Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in the centre of Tunis last Saturday. Tunisian flags flooded the streets of the capital. The protesters marched towards Bardo Square where a sit-in has been taking place in front of the national constitutional assembly since 26 July.
The sit-in began after the assassination of Mohammed Brahmi. He was leader of the left-leaning Popular Current party and a member of the constituent assembly elected at the end of 2011 to draft a new constitution. The protests are demanding the resignation of Tunisia’s coalition government and the dissolution of the constituent assembly.
Last week’s was the third big rally, following protests on 6 and 13 August. The first of these marked six months since the assassination of prominent leftist leader Chokri Belaid. On 13 August, Tunisian women celebrated National Women’s Day, marking the 57th anniversary of the country’s central piece of women’s rights legislation, the Code of Personal Status.
This legislation is seen as one of the most progressive women’s rights laws in the Arab world. Thousands of women protested on this day last year against a part of the draft constitution proposed by the Islamist ruling party, Ennahda. This described women as being “complementary” to men—without an independent existence. The protests managed to stop it. This year women marched calling for the resignation of the government. Opposition parties called the rallies. They are proposing that a “salvation government” made of technocrats and prominent non-political figures takes power.
Violence against activists, artists and journalists sparked the protests, as well as acts of terrorism. People on the street hold Ennahda responsible for the political assassinations. Some protesters come from the affluent areas of Tunis, but the movement reflects a wider frustration born out of economic crisis, increasing prices and unemployment.
Trade unionists are part of the protests but few are raising “social justice” slogans. Thousands of people came from the impoverished areas of central Tunisia such as Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution. The young unemployed people feel alienated by the opposition—but they will fight back and raise the same slogans of “bread, jobs and social justice” as at the time of the revolution.
Some of Ennahda’s leaders have been trying to show they are willing to talk to the trade union federation of Tunisian workers (UGTT) but they lack credibility.
They are either trying to dissipate the popular anger or are facing internal pressure not to negotiate. The UGTT played a major role during the Tunisian revolution. After the fall of former dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali it won many economic battles.
The working class is struggling against the continuation of Ben Ali’s neoliberal policies by the current government. Yet the UGTT has not called political strikes, preferring to act as mediator between the different political parties. The opposition has played a major role in limiting the struggle to one for formal democracy rather than wider social justice.
A deeper, broader popular movement will be required to bring down the government. That can only be achieved with a clear focus on social justice and the further involvement of the working class.