Friday, 7 December 2012

Siliana uprising wins demands from government

Submitted for publication to Green Left Weekly.

Once again, protesters have taken to the streets in Tunisia to demand the transitional government of Hamad Jebali fulfil the demands of the January 14 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The regional city of Siliana, located 130 kilometres south-west of national capital Tunis and capital of the Siliana governorate, was rocked by days of protests over the lack of investment and jobs in the region.

A demonstration called by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) on November 27 assembled at the office of the regional government to begin a general strike in the region, calling for more jobs, local development and the resignation of Governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi , who protesters felt was "unresponsive" to their needs.

The demands of the protest reflect the lack of real change felt by ordinary Tunisians since the uprising against Ben Ali and the election of the interm troika government, led by the islamist Ennahda party. Unemployment continues to rise, reaching 18 percent in March, while Jebali's promise to create 25,000 on taking office remains unfulfilled.

And police repression of dissent, virulent under the old regime, continues. The November 27 protest and general strike, which drew 5000 to the street, came underbirdshot pellet fire from the police, resulting in two days of running battles in the streets.

Jebali told a press conference on November 29 that the police force was used in response to "throwing stones, Molotov cocktails, burning of state institutions and damaging public establishments".

However, Human Rights Watch reported on December 1 that there was no evidence of incendary devices being deployed – and over 210 birdshot injuries were reported to the local hospital, including 20 cases of eye injuries which required treatment in Tunis.

On December 2, the government announced it had reached a deal with the demonstrators. AlJazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported: "the governor is going to be replaced by his deputy... then they have to tackle the biggest issue which is developing this region where people have been complaining for decades about marginalisation, discrimination and also lack of genuine will from the previous government, including this one, to implement dramatic change in the living standards of the local population."

The plight of the under-developed interior region has gained much sympathy all across the nation. Solidarity demonstrations were held by UGTT supporters in both other regional areas and the larger coastal cities; throughout the Siliana governorate, demonstrators continued to clash with police across December 1 and 2.

The cause has also been championed by the united left Popular Front, whose members play a leading role in the UGTT. On December 1, they joined with members of the secular centre-left Republican party to demonstrate in Tunis, demanding the resignation of the Interior Minister Ali Larayedh.

For their activity, left activists have drawn the ire of supporters of Ennahda. On December 4, unionists in the UGTT office in Tunis, preparing for a march to commemmorate the murder of independance leader and unionist Farhat Hached, were attacked by hundreds of Islamists with knives and sticks, reported a Reuters witness.

Over 2000 unionists later rallied outside the government's headquarters, where further clashes with Islamists took place.

In response to the repression and the escalating social struggle, the UGTT has called a general strike for the 13th of December. The AFP reported on December 5 that the demands of the strike would include the dissolution League for the Protection of the Revolution, which state-run TAP reported were responsible for December 4's attack.

The League called a protest in Tataouine on October 18, in which Lotfi Naguedh, co-ordinator of the ex-regime party Nidaa Tounes, died. It's believed the League is associated with ruling party Ennahda; Beji Caid Essebsi, who assumed the role of Prime Minister after Ben Ali's overthrow and is the chairmain of Nidaa Tounes, alleged members ofEnnahda participated in the October 18 march.

A general strike has also been called in Sidi Bouzid, home suburb of martyred fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi and a scene of ongoing demonstrations and strikes since the revolution, for December 6.

Tunisia Live reported Sliman Rouisi, of the regional branch of the UGTT, as saying: "The main demands of trade unionists in Sidi Bouzid are the following: invite the authorities to put an end to these violations against the UGTT, follow-up and hold accountable the criminals, who attacked the unionists yesterday, who attacked the unionists yesterday, and dissolve the League for the Protection of the Revolution because it has committed a crime against the unionists."

In the leadup to the second anniversary of Bouazizi's immolation on December 17, pressure continues to mount on Ennahda and the ruling troika to fulfil their rhetorical support for the January 14 revolution.

And so long as the troika fails to fulfil the demands for a new economic and social agenda for Tunisia, space will continue to open for the left to pose a real alternative.

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