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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 March 2011

Tunisia: Revolution and counter-revolution on the streets

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

CWI reporters, (28 February)

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 'day of anger' demonstration in Tunis on Friday.

100,000 protested on Tunis' streets - the biggest demonstrations since the departure of the dictator, Ben Ali, on 14 January.

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 and 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.

State media and the interior ministry are putting the blame for this violence on the protesters.

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'.

However, 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.

The 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.

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.

Old regime

The new prime minister, Béji Caïd Essebsi, is an old politician who held key ministerial positions under Habib Bourguiba's rule (first president of Tunisia from 1957 until 1987). 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 and a lack of jobs and 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 trade union 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 of the old regime is necessary and fair and free elections must be held. They want a government that genuinely represents their interests.

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 neigh-bourhoods 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 genuine democratic planning. In this way people's lives can be radically changed.

For further reports and analysis see

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