The uprising took almost everyone by surprise, including the government. On January 6 The Economist said confidently: "Tunisia’s troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74-year-old president or even to jolt his model of autocracy". The North African nation had been seen as a haven of stability and relative prosperity, albeit one ruled with an iron first. For foreign investors, Tunis has been a safe place to invest and a source of cheap labour. For the tourists it was a place to lie in the sun and enjoy life.
But what looked like a thunderbolt form a clear blue sky had in reality been prepared for decades. It reflected in part the worsening of the economic situation, which has its most severe impact on people from the lower social strata. But it also reflected something else, less visible but more important. Revolution cannot be explained by poverty alone, since the masses have always suffered poverty. It is a dialectical process in which a thousand small injustices add up until the accumulation reaches a critical point at which an explosion is inevitable. When society reaches this point, any accident can provoke the explosion.
In this case it was the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid that was the spark that caused a general conflagration. Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man who set himself on fire was, in reality, a university graduate who, like so many others, was unable to find suitable work. He tried to scrape a living selling fruit and vegetables, but even that proved impossible when the police stopped him from selling without a permit. In desperation he decided to end his life in a dramatic gesture. He died a few weeks later. This incident provoked a massive wave of demonstrations and rioting.
The rising in the prices of food and other basic goods, rampant unemployment and the lack of freedom caused the riots to spread and become nation-wide. In addition to the poor people who started the agitation, thousands of students and workers came onto the streets to demonstrate their hatred of the regime. A new element in the equation is the emergence of a large layer of educated youth who have no job prospects. In a period when millions have access to television and internet, when people are aware of the luxurious lifestyle of the rich, the lack of escape from grinding poverty and unemployment becomes increasingly unbearable.
Ben Ali and the Trabelsi clan were synonymous with corruption, huge inequality, and political repression. Their corruption was so bad that it provoked the indignation of the US ambassador, as we know from the Wikileaks revelations. Starting as a protest against intolerable living conditions, unemployment and the high cost of living, the mass movement rapidly acquired a political character. It can be summed up in a single slogan: Ben Ali must go!
Once the fire was lit there was no way of extinguishing it. A wave of unrest has the country, with continuous mass demonstrations against unemployment, food price rises and corruption. Large numbers of unemployed graduates, frustration with lack of freedoms, the excesses of the ruling class and anger at police brutality seem to have come together to spark an unstoppable wave of public anger.
From repression to concession
The clashes became much more deadly on the weekend of 8-9 January, and then spread to the capital Tunis. Shaken by the revolt on the streets, the regime attempted to save itself by a combination of repression and concessions. As always, the first recourse was the use of bullets, tear gas and batons. The ferocity of the police repression shocked even hardened western journalists. It is impossible to say how many lost their lives in these bloody clashes, but according to human rights organisations at least 60 people were killed.
But after a week it became evident that these methods were not working. On the contrary, they only served to pour more petrol on the flames. Once an entire people stands up and says “no”, no state, army or police force in the world can stop them.
Once the masses begin to lose their fear, a dictatorial regime cannot save itself by repression alone.
At first, the President denied that the police over-reacted, saying they were protecting public property against a small number of "terrorists". This did nothing to pacify the protestors. All universities and schools were closed in a bid to keep young people at home and off the streets. This also failed. Little by little, as his regime crumbled before his eyes, reality began to penetrate even the thick skull of the president.
On 12 January, he sacked his interior minister and ordered the release of all those detained during the riots. He also created a special committee to “investigate corruption”. This is like Satan investigating Beelzebub. He also promised to tackle the root cause of the problem by creating an extra 300,000 jobs. But the unrest continued and reached the centre of the capital on 13 January, despite a night-time curfew.
Ben Ali then promised to tackling rising food prices, allow freedom of the press and internet, and to "deepen democracy and to revitalise pluralism". He also said he would not amend the constitution to enable him to stand for office again in 2014. In a last desperate move to save himself, Ben Ali appeared on television promising that the police would no longer be allowed to fire on demonstrators and announcing a series of reforms and concessions. It is easy to concede that which is no longer within one’s power to preserve.
The President only ordered a halt to the shooting, when it was clear that any further massacres by the police would provoke a mutiny in the army even at the top level. A French-language website reports the existence of growing unrest in the armed forces and an open split between the police and the army: “One of the new and important developments early this week was the distancing of part of the army from the regime. On Monday, a dozen soldiers stood guard in the courthouse of Kasserine, both to prevent possible unrest inside and to protect the lawyers, as reported by several witnesses.
There were many reports of fraternisation between the Army and the people and in some cases of the Army protecting the demonstrations against the police forces. This was the reason why the army was withdrawn from the streets of the capital and replaced by the police. When the mass demonstration reached the presidential palace the people and the soldiers embraced.
The protests came to a head on Friday as thousands of people gathered outside the interior ministry, a symbol of the regime. Many climbed onto its roof. Police responded with volleys of tear-gas grenades, but to no avail. The masses on the streets had acquired a sense of their power, and correctly interpreted the President’s speech as a sign of weakness. Everywhere the slogan was raised: Ben Ali must go! Ben Ali had already promised to step down - in 2014. But this calculation proved to be somewhat optimistic. The people on the streets demanded – and got – his immediate resignation.
In indecent haste, the former president dissolved his government and the country's parliament, packed his bags and headed for the nearest airport. Mr Ben Ali and his family left Tunisia, and are looking for a place of asylum. But this is easier said than done. It is a sad fact of life that when a man is successful and prosperous he has plenty of friends, but a failure finds all doors locked against him.
President Nicolas Sarkozy politely but firmly rejected a request for his old friend to land his plane in France. The latest reports say he ended up in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where he will get a more sympathetic welcome from the members of the House of Saud, who must be beginning to worry that they may expect a similar fate some time in the not too distant future.
The hasty departure of the President has prepared the ground for a manoeuvre on the top, with Washington’s anxious hand pulling the strings from behind the scenes. As a first step, in a televised address on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced that he would be taking over as interim president, and a state of emergency has been declared.
Soldiers have already begun taking down the ubiquitous portraits of Mr Ben Ali from billboards and on the walls of public buildings around the country. The leaders hope that by removing the outward signs of authoritarian rule, the masses will be satisfied and go home. This would allow the same people that ruled before to retain all the levers of power, while allowing the people the illusion that something has changed.
To expect these people to introduce meaningful political reforms and free and fair elections would be the height of stupidity. Mohammed Ghannouchi is a leading member of the old regime. He is ‘Ben Ali's man'. He was the architect of the very same economic policies which contributed to the present mess. He has been at the heart of the old regime from the beginning. He cannot be trusted to act in the interests of the people. While delivering fine speeches about democracy and constitutionalism, he bases himself on a state of emergency, enforced by the army and the security forces.
This is a stalling tactic by the army and the regime elite to suppress the protests and then restore their grip on power. The reality behind the “democratic” façade is the maintenance of the state of emergency decree, which bans gatherings of more than three people and imposes a night-time curfew. Security forces have been authorised to open fire on anyone who defies these orders.
Hypocrisy of the imperialists
All this has set the alarm bells ringing in Washington, Paris and London. The imperialists have been shocked by events that they did not anticipate and are powerless to control. Revolutions are no respecters of frontiers, and least of all the artificial frontiers established by imperialism in the past that divide the living body of the Maghreb.
North Africa and the Middle East are fundamental to the economic and strategic interest of the USA and the EU, especially France. A BBC Arab affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, was quoted as saying: “Mr Ben Ali's demise may rattle the entire post-colonial order in North Africa and the wider Arab world.” This is very true, and it goes to the heart of the matter.
Now that the masses have overthrown the old tyrant by a heroic uprising, the western governments are falling over themselves in their haste to call for democracy. President Sarkozy said he stood side-by-side with the citizens of Tunisia, his country's former protectorate. Nicolas Sarkozy has raised cynicism to an art form. If there was a Nobel Prize for hypocrisy, he would undoubtedly win it.
In April 28, 2008 he declared during one of his trips to Tunisia: "Your country is engaged in the promotion of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms ..." A few months later, the IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn, said in Tunis in late 2008 that Tunisia, the Ben Ali regime was "the best model for many emerging countries.”
These men cannot plead ignorance. For decades human rights have denounced innumerable violations in Tunisia, but this did not prevent the French President from being the first Head of State (and one of the few) to congratulate Ben Ali after his rigged "reelection" in 2009. Now the same man can say without even blushing: "Only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis".
These foxy words are intended as a trap for the unwary. The revolutionary masses are advised to stop fighting and instead enter a friendly dialogue - with whom? A dialogue with the same people who have robbed and oppressed them for decades, the same hangmen whose hands are stained red with the blood of the people. Who is the man who offers this friendly advice? He is the man who supported the hangmen right up to the very moment when he was overthrown by the masses. Throughout the uprising of the people of Tunisia, Sarkozy was silent but his government was trying to save the dictatorship.
The army fired live ammunition at unarmed people but the spokesman of the French government, Francois Baroin, said that condemning the crackdown would "demonstrate interference. " - as if the permanent presence of the French army in many African countries that have nothing remotely to do with political democracies was not interference of the first order.
The Minister of Agriculture, Bruno Lemaire was quite open in his defense of the Tunisian dictator. Ben Ali "is someone who is often misjudged" but "did a lot of things," he said. We will not know what "things" he was referring to, whether they were good or bad. What we do know is that the French Foreign Minister, Alliot-Marie, went even further than her colleague, offering Ben Ali the "know-how of our security forces". Thus the “democrats” in Paris offered the dictatorship to help suppress its own people in a country France had colonised for 73 years. Old ways die hard.
Three days after the shooting of unarmed crowds François Fillon said he was “worried” about the "disproportionate use of violence", thus placing victims and executioners on the same level. Following the usual trickery, he called on all parties to exercise restraint and to choose the path of dialogue. But nobody has ever explained how it is possible to “choose the path of dialogue” with police who shoot at anything that moves.
Now that the game is up, all these “democrats” are anxious to advise the Tunisian people. And not just in Paris. Barack Obama has graciously condemned violence against Tunisian citizens "peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia". But this same man, as we know from the Wikileaks revelations, was in full possession of all the facts concerning the corrupt and repressive regime in Tunis and did absolutely nothing about it.
Now this same man says: "I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.” But he hastened to add: "I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people."
The same song is being sung on all sides. It is a soothing lullaby, and like all lullabies it is designed to send the masses back to sleep. They are asked to be calm, and to “avoid violence.” All that is required of the masses is that they go home quietly, “stay calm” and above all “avoid violence”. Is it not strange that it is always the masses who are asked to be calm, stay quiet and “avoid violence”, when it is the rich and powerful who have a monopoly on violence, and use this monopoly to defend their power and privileges?
People who have had to brave the bullets and truncheons of the police, who have seen their comrades, friends and relatives, brutally beaten, kicked, tear-gassed, arrested, tortured and murdered in cold blood. They were even refused access to the mangled corpses of their loved ones. Now they are advised to keep quiet, “avoid violence” and above all get off the streets, demobilise and go home in order to allow a gang of thieves to determine their fate. This is a joke in very bad taste.
The revolt spreads
The eruption of popular discontent in Tunisia and neighbouring Algeria is a nightmare for authoritarian leaders across North Africa and the wider Arab world. The corrupt and reactionary regimes in North Africa and the Middle East are shaking in their shoes. They fear that the example set by the masses in Tunisia will be followed tomorrow by the workers and peasants of other countries where the same problems exist. That is why within a few days the revolt had expanded to the neighbouring country of Algeria over price hikes in sugar, milk and flour, which resulted in the death of at least five people.
Al Jazeera reported that youths were heard chanting ‘bring us sugar’ and demonstrators broke into warehouses to steal sacks of flour in protest against food prices, which had risen between 20 and 30 percent in the first week of January. In a bid to calm the protesters, the Algerian government imposed urgent cuts on import duties and taxes to help bring down food costs and states that it has now “turned the page” on the nationwide food riots.
Riots in several Algerian towns subsided only after the government promised to do whatever was necessary to protect citizens from the rising cost of living. Libya, Morocco and Jordan have also announced plans to ease prices of basic goods. But the situation in Algeria remains very unstable. Let us remember that during the whole year of 2001 the southern Berber region of Algeria (Kabilia) was the scene of a widespread insurrection. In Morocco too, the reactionary regime of King Mohammed VI is very unstable and has many similarities to the situation in Tunisia.
Just before Ben Ali was overthrown, columnist Abdelrahman al-Rashed wrote in the Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper: “Much of what prevents protest and civil disobedience is simply the psychological barrier.” The overthrow of Ben Ali, as well as efforts in Algeria to appease anger over price increases will have had the effect of puncturing the fear that has long kept discontent in check across the region. Satellite news and social media can sidestep such autocratic tactics and can quickly fuse frustrations of young people in isolated, deprived regions into a broad movement.
The flame of revolt is spreading to other Arab countries. The revolutionary movement in Tunisia has been closely followed on regional satellite television channels and the Internet across the Middle East where high unemployment, bulging young populations, rocketing inflation and a widening gap between rich and poor are adding fuel to the fire.
Algeria is just next door to Tunisia, but Amman is 1,500 miles (2,500km) from Tunis, but the reason for the protesters' anger was the same, and so too were the calls for the leader to resign. Feeling the ground quake under his feet, King Abdullah II ordered a reduction in prices and taxes on some foods and fuels. The government has already allocated £141m in the 2011 budget to subsidise bread, on which many poor in the country of 7 million people depend. The money will also be used to reduce the price of fuel as well as creating jobs, but it was a case of too little and too late.
According to a report by Al Jazeera, demonstrators were seen holding banner reading ‘Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury’. More than 5,000 people staged protests across Jordan in "a day of rage" to protest against escalating food prices and unemployment on the same day as, in another part of the Arab world, Tunisia's president fled the north African state after weeks of violent demonstrations.
Jordanian University students and Ba'athist party supporters also held rallies in Irbid, Karak, Salt and Maan, demanding that the prime minister, Samir Rifai, step down. Official reports claim that police successfully contained the demonstrators by forming circles around them, and no arrests were made. After seeing what happened in Tunisia the Jordanian authorities realised that bloody clashes could turn the protests into an insurrection.
Jordanian blog Ammon news reported that at the protest, called "the day of rage", people chanted: "United class, united government has sucked your blood," and waving posters with bread attached. "We are protesting the policies of the government, high prices and repeated taxation that made the Jordanian people revolt," Tawfiq al-Batoush, a former head of Karak municipality, told Reuters.
A report by Tom Pfeiffer, Reuters, Saturday, January 15, 2011 contained very interesting quotes: “This could happen anywhere,” said Imane, a restaurant owner in Egypt who did not want to give her full name. “The satellite and Internet images we can see nowadays mean people who would normally be subdued can now see others getting what they want.”
“We are not used to something like this in this part of the world,” said Kamal Mohsen, a 23-year-old Lebanese student. “It is bigger than a dream in a region where people keep saying ‘what can we do?’
“Young people across the Arab world should go to the streets and do the same. It is time that we claim our rights,” said Mohsen, the Lebanese student. “Arab leaders should be very scared because they do not have anything to offer their people but fear and when Tunisians win, the fear will be broken and what happens will be contagious. It is only a matter of time,” he added.
Of all the Arab countries, the most important is Egypt, with its powerful working class. The concerns about its future were expressed in a recent article in the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily:
“Anyone expecting a region-wide revolution would do well to look at Egypt, which imports around half of the food eaten by its 79 million population and is struggling with inflation of more than 10 percent.
“With a massive security apparatus quick to suppress large street protests and the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood excluded from formal politics, the state’s biggest challenge comes from factory strikes in the Nile Delta industrial belt.
“Egypt’s Internet based campaign for political change, the country’s most critical voice, has failed to filter down from the chattering middle classes to the poor on the street.
“'There has been such a division between economic struggles and political struggles in Egypt,' said Laleh Khalili, a Middle East expert at the University of London. 'Strikes have been going on, but not spilling into the public domain.'
“This could however change if rising discontent over food price inflation feeds into the wider malaise about political and economic stagnation and the lack of opportunities and freedom.”
The International Monetary Fund said that with current unemployment rates already very high, the region needs to create close to 100 million new jobs by 2020. But in a situation where budgets are being strained by the soaring cost of imported food and fuel, this will be impossible, especially in those countries lacking big energy reserves.
“There is a danger in … getting a bit too comfortable with the ‘Arab state will muddle through’ argument,” said Stephen Cook of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in a blog this week. “It may not be the last days of … [Egypt’s President Hosni] Mubarak or any other Middle Eastern strongman. But there is clearly something going on in the region.”
The need for a revolutionary perspective
Bourgeois political experts console themselves with the idea that the Tunisia’s example will not spread and unseat autocratic governments from Rabat to Riyadh because opposition movements are weak and demoralised. But that misses the point entirely.
The uprising in Tunisia was not organised by the opposition, which is also weak and demoralised. It was a spontaneous uprising of the masses, and was unstoppable precisely because there was no “responsible” reformist organisation to lead it into safe channels. The weakness or absence of reformist mass organisations is not a reflection of the strength of autocratic regimes, but of weakness. Once the masses begin to move, it will be like a car going downhill with no brakes.
As we pointed out in relation to Iran, the spontaneous character of the movement is at the same time its strength and its weakness. In Tunisia the masses were strong enough to overthrow a corrupt and rotten regime. But the question is: what happens now?
"Our big problem is the lack of political perspective, "said Nizar Amami, one of the leaders of the branch of PTT UGTT, speaking to Mediapart on noon on Monday in Tunis. "No party has emerged; the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, the legal opposition party) is too weak. The UGTT has taken the place of the opposition to launch slogans, solidarity actions and so on, but as for the [political] project ... Still, the regime has been really destabilised, and that is something really unprecedented."
Emma Murphy is a professor at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University and an expert on Tunisian affairs. She was asked by the BBC:
“Can they [the legal opposition] deliver anything more for the Tunisian people?”
She answered as follows:
“Probably not. But if democracy is going to come, the leadership council needs to make very early indications that there will be substantial reforms to the political party system, the election processes, freedom of association, civil rights and the freedom of the media well in advance of the elections.
“An early end to the state of emergency and some clear indication that the committee into corruption announced a few days ago will directly address the activities of the Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans would go a long way towards convincing Tunisians that, this time, the promises of constitutional rule will be fulfilled, that this time national reconciliation will really mean just that, and that the army, in defending stability, will not once more succumb to the defence of authoritarian rule.”
We can confidently predict that in the next weeks and months an army of “friends of democracy” will descend on Tunis: representatives of “free” trade unions with suitcases full of dollars, men in suits from the USA and the EU, NGOs by the dozen, the “Socialist” International, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and other “respectable” fronts for the CIA, all anxious to provide advice and (for those willing to follow it) considerable material resources. The aim of these people can be summed up in one word: the restoration of order.
Order can be restored by different means. Counterrevolution can be carried out in a as well as a dictatorial guise. What Ben Ali could not achieve by bullets and truncheons, his successors and their imperialist backers hope to achieve through smiles and kind words, aided by dollars and euros. However, the objective remains the same: to get the people off the streets, to return the worker to his lathe, the peasant to his farm, the student to his studies. What they fervently desire is a speedy return to normality: that is to say, a speedy return to the old slavery under a new name.
Absolutely no trust can be placed in these hypocritical “democrats”. These self-same governments backed the dictatorial regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Western big business made handsome profits there and had no reason to complain at the low wages, since that was the basis for their profits in the first place. These ladies and gentlemen maintained a polite silence for decades about the rotten and repressive regime in Tunis because that same regime was defending their profits. Now that that regime has been overthrown, they suddenly find a voice to plead for “calm”.
Events are moving with lightening speed. Even as I write these lines, Ghannouchi has already been replaced by the speaker of the Parliament Foued Mbazaa who is attempting to cobble together a national unity government to call new elections in 60 days. This shows that the regime is weak and riven with splits.
Workers and youth of Tunisia, be on your guard! What you have conquered is the result of your own heroic struggles and sacrifices. Do not allow what has been won with blood to be taken from you by fraud! Do not place your trust in fine speeches and hollow promises. Trust only your own strength, your own self-organisation, your own determination.
The idea of a “national government”, inclusive of the various legal political parties and perhaps one or two others whom the military do not consider a threat to the stability of the country and its relations with important allies such as the US and the EU. This is yet another trap. The “legal opposition” is a pack of weak, cowardly opportunists, compromised by years of collusion with - or submission to - the Ben Ali regime.
The people of Tunisia are not fools or little children to be lulled to sleep by hypocritical words. They must not demobilise but, on the contrary, step up the mobilisation, and give it an organised and generalised expression. The remnants of the old regime must be given no respite. These gangsters must not be allowed to re-organise a new “democratic” version of the old regime. The time for talking is long past. No more intrigues! Down with the government! An immediate end to the state of emergency! For full freedom of assembly, organisation and speech! For a revolutionary constituent assembly! For the immediate disbanding of all repressive bodies and a people’s trial for the murderers and torturers!
In order to achieve these demands, a nationwide general strike must be organised. The working class is the only force that has the necessary weight to overthrow the old regime and to rebuild society from top to bottom. The proletariat must place itself at the head of society. This is the only way forward. The call for a general strike has already found an echo in sections of the UGTT. According to reports, regional general strikes took place in several regions last week (Kasserine, Sfax, Gabes, Kairouan and Jendouba).
In order to prepare a general strike action committees must be formed at all levels: local, regional and national. Life itself teaches us that the only way to get freedom and justice is through the direct action of the masses. In Tunisia the question of power is posed point blank. It is necessary to organise and mobilise the entire people to bring about the decisive overthrow of the old regime.
There have been reports of widespread looting all last night. This has been clearly organised by the police force and agent provocateurs loyal to Ben Ali. They want to create a situation of chaos which they hope would allow them to derail the revolution and make a comeback. There are also reports of neighbourhood committees being set up for self-defence.
The workers must fraternise with the soldiers who are on their side. There should be an appeal to the ranks of the army to form soldiers’ committees to link up with the people. The workers and peasants must obtain arms for self-defence and set up a people’s militia in every factory, district and village to keep order and defend themselves against bandits and counterrevolutionaries. This is crucial to the success of the revolution.
The revival of Arab Marxism
I have no doubt that there will be “clever” people who for some peculiar reason consider themselves to be Marxists who will say that what is happening in Tunisia is “not a revolution”, although, truth to tell, they cannot say what it is. In his book The Permanent Revolution, Trotsky compares Mensheviks to an old school teacher who for many years has given lessons on the spring. Then one morning he opens the window, and when he is greeted by radiant sunshine and birdsong, slams the window shut and declares these things to be a monstrous aberration of Nature.
Genuine Marxists proceed from living reality, not lifeless schemas. The revolution in Tunisia in many ways resembles the February revolution in Russia in 1917. The revolution has clearly begun, but it is not finished. It has succeeded in overthrowing the old regime, but has not yet been able to put anything in its place. Therefore, it is possible that the revolution may be defeated, particularly in the absence of a genuinely revolutionary leadership.
If it had not been for the presence of the Bolshevik Party, the February Revolution would have ended in defeat. Moreover, if it had not been for the presence of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolshevik Party itself would have been incapable of playing the role that it did. The leadership would have remained with the reformist leaders of the soviets, and the revolution would have ended in shipwreck. If that had occurred, there can be no doubt that the same “clever” Marxists would be writing learned books explaining that, of course, there was no revolution in Russia, because of a, b, c, and d.
As I was preparing this article and reading different reports on the Internet, I happened to read a few anarchist blogs. I was interested to see that there are “clever” people, not only among the Marxists but also among the anarchists. The author of the aforementioned blog, complained bitterly about the lack of support for the revolution in Tunisia because it does not fit in with anarchist prejudices. He at least has healthy revolutionary instincts, unlike the pedants who refuse to give the Tunisian revolution a birth certificate because it does not fit in with their stupid preconceptions.
For decades the idea has been carefully cultivated that there is no basis for socialism and Marxism among the masses of the Middle East and North Africa. Insofar as there is any opposition – so the argument goes – it is under the banner of Islamic fundamentalism. But this argument is false to the core and is disproved by events in Tunisia. The young women who went onto the streets to confront the police did not wear the burka. They are educated and intelligent people who speak good French and English. They are not demanding the introduction of sharia law but democratic rights and jobs.
Those so-called leftists who have been flirting with Islamic fundamentalism display a contempt for the level of understanding of the Arab workers and youth. To paint the fundamentalists as a revolutionary tendency is a betrayal of the cause of socialism. The future Arab Revolution will take place not under the black flag of Islamic fundamentalism but under the red flag of socialism.
In the past there was a strong socialist and communist tradition in the Arab world. But the crimes of Stalinism had their most terrible effect in this part of the world. The mass Communist Parties in Iraq and Sudan were destroyed by the treacherous policy of “two stages”, which handed power on a plate to so-called “bourgeois progressives” like Kassim and Nimeiri. This led to the annihilation of the Communist vanguard and the consolidation of dictatorial regimes like that of Saddam Hussein, with all that this implied for the peoples of the Middle East.
Nature abhors a vacuum. The same is true of politics. Into the vacuum left by the collapse of Stalinism stepped the Islamic fundamentalists, who pose as “anti-imperialists”, despite the fact that they were supported and financed by US imperialism to combat “communism” and fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It is sufficient to recall that Osama bin Laden was an agent of the CIA until he quarrelled with his old friends in Washington.
On the demonstration in Brussels this afternoon (January 15), a comrade reported a conversation with an old Tunisian women. She asked: “Have you seen men with long beards at the our demonstrations in Tunisia? No! Because we do not need those people to liberate ourselves.” The fundamentalists have always been used as a means of diverting the masses from the socialist revolution. It is no accident that Rashid Ghannoushi, an Islamic leader, has been allowed to come back from exile and is now being played up in the Tunisian media. Many are saying: “we did not kick out Ben Ali to get the Islamists!”
It is very important to stress that this is the first time that an Arab dictator has been overthrown by the people themselves without outside intervention. This represents a decisive break with a fatalistic view that has unfortunately become widespread in the Arab world that says: “yes there have been many struggles but we were always defeated”. It is significant that on the Brussels demonstration today the main slogan chanted was: “Yes we can!”
Regarding the impact in other countries, an activist in the movement, writing in nawaat.org, one of the voices of the insurrection had this to say: ""The Tunisian people have given a lesson to the whole world, and to those oppressed in the Arab world in particular: expect nothing from anyone else and everything from yourself, and overcome the fear that paralyses your will and your energy.""
The socialist traditions are still alive and are gathering strength. A new generation of Arab activists is growing up under conditions of capitalist crisis. In the course of struggle they are learning fast. What they are looking for is the ideas of Marxism. The magnificent work of Marxy.com is beginning to produce important results, not just in defending the ideas and principles of Marxism, but in organising practical revolutionary work and solidarity, as their campaign in support of the Tunisian Revolution shows.
Yesterday evening during a on the Tunisian-based television Nessma (the television of the Greater Maghreb) with intellectuals and journalists the question was asked about how to get back the wealth the Ben Ali family had robbed from the people. One journalist said: We should nationalise the banks and all assets of the Trabelis clan. Then one mentioned the “Tunisian spring”, and another one spontaneously added "yes we know about that Marxist article (referring to the title of the first article on Marxy.com on the Tunisian insurrection) but we have not reached that spring yet".
This is a small anecdote, but it reveals the echo that the ideas of Marxism are getting amongst the left in Tunisia. What we have just witnessed in Tunisia is nothing less than the beginnings of the Arab Revolution, a colossal event that will change the course of world history. From one country to another the flames of revolt will spread from the Atlantic to the Euphrates. The revolutionary movement will develop and mature and raise itself to the level of the tasks demanded by history. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with the masses, the forces of Marxism will grow with them. The Arab Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution or it will not triumph at all.
- Down with the Foued Mbazaa regime!
- Full democratic rights now!
- For a revolutionary constituent assembly!
- For the expropriation of all the ill-gotten goods of the Trablesi clique!
- Victory to the Tunisian workers and youth!
- Long live the Arab Socialist Revolution!