Why the people are protesting in Tunisia?

Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets against the neoliberal economic policies and austerity on the eve of seventh anniversary of the revolutionary uprising in 2010. State security forces set up blockades in front of entrances to Habib Bourguiba Avenue, where many people rallied at the site widely associated with the 2011 toppling of the country's former dictatorship. The powerful UGTT labour union and several political parties, including the opposition Popular Front alliance, had earlier called for the demonstrations to coincide with the anniversary of the beginning of the Arab Spring revolutions. One protester has been killed, more than 100 police officers have been injured and more than 800 have been arrested, according to the Interior Ministry.

Tunisia is widely viewed as the only successful country to transition to democracy as part of the 2011 protests that helped spark revolutions around the Middle East and North Africa. But the present protest movement has raised many questions regarding the democratic transition of the country since the over through of Bin Ali. The increased anger and discontent in the masses against the economic and social conditions that still persist in the country and transition has failed to address these issues. 

The mass movements called Arab Spring begun from Tunisia and spread to the other Arab countries in North Africa and Middle East which toppled many long time dictators and strongmen. The protests taking place for many days against the government measures including the rise of VAT. The 2018 budget voted on December 9 includes a series of bitter pills to swallow for the poor, in particular the rise of the VAT which raises the prices of basic commodities such as medicine, fuel and food, the implementation of a new social security contribution, and new customs duties on imported products. Financial studies say Tunisian households will spend up to 300 dinars more on average every month as a result of these measures. People are venting their long-simmered rage against the worsening conditions of life.

The government not only raised the VAT which raises the prices of basic commodities such as medicine, fuel and food, the implementation of a new social security contribution, and new customs duties on imported products. Financial studies say Tunisian households will spend up to 300 dinars more on average every month as a result of these measures.

 The Tunisian government is viciously implementing the neoliberal economic policies on the dictates of IMF and World Bank. The IMF is putting huge pressure on the government to implement structural reforms aimed at financing the repayment of public debt. The ruling class blames the working class for this high amount of public debt and wants to cut the wages of public sector workers. This debt has nothing to do with the “high volume of wages” of public sector workers, but is a poisoned gift from the mafia who was in power before the revolution. Tunisian people have never seen a penny of that money.

The state of emergency, constantly renewed since November 2015, is used to clamp down on democratic rights, while last year the militarisation of certain production sites was decreed by the government in reaction to social movements in the south of the country. On all of this, Trump and other western imperialist leaders, prompt to hypocritically embrace the recent protests in Iran, have remained absolutely silent, as in this case it happens within their sphere of influence. Trump forget to make a tweet to extend his helping hand to protestors in Tunisia as he did to Iranian protestors. American ambassador to UN forget to call the emergency session of the security council to discuss the protests in Tunisia. The reason is simple. The Tunisian regime is not working against the American interests in the region. President Trump is not interested to defend, protect or spread democratic and human rights in the region but instead wants to protect imperialist interests. So protests are good in Iran but bad in Tunisia. Hypocrisy at its best.

The grotesque wealth gap, at the heart of the revolutionary uprising against Ben Ali regime seven years ago, has only expanded since. Tunisia is pinpointed even by the corporate EU for being a “tax heaven” for the super-rich, while prices of basic staples, especially food, are breaking record, a phenomenon heightened by market speculation and by the organised dismantlement of the subsidy system by successive governments. The trade deficit has tripled in seven years, driving down the value of the Tunisian dinar, bringing up the cost of debt service payments and crushing the living standards of ordinary people. No wonder that in a recent poll, 73.3% think the economy is going “in the wrong direction”.

The situation in the poorer, inland regions is particularly inflammable, as local communities have seen no change or any meaningful public investment coming. Many young people have the feeling they bartered their blood in 2010-2011 for even more misery and unemployment. Any spark can lit the prairie fire, as shown by the example of Sejnane, a locality which has witnessed two general strikes in less than a month at the end of 2017, in protest at joblessness, poverty and the deterioration of public services. That movement was triggered by the self-immolation of a mother of five in front of the building of the local authorities, a tragic episode reminiscent of the spark of the so-called Arab Spring in December 2010.

Even according to World Bank figures, the middle class in Tunisia has been squeezed by half since 2011. In this alone is expressed the dilemma facing capitalism in Tunisia: the ruling class has been forced by the 2011 revolution to veneer itself with the appendages of a parliamentary democracy; yet, it does not have a stable economic base. The last six years have registered an average economic growth of less than 1%, hence the capitalists cannot afford to give away substantial concessions to workers and poor that could provide their remodelled political system with a sustainable social base of support.

Testimony to this reality, nine governments have succeeded each other in less than seven years since Ben Ali’s overthrow. All have teetered; sometimes fell, on the rock of people’s explosions from below. It will be no different with the current regime. The so-called “national unity” government of Youssef Chahed is composed of four parties, with the leading roles played by Nidaa Tounes (essentially a recycling machine derived from Ben Ali’s now dissolved RCD) and Ennahda (the right-wing Islamist party which ruled the country until 2013). Both are facing internal crisis and have suffered splits. The democracy is still shaky and failed to satisfy the demands and needs of the working masses.

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