Socialist Worker

Anti-austerity protests erupt in Tunisia

by Jaouhar Tounsi in Tunisia
Issue No. 2587

President Beji Caid el Sebsi is under pressure

President Beji Caid el Sebsi is under pressure (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)


Widespread demonstrations have erupted in Tunisia over the past week. Hundreds of angry protesters have taken to the streets in at least 20 different towns in protest against the newly passed Finance Act that raised taxes and prices of fuel, housing and a wide range of other goods.

The 2018 austerity budget will only exacerbate prevailing conditions of mass unemployment, poverty and social inequality.

This revolt is an echo of the demonstrations that erupted two years ago in January 2016 against mass unemployment and corruption. The protests turned quickly into violent clashes with the security forces as a reaction to the police crackdown.

On Monday 8 January, the Interior Ministry acknowledged that a 55-year-old man was killed during a protest in the town of Tebourba, about 20 miles outside of the capital of Tunis.

There were conflicting reports over the cause of death, with some protesters saying the man had been run down by a police vehicle, while the authorities denied and claimed he had been overcome by tear gas.

Police attacked crowds with tear gas while protesters were retaliating throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the police and have blocked main roads with burning tires.

In a number of areas, the army has been called out to back up local security forces and protect government buildings and banks.

Crackdown

More than 500 protesters have now been arrested. Human rights campaigners and activists are reporting indiscriminate crackdown on activists. Police violence is being carried out even against protesters who were just writing tags on a wall.

Ahmed Sassi, a well-known activist, graduate in Philosophy and unemployed, was arrested at his home in Tunis this Wednesday. The authorities are targeting activists while their media outlets are portraying the protests as simple acts of vandalism and looting.

The ongoing protests are far from being just an eruption of anger and violence. In fact, over the last three years, there has been an increasing number of popular protests about socioeconomic questions by people who feel excluded from the “democratic transition” praised by the ruling class. People are raising demands for change, particularly an end to corruption and more social justice.

The austerity measures are a result of the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in return for loans that have gone largely to paying off the country’s debts to the international banks. Besides the rising trade deficit has driven down the value of Tunisian currency, increasing the cost of debt service and decreasing the purchase power of the Tunisian population.

Opposition

Even though there is a general mistrust of all political parties and especially by the impoverished and unemployed youth, the left played an important role in sparking the demonstrations. Left activists have been agitating against the government policies and gave confidence to the anger to erupt in the street. 

The leadership of the Popular front, the main left political alliance, issued a statement supporting the protests, while deploring “acts of violence and vandalism.

The popular front and other opposition parties called for a mass protest to be held in the capital city of Tunis on 14 January to mark the seventh anniversary of the Tunisian revolution which toppled President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The continuing protests demonstrates that none of the grievances that drove Tunisians into revolutionary struggle seven years ago have been resolved. The revolution is a long process and the working class in Tunisia is in need for a leadership that is able to organise the struggle.  


A revolt against the rich

Major protest movements have broken out in Iran, Sudan and Tunisia this year. Each has its own context and specific demands.

But what’s noticeable is their similarities and their roots in a revolt against austerity, the obscene gap between rich and poor, and political marginalisation.

The basic issues involved would be familiar to workers in Paris, Rome and Chicago—or London and Glasgow.

Each movement faces formidable obstacles. These include state repression and failures of social democratic forces.

But it’s healthy to see such similar revolts in different capitalist societies. Billions would agree with the young Tunisian protester who said this week, “The cost of living is too high. It’s a catastrophe. There are two types of people—the rich and the poor.”

Racist, fascist and far right forces have made the running in far too many places recently. But this year can be one where workers unite against the wealthy elites.


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