Two years after the revolutionary insurrection that caused the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee Tunisia, the situation in the country remains precarious. In fact, it has deteriorated. The great hope for better living conditions raised by the fall of the dictator, is being replaced by discontent and bitter anger. More and more Tunisians think that their revolution has been hijacked by a minority of new profiteers.
Indeed, the popular classes are still being confronted with a very unjust social system imposed by the imperialist forces, which are trying to take advantage of the gravity of the situation to accelerate social and economic disintegration and liquidate the hope for any change that might benefit the majority. We must not forget that the fate of the Arab region and even beyond, depends, to some extent, on what happens to the Tunisian revolution. This interdependence has already been demonstrated several times and continues today!
The revolutionary crisis is intensifying. In the past weeks it has entered a new phase. There is abundant evidence that a grave political crisis is unfolding:
On one hand, Chokri Belaid, Secretary-General of the Unified Democratic Patriotic Party and a leader of the Popular Front, was assassinated on 6 February 2013. The last time a similar political act last took place was in 1952, under French occupation, when the founder of the trade union Union Generale de Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT) and nationalist leader Farhat Hached was assassinated.
In response to Belaid’s assassination, the UGTT called for a nationwide general strike on 8 February. (the last general strike in Tunisia was on 26 January 1978!) To honour Belaid on the day of the strike, almost all of Tunisia limited economic activity to what was strictly necessary. It is estimated that over a million people took part in his funeral in Tunis.
On the other hand, attempts to form a government of technocrats by the Prime Minister and number two leader of the Islamist party, Ennahda (which leads the ruling coalition) ended in failure, and ultimately, in the Prime Minister’s resignation. He has been replaced by the Minister of the Interior.
This political crisis has its roots in the failure of the coalition to respond to various demands (mainly social ones) raised by the revolutionary insurrection. The Islamist party has merely continued the rescue plan that was defined at an international summit held in Tunis on 28 and 29 September 2011. The goal of that summit was to maintain imperialist domination in Tunisia. It was attended by 64 political and economic representatives of European states, international financial institutions and several multinationals in Tunisia, as well as eight representatives of the Provisional Government of Tunisia, the president of the employers’ organisation, and a representative of the UGTT.
Growing economic difficulties followed the flight of the dictator. We now see mass eruptions of political outcry as the same economic and social policies are continuously pursued, against the popular will clearly expressed in the first revolutionary uprising. The prospects for 2013 aren’t promising. In addition, the sources of hard currency and income, so essential to the proper functioning of the neo-colonial economy, are becoming weaker. In short, the economy is bogged down and the threats are accumulating. Public and trade deficits and debt are growing.
External borrowing remains the last resort of a system that is slowly sinking into crisis. To keep it afloat, the international financial institutions are pushing the Tunisian government toward indebtedness. The rate of the average annual debt was 1.78 billion dinars during the 23 years of dictatorship; it rose to 4.33 billion in 2010. This solution portends grave financial threats in the longer term.
These poor economic results complicate an already negative social situation. Massive unemployment (18% of active population), endemic underemployment, and real GDP income which, if it exists, is in continuous decline, are the most obvious signs of a serious social crisis. This is currently the major obstacle to normalising the situation, restarting the system and boosting growth. It explains the failure of various governments, including that of the Troika, which came to power on 14 January 2011, the date of the flight of the dictator.
The crisis is deepening and spreading. The legitimacy of the political power that emerged from the elections of 23 October 2011 is at its lowest point. The leading opposition party, Nida Tounes, is not putting forward a social alternative in line with popular demands. Nida Tounes is a neo-liberal party that shares Ennahda’s concern for maintaining the established regime. However, the latter’s neoliberalism hides behind a religious and often backward discourse, while the fomer puts forward a modernist discourse cloaked in a democratic form.
Both Ennahda (23% of votes) and Nida Tounes (29%) are losing points and credibility to the third force, the Popular Front (PF), a coalition of leftist parties, patriotic parties, unaffiliated personalities and associations. The PF advocates the pursuit of a revolutionary process and has adopted a social, economic and ecological programme consistent with popular demands. It has already announced that it refuses to participate in a new government with Ehnnahda and Nina Tounes in place. It considers Nida Tounes to be a reconstruction of the former ruling party, dissolved after revolution. The PF calls for a national congress, for the swift completion of the drafting of the new Constitution and for the adoption of an emergency programme and a clear roadmap to lead to the legislative elections in six months.
All options are on the table for Tunisia. The most likely outcome for now is a deepening of the crisis, and a tightening of the reins of power by neoliberal forces. In response, a second revolt remains quite plausible. The Tunisian revolution is still in its infancy.
Fathi Chamki is part of the leadership of the Popular Front. Translated by Jeanne Hefez, Assistant Editor.