By Mohamed Tonsi
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The revolution has only just begun

This article is over 10 years, 10 months old
With dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali long gone, media attention on Tunisia has waned. But there is now an ongoing battle to cleanse the country of Ben Ali's cronies, reports Mohamed Tonsi
Issue 356

The flight of dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was only the first chapter of the Tunisian Revolution. The mobilisation of the people, organised in neighbourhood militias, foiled the first attempt at counterrevolution by the remnants of the president’s loyalists. The liberation caravan which came from regions where the revolution started and blockaded the prime minister’s office for more than a week led to the reshuffle of a government – formed less than two weeks previously – which had kept ruling party figures in key positions.

This success encouraged the masses to demand the full removal of the ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Finally, the minister of the interior had to bow to popular pressure and froze the activities of the RCD, banning any meetings of its members pending its dissolution. In cities, towns and villages across the country, governors, mayors and municipal assemblies close to the old regime were forced out of office. When I phoned my cousin, who lives in the coastal village of Korba, to ask how the family is doing, he told me, “We are doing fine. Today the people gathered together and we managed to expel the mayor and the municipal assembly. They are a bunch of RCD cronies!”

The new foreign minister, Ahmed Ounais, faced the same fate after a press conference in Luxembourg. Here he refused to describe the events in Tunisia as a revolution, and praised the French foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who had offered to help Ben Ali’s police before his fall, calling her a visionary and a friend of the Tunisian nation. Finally, he refused to comment on the events unfolding in Egypt. Two hundred outraged employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs walked out and besieged the minister’s office before issuing a communiqué in support of the Egyptian people.

There is a reverberation between the revolutions in the two countries. The main slogan used in Egypt – “The people want to bring down the regime” – originated in Tunisia, and the 50,000-strong demonstration in Sfax, the second biggest Tunisian city, was called as a “day of rage” just one day after the first day of Egyptian rage. The recent success of the Egyptian Revolution has inspired the Tunisian people to match the Egyptian achievements and call for the dissolution of parliament and the upper house, and for the formation of a constitutional assembly.

Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, inspired by the swift successes in the two countries, and intoxicated by the infinite realm of new possibilities, crowds started chanting an even more daring slogan: “The people want to liberate Palestine!”

Although the momentum of the revolution has not faltered, the danger of counterrevolution is still present. Counterrevolutionary forces will always try to diminish, if not reverse, the achievements of revolutions. The latest attempt has been the formation of a government of ultra-liberal technocrats who, while having no links with the old regime, have been hand-picked by the bourgeoisie to defend their interests.

To add insult to injury, prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has hired as an adviser an ex-banker, and expert in “political marketing”, who advised Ben Ali during his final days in office. This can only fuel the social discontent and the industrial action already taking place in many areas, not simply over pay but mainly to win permanent contracts for the large contingents of temporary workers.

It is very interesting to notice the spontaneous and organised reactions of the bourgeoisie to these demands. Groups with tens of thousands of members have been formed on Facebook with slogans like, “This is a revolution of free men not of beggars” and a sarcastic, “The unemployed have started the revolution and the employed want a pay rise”.

The class struggle is becoming increasingly obvious and is starting to polarise those who were united in calling for Ben Ali to “get the hell out”. The revolution has achieved all the demands of the bourgeoisie by ousting the dictator and his party. According to them, the nation, meaning the workers, should go back to hard work. Leading these efforts to tame the revolution is the wealthy Mabrouk family – a member of which is Ben Ali’s son in law – who are still free to continue their business as usual. They are trying to transform the revolution of the people into a “palace coup” and are happy to throw other families to popular vengeance. The adviser to the prime minister and at least three other new ministers have historical links to this family and their business empire.

The revolution gathered momentum through the formation of local councils for protection of the revolution in several cities and towns. These pushed the opposition political parties, the UGTT union federation, the union of students and many other civil society associations to declare the formation of a nationwide council for the protection of the revolution. In total, 28 groups signed this declaration, including communists, social democrats, nationalists, Islamists and even the association of veterans of the anti-colonial struggle. This offers accountability over the actions of the transitional government and an overview of the task of changing legislation over electoral law, media and justice in order to pave the way for democratic elections.

The UGTT presented this declaration to the transitional government who declined it on 16 February. As I write, calls are being made for countrywide demonstrations demanding the resignation of the transitional government.

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