Following on from our posting of the Gaza Manifesto, Roy Ratcliffe, a leading figure across three decades in youth and community work and a long-standing activist in the Palestinian Liberation Movement, has sent his thoughts on the tumultuous situation in Tunisia.
As ever comments and criticisms welcomed.
1. The background.
The recent explosive events in Tunisia were triggered in December 2010, by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate. Although the full reasons go back much further. Still jobless after graduating, Mohamed ran a fruit and vegetable stand which was confiscated because he lacked of an official permit. He was part of the growing international army of jobless and low-paid young workers, created by the global system of industrial, commercial and financial capital. In the case of Tunisia youth unemployment had been rising, at least since the IMF intervention in the late 1980’s. It can now be as high as 50% in some areas of the country and in the present global crisis, can only creep higher. In periods of inflation, an addition problem for those in Tunisia, was that wages in tourism, textiles and agriculture, were and are, invariably low. As in most other capital dominated countries, the contrast between poverty and extreme wealth in Tunisia is glaring. A recent Wikileaks cable from the US embassy in Tunis, for example, suggested that the prime Minister Ben Ali, and his oligarchy had their hands in and on 50 per cent of the country’s economy.
When this brutal oligarch delivered a speech on the twelfth day of the revolt to promise (as he had done on many previous occasions), that he would allow democratic elections, nobody believed him and the masses responded that the protests would continue. The government ordered the closure of schools and universities and the police to physically quell what they considered was simply a flash in the pan by rebellious youth. Dozens were shot in various towns but this only had the effect of bringing more people into the fray, such as Trade Unionists, some Islamists and Communists. The President only ordered a halt to the beatings and shooting, when it became obvious, that any further slaughter by the police would provoke a mutiny in the army ranks which might also occur even at the senior military level. When Ben Ali later secretly left the country he was following something of a tradition set by previous fleeing discredited politicia
2. The participants.
The first participants were the unemployed youth who initially demonstrated and were later were joined by workers from industry, university and school students, teachers and even lawyers. Eventually the national leadership of the sole legal trade union confederation, the UGTT, which initially denounced the movement (“unlike some of its local and regional bodies“) was finally obliged to give its official support. Young people played a new and important role in the communication and organisation of the protests through their frequent and skilled use of modern technology in the form of mobile phones, the internet and in particular Facebook.