maybe i'll be able to have a longer chat with him about what's happening than i did last time - which was at a party - though i can't see me seeing him for over a week at the earliest).

Has anyone seen this about Albania? Mention this here, not to derail the thread at all, but because social movements throughout the world have an infuence on each other. I feel the next couple of years could see a far deeper social contestation globally but it would be terrible if what came out of these movements was a repeat of a hundred years ago - a turn towards state capitalism under the guise of socialism: as far as i can see, leftist parties, whether in Tunisia or Albania, are the ones making the most headway out of the crisis, or at least the ones trying to.

Jan 22 2011 06:41

Thank you a lot Mark., ocelot and others for compiling all this information. I've been following these events and watching all the new developments very closely and telling other people about it. Although this information is limited, from what I've read there have been some really wonderful things that have happened. I hope it spreads far and wide.