On Tuesday, several thousand workers demonstrated in Sidi Bouzid. The
city in the impoverished interior of Tunisia is where the vegetable
vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself on December 17, 2010,
sparking the uprising against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
protest was directly opposed to the interim government led by the
Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood that came to power following elections last October.
Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT), the main trade union
federation, had called for a general strike. It said that more than 90
percent of workers had joined the strike. Shops and offices in the city
centre were closed for the day.
The demonstrators marched to the
courthouse, demanding the release of dozens of political activists
detained since July following demonstrations that were brutally put down
by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Some but not all were
later released, including 12 of the activists arrested at a protest last
week in Sfax, 160 miles south of the capital.
The strikers and
their supporters shouted slogans, including, “The people want the fall
of the regime!” and “Justice, woe to you, Ennahda has power over you!”
protesters smashed the window of a car belonging to an Al Jazeera TV
crew because of the Qatari satellite news channel’s championing of
Ennahda and Islamism. Qatar heavily funds Ennahda.
demonstrators also called for an end to the totally inadequate access to
water and electricity that is making everyday life an intolerable
Earlier, on Monday evening, National Women’s Day, tens of
thousands of Tunisians, mainly women, took to the streets of the
capital Tunis and other cities to demand that women’s equality and
rights be protected under the constitution being drafted by the Islamist
The demonstrations were by far the largest since the
government violently broke up a march last April. Protesters fear that
the constitution will downgrade the status of women. They carried
banners saying, “Rise up women for your rights to be enshrined in the
constitution” and “Ghannouchi [Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi] clear
off, Tunisian women are strong”.
They demanded that the
government remove the proposed Article 27, which defines women as
“complementary to men”, from the new national charter, in favour of the
existing 1956 law that grants women full equality with men.
1956 Code of Personal Status outlawed polygamy, established civil law,
and gave women the right to vote, open bank accounts and set up
businesses without their husbands’ consent. It was later expanded to
include, among other things, the right to work and abortion.
to a translation by France 24, Article 27 in the new charter affirms
that “The state guarantees to protect women’s rights, as they stand,
under the principle of man’s complement within the family and man’s
partner in developing the country”.
This has been widely
interpreted as the first step on the part of the Islamists to roll back
women’s position in Tunisia in line with Sharia law.
Demonstrators called for the government to address the economic deprivation in the interior regions and to end unemployment.
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, the Tunisian Human Rights
League, the Republican Party, the Social and Democratic Path, and the
Call for Tunisia party organised another rally at the Congress Palace in
Tunis, calling for “effective and unconditional equality in rights and
duties between men and women” and warning against “a new regression and
possible backsliding in women’s gains”.
Protests to mark National
Women’s Day on Avenue Bourguiba in the capital were earlier banned by
the government, ostensibly over traffic concerns,. Avenue Bourguiba was
the focal point of the mass protests that led to the ouster of Ben Ali,
the longtime ally of US and French imperialism, in January 2011,
sparking mass movements all over the Middle East and North Africa.
Demonstrators also took to the streets of Monastir and Sfax.
new national charter has engendered such opposition that Habib Kheder,
the general rapporteur of the constitutional committee, was forced to
concede that it was unlikely to be finalised and ratified by October as
planned so that a general election could be held in March. It now seems
that the charter will not be ready before February 2013, with
ratification in April, making it unclear whether the March elections
will now go ahead.
Both the strike in Sidi Bouzid and the women’s
protests testify to the growing social tensions and the hatred for the
Islamist regime. Tunisia has witnessed bitter strikes, countless sit-ins
and protests. The government’s response has been to threaten dissenters
and unleash the full force of the police, particularly against
unemployed youth in the most deprived regions in the last few months.
is wracked by unemployment. According to official statistics, more than
18 percent of workers—some 750,000—are out of work, with university
graduates particularly hard hit. The situation is far worse in the
interior or southern governorates, where 28 percent are unemployed.
There is huge inequality between the regions. Corruption and smuggling
are rampant with a proliferating black market economy. This has led to
soaring prices, and general lawlessness, with clan-based violence
claiming more than a dozen lives.
As the demonstrators’ slogans
made clear, the economic and social causes that sparked the uprising 18
months ago are not even being discussed—much less addressed or resolved.
Millions went to the polls in October hoping for some relief from their
hardships, only to get a government that is entirely hostile to the
social, economic and democratic aspirations that animated the
revolutionary movement of the working class.
Ennahda, like the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, did not take part in the revolutionary
movement in December 2010 to February 2011. Backed by the Persian Gulf
monarchies, its real aim is to crush the working class on behalf of the
financial elite. It covers for the crimes committed against the
population by the Tunisian bourgeois state apparatus under Ben Ali,
whose regime—despite his ouster—remains intact.
in Tunisia and Egypt led to the installation of regimes hostile to the
revolution, because there was no revolutionary workers’ party that
fought for the creation of workers’ states founded on a socialist policy
in the Maghreb and beyond.
The UGTT is a long-time supporter of
the Ben Ali regime and had endorsed his free-market reforms, only
beginning to call strikes against the regime in the last few days before
Ben Ali fled. It has no intention now of advancing the interests of the
working class—only in letting off steam.
Ennahda, as with the
Muslim Brotherhood, which has served as a front for Egypt’s military
junta, and the NATO-installed National Transitional Council in Libya,
has benefited primarily from the bankruptcy of the petty bourgeois fake
left. Through their hostility to a socialist perspective, the official
“left” led the masses into a political dead end, epitomised by the
support they lent to the Islamists and other bourgeois “opposition