Tunisia: Ghannouchi steps down

Revolution and counter-revolution on the streets

Prime Minister Ghannouchi announced his resignation on Sunday 27 February after three days of mass protests in Tunis and fierce repression by the police. Tear gas had filled the air, live ammunition was fired, and another five people were killed.

Demonstrations and protests took place in many parts of the country but large numbers of people had decided to travel to Tunis to join and support the sit-down occupation in the Kasbah square and to take part in the huge demonstration in Tunis on Friday – a ’Day of Anger’. 100,000 protested on Tunis’ streets – the biggest demonstrations since the departure of the dictator, Ben Ali on January 14. (See latest article on this site.)

Protesters entered the military zone and started to storm the Interior Ministry – important symbol of the dictatorship. Police unleashed heavy repression, shooting dead an 18-year-old on that night. This fuelled Saturday’s anger. That was the main reason why thousands of people, mainly youth, took to the streets on the following day. The police repression, however, shocked many people. They saw a reminder of the brutal methods of the old regime. In among a crowd fleeing from live ammunition rounds, a plain clothes police officer drew his revolver pointing it at people before running down an alley. This is just one incident witnessed by CWI activists on the ground.

State media and the Interior Ministry are putting the blame for this weekend’s violence on the protesters themselves. They are portraying them as hooligans and looters, in an attempt to isolate them and to gain points of support among small shopkeepers, and other middle class layers, under the cover of a "return to law and order". It is true that some shop windows were smashed, and material damaged. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the extreme police provocation of peaceful protests and the undoubted use of provocateurs, against whom unarmed protesters tried to defend themselves with makeshift barricades and weapons.

Last weekend’s violence must serve as a warning to the revolutionary movement. Mass actions and demonstrations need to be properly defended. The organised workers’ movement can play a key role in organising mass self-defence, armed if necessary. This would not only protect the protesters but also prevent some of the most desperate sections from going down the blind alley of riots and individual acts of violence. This could also ensure the support of the middle classes for the revolution. Clear calls need to be made to rank-and-file soldiers in order to win them over actively to the revolution’s side, and assist in neutralising the forces of reaction.

The new prime minister, Béji Caïd Essebsi, is an old politician who held key ministerial positions under Bourguiba’s rule, although he is less "obviously" associated with Ben Ali’s inner circle. By making this change, the regime hopes to cut across and divide the movement. However, the initial response in the Kasbah is to continue the struggle. As long as many figures of the old regime are still in power, working people and poor still face a future of poverty, lack of jobs, decent education.

It is therefore essential that the demand for economic and social change becomes an integral part of this struggle and is taken up by the trade union and workers’ movement.

The Executive Committee of the UGTT has now called for the immediate resignation of the present government and the setting up of a government of "technocrats" until elections are eventually held. But this is nowhere near enough. After all, the UGTT leaders supported the setting up of the present government with Ghannouchi at its head!

Working class people and the youth are saying little has changed. A total clear out is necessary and fair and free elections. They want a government that genuinely represents their interests. No trust in the existing gang.

The revolution must be pushed on towards the establishment of a government of workers, young people, poor farmers and small traders elected from committees in the workplaces and neighbourhoods and also amongst the rank and file soldiers. Such a government would complete the process of pushing out the old owners of industry and commerce and establishing control of the commanding heights of the economy and genuinely democratic planning. In this way peoples lives can be radically changed.

Further reports and analysis to follow.

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February 2011