Looking at the Tunisian revolution

I had to attend a skype conference lately with a number of foreign people to talk about the Tunisian Revolution and I was surprised with their ridiculous questions demonstrating ignorance for what’s were hot on the scene 2 months ago and still or perhaps I shouldn’t start blaming them as our Tunisian Revolution came out of the sudden with no prior preparation…In all cases, this post sums up the Tunisian Revolution from the start, perhaps  it would serve one day as a reference in a history lesson or project!

How did the revolution started? Were Tunisians waiting for a trigger?

Tunisia is a country known for its authoritarian stability, often called as a ‘police state’ for its 180 000 policemen that can also be translated to say: one policeman for every 4 citizen applying the culture of fear and torture.

In fact, the protests have been building for at least two years. The frustration is rooted in a deep history of an unbalanced economic growth.

To be fair, a huge number of people tried to stand up for the ex-regime and say “NO”, most common at this moment are: Moncef Marzouki, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, Rached Ghanouchi, Hedi Baccouche, Elfahim Boukadous etc but their voices weren’t hard enough and soon enough also were shut down under torture in prisons or had fled the country for own safety and continue the battle overseas.

January traditionally has been Tunisia’s month for political drama — a general strike in January 1978; a Libyan-supported insurrection in January 1980; bread riots in January 1984. This year, however, January will is hard-pressed to top the previous December. With that being said, yes, the incident of Mohamed Bouazizi was the needed trigger to make the frustration bomb explode in the face of the ex-president.

What are the main demands of people now?

As we quickly approach the end of the 6 months period to organize a first time true democratic elections, some issues are still standing in the way.

Our major demands are:

A complete cut with the past and the start of a new era and that can’t be done with the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) still in place.

Persecution and judgment of every person including the ex-president and his family that stole tortured and killed people in the last 23 years.

We’re also demanding to redistribute the funds in way to serve the disadvantaged regions.

We’re demanding the establishment of a democratic state, where all freedoms are granted and protected by the law.

Are people protesting only against the system?

No, other than demanding quick fixation of the regime and the law in order to lay a foundation for a democratic base for the country; Tunisian citizens are still demanding for justice, providing equal opportunities for all cities, supporting the economy and the job creation process in the disadvantaged cities.

Justice, freedoms and rights, essentially right of expression and association are fiercely demanded and certainly the protection of the revolution and its outcomes.

Outcomes of the Tunisian revolution are not a cake for those in power to share but its for all the 10.000 Tunisian citizens.

What is the role of women, youth, proletarians etc. in this uprising?

Street protests and sit-ins were spontaneously led by young people, girls and boys; both hit the roads and sat-in next to the government for almost a week.

Tunisia had set the bar for Arab women’s rights in the 21st century, legalizing abortion and actively combating domestic violence.

The place of the woman in Tunisia makes it very smooth for her to decide and engage freely in any activity.

Woman had a strong presence shouting with men and working behind the scenes, preparing food and utilities for the protestors.

Probably the Jasmine that was associated with this revolution was meant to symbolize the youth and it’s white and clear color meant to represent the purity of these young people for non belonging to any political or religious parties what so ever.

Being led by young people, tools such facebook, twitter and YouTube that represents a big deal of the daily life of a young Tunisian person to interact with his/her friends were meaningfully used to keep everyone up to date, organize marches and actions and also reveal many truths that local classic media works  hard to hide or manipulate.

Any political parties, societies, communities, non-governmental associations  effective in these uprisings?

No political parties, societies, communities nor non-governmental associations were directly involved in the Tunisian Revolution. It was totally spontaneous and led by youth themselves that never belonged to any party.

At some point, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (GUTW) adopted the organization of certain revolutions in almost all the Tunisian cities helping strengthen the demands against unemployment and rises of prices.

Lawyers and judges had also joined the lines of the protestors and suffered from a lot of suppression as well.

What role played by the police and the army?

The police and all the security system other than the army played huge role in suppressing the unarmed civilians, using live ammunition, targeting chest and head when they shoot, using tear gas bombs and violence; snipers also colonized a number of roofs.

Police had skipped a number of protocols and had directly used live ammunition to disperse the protesters resulting in 219 dead and 511 wounded.

Police ought to gradually switch among strategies to disperse the people: using voice and orders, using hot water, use of tear gas bombs, using rubber bullets and in severe ultimate cases use live ammunitions.

After the escape of the ex-president Ben Ali,  police had joined forces with protestors and demanded for their right for a syndicate and raise their salaries, expressing solidarity with the Tunisian people and asking for forgiveness claiming that they were ordered to use that level of violence.

Still the relationship between the Tunisian people and the police in a vibrant situation with violence aspects still practiced in some points resulting on February 6th in the death of at least 4 persons and more than 20 wounded according to local media.

The Army, occupies the hero stage for none getting involved in suppression and violence scenes and standing by the people’s side defending and providing protection against the Militias and arresting a number of them.

Ben Ali escaped the country; is it enough for Tunisians?

Getting rid of Ben Ali isn’t enough, because it’s simply looks like removing the head of the pyramid but leaving its huge body wide spread in all Tunisia.

Ben Ali is a known icon for corruption, murders and torture and it was relatively easy to face him and his family, but what’s harder is getting rid of what he left, a huge octopus spreading it’s legs in every inch of the country, I mean the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).

We have been having quite a hard time supervising the new transitional government that is supposed to fix the law, setting a democratic foundation and preparing for the next first democratic elections.

Its not enough, as ministers and governors that we keep switching by protesting are originally belonging to the RCD; it’s like not being able to trust change from people that used to violate our right.

On February 6th, finally the new Minister of Interior Farhat Rajhi decided to suspend the Constitutional Democratic Rally party and all its meetings or gatherings of its members, which is considered a very good news for a step to get rid of the RCD octopus involved in all the corruption cases.

The importance of February 6th can be compared to the importance of January 14th, the day Tunisians kicked their dictator out of the country.

The next elections?

A special committee is said to be working on fixing the law that was made to fit the ex-president supporting its long term rule and probably allowing passing the stick the ex-first lady or Kamel Morjane (Ex-minister of Foreign Affairs) according to wiki leaks documents.

The EU and America seem to be keeping a close eye on the current process of preparations and expressing their support for the next elections by sending over a committee to observe and implement democratic, fraud free elections.

Although can’t feel totally confident that all going to be fine with the weak knowledge and disinterest of people to learn about politics and search the backgrounds of nominees; add to that the potential clashes that might take place among the old opposite rallies and the new formed rallies; this is worrying me in a way that I fear people will go back to use illegal procedures to take advantage of the impact of the Tunisian Revolution.

The new temporary Prime Ministe Beji Kaid Sibsi had set Jully 24th as a date to elect a Constitutional Assembly that would represent the general Tunisians and their occupations to work on fixing the law and preparing for the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

When the elections time comes what would be the demands of the Tunisians from the politicians?

In my opinion, we won’t ask more than a guarantee to preserve what we accomplished and not go back in time.

Politicians have to demonstrate solid plans of transition toward true democracy, empowerment and development of disadvantaged areas, guarantee to support pluralism, preserve and human rights, acknowledge media as a forth free power and defending the rights of minorities with no exclusion.

What role of Social Media in the Tunisian Revolution?

Tunisia was a leading country in web censorship, suppressing cultural life and using local traditional media as a pro-Ben Ali.

With that being said, Tunisians switched to social media tools mainly twitter and facebook as a window to express themselves; though even those tools never escaped the scissors of the censor!

Social media enabled the revolting citizens of Tunisia to bypass the censored state media and talk with each other.

Tunisia wasn’t a Twitter or Facebook or Wiki leaks revolution. It was Tunisians on the ground triggered and drove by long regional disparities, corruption, and unemployment; yet, it’s worth saying that in the Tunisian context the online and offline worlds appear to have interacted in unprecedented ways demonstrating the role of the Internet as a platform for collective action.

Perhaps, what distinguishes the online side of the Tunisian revolution from the Iranian one is that there was already a very strong online anti-censorship movement prior to this happening, Internet elite who were already connected to one another and able to leverage those ties to get information out.

We had people who were genuinely linking up with each other through social networks to figure out what’s going on.

One thing that I think is really fascinating is Aljazeera’s Web-inspired business strategy and is that the information that was being put on Twitter and facebook was often used by Al-Jazeera in their reporting.

The social media tools played different roles in the Tunisian revolution as a grassroots mobilization:  some of the organization of protests happened on facebook, which effectively played the role of community organizing platform.

Twitter and facebook served to organize the rise of civil society and active citizenship. Citizens used social media to identify the positions of snipers, police and looters, and to alert one another to other violence, going out to clean streets, protect shops or organize bread lines.

Social media tools played a massive counter rumor or propaganda tool that were distributed by either the local regular media or social networking sites them-selves.  Such when there were concerns about water being poisoned, people sharing information on Facebook helped to counter that falsehood. When reports came in that there was massive shooting in a neighborhood, a few minutes later, a few dozen people said that was untrue and also played a role revealing the back ground of some people mainly ministers and governors helping the crowd decide on changing them.

Eventually, facebook and twitter users helped people discuss and analyze government statements. When government went on TV, people went on online to analyze what president aid and to form a consensus on whether the positions met their requirements. Ultimately, they did not.

What is the role of “left” political party, society etc. (e.g. Tunisian communist party)?

Since their leaders were already in exile, they kept a very close eye on the news and kept pushing for the revolution to continue till it realizes all its objectives. They recorded videos with their observances and recommendations and posted them to social sharing sites.

Now, since they are no longer in danger, they appear frequently on local media and strengthen the people demands, mainly:

Bringing down Ghannouchi (PM) current government or any government that includes symbols of the former regime.

Dissolving the RCD, the confiscation of its headquarters and property and Bank accounts as they belong to the people, and dismissing its members.

Formation of temporary force that enjoys the confidence of the people and the progressive forces of the civil society political, associations, unions and youth organizations.

The dissolving of the House of Representatives and the advisers council and all current false bodies, and the Higher Council of the Judiciary, and the dismantling of the political structure of the former regime, and to prepare for elections of a constituent assembly within a period that does not exceed one year, for the formulation of a new democratic constitution and a new legal system that will govern public life ensuring political and economic and cultural rights of people.

Dissolution of the political security and enact new security policy based at respect for human rights and the law.

Trial of all those who has been proven to loot the people’s money and/or commit crimes such as repression, imprisonment, torture and killings, whether by decision making, ordering or/and execution. Trial also of all of those proven to have taken bribes and misconduct of public property.

Confiscating the property of the former ruling family and those close to them and their associates and all officials who took advantage of their position to gain wealth at the expense of the people.

Providing jobs to the unemployed and taking urgent measures for their benefit such as issuing unemployment benefit system and social and medical security and improving the purchasing power of the daily-wage workers.

Building a national economy which services the people by putting the vital and strategic sectors under state control and nationalising the companies that were privatised and drafting an economic and social policy that breaks-up with liberal capitalist approach.

Guaranteeing public and individual liberties and primarily the freedom of demonstration and organisation, the freedom of expression and the press and the freedom of belief and the release of all those under arrest and declaring a general amnesty.

The Front salutes the support of the masses and the progressive forces in the Arab world and the world for the revolution in Tunisia and calls upon them to continue their support with whatever means possible.

Opposing normalization with the Zionist state and criminalizing it and supporting all the national liberation movements in the Arab world and worldwide.

The Front calls upon the masses and the progressive and democratic forces to continue their mobilization and their struggle using all legitimate forms especially street protest until their objectives are achieved.

The Front salutes all the committees, the organisations and the forms of self-organisation of the masses and calls for the broadening of their actions in public life and the running of all aspects of the daily life.

Glory to all the martyrs of the uprising and victory the masses in revolt.

What are the expectations for Tunisia?

From what I see, people are very open and embracing to democracy but huge number of them doesn’t know what does democracy means and moving ahead to do things in the name of personal liberty.

But, I guess this is normal at this stage, with no fix law nor representative people and the absence of security.

Many young people organized creative gatherings celebrating their accomplishments and solidarity actions are taking place among the different cities of Tunisia.

All the above, makes me feel optimistic about a better future, Tunisia continues to break records as a leading country to adopt change, though this time it’s working to be the first real democratic Arab state.

The “domino effect”?

I notice that many tend to deny the similarities among the Arab states and also claim that the Tunisian catalogue is very and only specific to Tunisia and can never be applied to the other MENA countries that’s what Ahmad Shafik, Egypt’s Prime Minister revealed quite directly but other Arab leaders have been acting on that in a number of different ways.

In fact, there are a number of common points among the Arab states folding on social, economical and political plans, won’t mention them all but would like to emphasize on the first appealing common point which is the one man regime, where all the world turns around one person- the dictator!

We can clearly see the domino effect thanks to these similarities in sufferings of the people and also the type of rule.

The domino effect also resolves on the number of uprising we witness mainly in Egypt now as camera lenses are watching it closely, but also the effect of the Tunisian revolution had echoed in all of Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and now Libya. Syria and Saudi Arabia seems to have the least level of the echo but no one can predict what could happen in the near future.

Kacem Jlidi.


One thought on “Looking at the Tunisian revolution

  1. Pingback: Potential revolutions in Palestine, will it make any change?! « Kacem4change's Blog

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