Vision from Within
Where is Tunisia Heading?
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tunisian authorities managed to deal with the protests, which erupted in a number of cities and poor neighborhoods in the capital, after “government announced an increase in value-added tax and social contributions in the budget.” However, the calm situation may be temporary if the authorities do not succeed in finding radical solutions to the problems, which angered youths. Those youth for seven years now have been threatening of a “new revolution” that topples the new political elite whom they accuse of failing to achieve the main goals of their revolution which developed in January 2011.
So where is Tunisia heading seven years after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled? Will the parties which triggered these new confrontations with the security forces succeed in launching what they call “a second revolution”? Or will the opposite happen?
Will the current political regime witness any substantial changes especially that it has been internationally supported for several reasons including that many western countries bet on the success of the “Tunisian exception in transitioning towards democracy?”
Separation from Youths
Some of those who oppose the government, mainly the opposition leaders of leftist, nationalist and Baathist groups that are involved in the Popular Front, which is led by Hamma Hammami and Ziad Lakhdhar, think that the increased protests against the governments, which have governed since January 2011, is proof that they cannot achieve the revolution’s aims regarding jobs, dignity. That is because the government cannot liberate its measures from the International Monetary Fund’s directions and from the agendas of financial lobbies that are involved in corruption, trafficking and imposing a capitalist policy. This is what they said in their press conference in January 2018.
These opposition figures, youths’ organizations and leftist students’ groups accuse the current ruling coalition of severing ties with youths and with the poor and middle classes. Those social clusters were harmed a lot after the purchasing power declined due to structural reasons.
Statements by some young leftist leaders and Members of Parliament from this political opposition bloc (like Al-Jilani Al-Hammami, Ammar Amroussia and Adnane Hajji) reflect their understanding why unemployed youths resorted to violence. They further argued that youth think toppling the head of the regime in 2011 was supposed to be followed by activity to finalize a new revolution. This respects Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Marxist leftist statements “the revolution continues” and “radical change.”
Slogans like “the revolution continues” raised by leftist youths’ groups and radical political parties that belong to the Popular Front and the Workers’ Party are now being used by their rivals in the ruling bloc to accuse the protestors of “allying with saboteurs, smugglers and the corrupt” and marketing the stances of a “chaotic movement.”
Within this context, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed made unprecedented critical statements against the leftist, nationalist and Baathist opposition involved in the Popular Front and accused them of providing political cover to traffickers and corrupt groups whom the authorities detained some of their leaders during the past months. Chahed also accused them of being responsible for the attacks on governmental and banking institutions and public and private companies.
Popular Front leaders strongly responded to these accusations and held a press conference where they threatened more protests against the 2018 austerity measures.
Within this context, the prime minister and ministers affiliated with different parties accused the opposition MPs of adopting double standards as they voted for the new state budget and then started to call on unemployed youths to protest against the latter because they are a financial burden on the poor and middle classes.
In the context of this tense situation and exchange of accusations between the government and opposition, some questions have emerged. What are the mechanisms to end this current crisis? Will the detaining of youths end the protests? Or will they ignite them after human-rights activists began protesting to demand their release? If the government succeeds in attaining relative political support from trade and famers’ unions and major parties, will this support last if protests erupt again and develop into strikes?
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, thus, launched a new political initiative and, as he met leaders of unions and parties participating in the governmental coalition at the Presidential Carthage Palace. Throughout the meetings he discussed their proposals to contain the anger of youths and protestors.
Statements by union leaders and politicians who participated in the dialogue at the presidential palace were distinguished for not using revolutionary slogans. They were also keen on adopting a pragmatic approach as they acknowledge the legitimacy of the protestors’ social and economic demands, but rejected violence. They further proposed urgent reform measures to contain the protests such as: increasing the wages of junior employees and retirees and increasing social grants provided to poor families.
Party and union leaders acknowledged pointed out that the current government is facing structural problems that have been inherited for decades. They favored a realistic political rhetoric that takes into consideration the current regional and international developments, especially American and European decision makers’ decreased conviction in the option of encouraging Arabs to revolt and seek comprehensive change of their political regimes. Tunisian sociologist and political analyst Moncef Wannas confirmed this as he thought that political and security failure, which was recorded in most Arab countries involved in the Arab Spring, convinced western leaders of reneging their options, especially their support to revolutions that had no leaders and no specific plans. The result was involving entire countries, like Libya, Syria and Yemen, in complete chaos.
It is, thus, important to think of the following questions: Does this mean that the supporters of political change will lose the international chip which was decisive in the 2011 revolutions? Has the Tunisian leftist and socialist unions lost the regional and global support they had during the battles they fought to defeat their liberal and Islamist rivals?
Calls for Change
Recent protests are based on the support of some political and parliamentarian figures. Leftist nationalist MP Mbarka Brahmi, the widow of Mohammed Brahmi, whose assassination in July 2013 toppled the government of the Islamic Ennahda Movement, said in a press conference that she believes that the opposition will be capable of achieving its dreams of change, like they succeeded four years ago.
Brahmi said she agreed with radical leftist MPs, like Mongi Rahoui, Ahmed Seddik and Zied Lakhdhar, to organize other protests against the government and its newly drafted law to achieve their political, social and economic aims.
It seems some government members think these statements do not have popular support. Some of these figures include Minister Samir Taieb, the leader of the Social Democratic Path Party which replaced the former Tunisian communist party, Iyed Dahmani, a government spokesperson and Mehdi Ben Gharbia, the minister of relations with constitutional bodies. In critical statements they made against their radical rivals, they insisted that Tunisia in 2013 is different than Tunisia in 2018. They also noted that the 2010 revolution was against an undemocratic tyrannical regime, while violence today targets an elected president, an elected parliament and an elected government.
Some opposition figures have called for parliamentary and presidential elections ahead of the scheduled date, i.e. to hold them this year instead of next year. Some of the figures who made these calls have assumed high-ranking posts following the 2011 revolution, such as former minister Ahmed Najib Chebbi, former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, former head of the presidential cabinet Ridha Belhaj, former Health Minister Said Aidi and leftist opposition leaders like Hamma Hammami.
Within this context, officials close to Tunisian President, including Saida Garrach, the president's spokesperson, Noureddine Ben Ticha, the president’s political advisor, and Burhan Besis, an official from the ruling party, called for respecting the people’s will and the results of the previous elections and for preparing for the upcoming political and electoral phases. They also called for respecting the rule of law and not call for early elections whenever they lose one.
There are now two parties, one is calling for igniting a second revolution and another that supports the national unity government and parliament decisions, including the newly drafted law. As a result, several party and syndicate leaders are mediating to resolve the situation. Former Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem called for halting all acts of violence committed during protests. He further said that the complicated political and economic affairs cannot be monopolized by one political party.
MP and former Minister of Justice Noureddine Bhiri called for activating the role of the civil society and for partnership with syndicate and party leaders to propose reform solutions. While speaking to reporters at the Carthage Palace, Noureddine Taboubi, the Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labor Union, called for more dialogue between the government, syndicates and parties to approve urgent reform measures.
Many politicians in Tunisia bet that the final word will be for the leaders of the civil society. That is because the civil society is anticipated to play a mediating role between the government and its political partners and the radical opposition so the situation remains under the control of the elected authorities, particularly during this phase where the security and political situation further complicates in the neighboring country, Libya. Recently, however, all Tunisian politicians, despite their different affiliations, are worried of the developments in Libya as terrorism and violence have spread in most of its cities.
In conclusion, there are two scenarios in Tunisia: the country will either overcome its current social crisis or will fall in the viscous cycle of violence and counter-violence.