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Tunisia: Jasmin Hope

 Picture: Nasser Nouri under CC Licence

January 31, 2011
Fawwaz Traboulsi

The Jasmine Revolution has prevailed, and the dictator has fled. The Tunisian people have outlined a new page in their history and the history of the Arab world during this first half of 2011.

This youthful revolution was ignited by an unemployed college graduate who decided to burn himself so that Tunisia will be enlightened. This movement traveled from the southern villages to the inner cities, before taking over the capital where syndicates, professional associations, political parties, and intellectuals joined.

This is a revolution of breaking through fears, only to realize that everything is now possible. They stood in the face of bullets, arrests, and murder. They prevented the dictator from holding on to power or returning to it after a power vacuum. The uprising prevailed without any external interference or support. In fact, it prevailed against external forces who supported the dictator.

Sarkozy’s France abandoned one of its closest allies, and Obama’s America sided with the Tunisian people and their right “to choose their leadership,” but only after the fact. And how ironic is it that Ben Ali was forced to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia, only to confirm the unity of the Arab order, which is based on the marriage of republican (hereditary) dictatorships to conservative dynasties. Only General Gaddafi strayed from the trend of silence from Arab leaders—albeit in a contradictory way, on the one hand applauding the Tunisian people, and at the same time expressing his dismay at the fall of Ben Ali. Truly, they are all in the same boat.

What makes popular uprisings unique is that they reveal the mechanics of the social system in depth, and turn most popular theories upside down. The Tunisian uprising resolved the debate over the ability of democracy to prevail in our countries. Two teams are ultimately debating-- both believe that the “West” is imposing democracy on us-- but they differ with one welcoming foreign intervention (even if it was through armored tanks), and the other rejecting democracy in the name of national and religious particularities or in defiance of Western imperialism.

Western powers have proved once again that democracy in Europe and America is a local product not for export, but they thrive on the export of war, control over resources, and exploitation of those resources and support for dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

But the Tunisian uprising has demonstrated that democracy comes from the street, and is only obtained through sacrifice, blood, determination, and awareness of the opponent. No identity issues, authenticity or intellect here. We are speaking of the country that produced the first constitution in the area (1861), and published the first modern newspaper (Lebanese Ahmed Faris Shedyaq contributed to its production). A country that is inspired by the ideas of its great intellectuals, such as Abi Alqasim Alshabi, and the pioneer of women’s liberation, Altahir Haddad, and one that derives its momentum from its independent struggle which is based on the traditions of a secular nation and a progressive civil and personal status law. In addition to great strides in promoting women’s role in public life, and the significant role that trade unions and professional syndicates played in linking the national struggle to the struggle for social justice.

The Tunisian uprising is not without planning in the grand scheme of the popular democratic struggle. It is the climax of a series of popular uprisings for bread, jobs, and freedom. It has allowed many Arab countries to have pluralism, freer press, and an increase in political freedoms. This is a series which includes episodes of protests such as the 1977 bread riots in Egypt, the uprising in Algeria, bread riots in Moroccan towns, protests in southern Jordan, and many others.

Bread, jobs, freedoms, regional development, and social justice. Many are mistaken when they do not see in these slogans a deep unity that fuels the demands of people from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. These slogans create a new wave of social reactions against neoliberal globalism with its lack of support for foodstuffs, and its privatization of public services such as water, electricity, health, and education. This is against a backdrop of an educational system that produces unemplyed highschool and college graduates. The outcome is an increase in unemployment, marginalization, and the exacerbation of class and regional differences.

The Tunisian Intifada is an uprising of the poor, marginalized, and unemployed. The uprising cannot be fooled by the words of Mrs. Clinton to Arab leaders on the importance of fighting corruption and achieving reforms. Literally, the neo-liberal hypocrisy which turns poverty into a scourge and calls for the prosecution of the minor corrupt elements while exempting senior spoilers in mafia-like capitalist systems, using political power to make economic gains.

The Tunisian public did not err in highlighting the corruption, as they called for holding the ousted president, his family, and cohorts accountable and following their money trail which extends to Argentina.

This is how the Tunisian revolution is a rejection of the neo-liberal agenda in our country, and a warning siren to non-governmental organization on their ability to function outside of the political arena. That agenda which led to the fragmentation of people’s issues to separate sectors (youth, women, environment, human rights, personal finance, etc) and revealing the meaning of rights and citizenship through services and charity.

In Tunisia, like the rest of the Arab world, the uprising is foreshadowed with the rise of an independent socio-political force struggling against existing authorities. But the uprising does not identify with Islamic movements which are unable to separate themselves from the socio-economic neoliberalism.

We followed their news on the internet and in the streets. “Today Ben Ali, Tomorrow Hosni Mubarak” and “Today Ben Ali, Tomorrow Ali Abdallah Saleh.” In Jordan there are threats to topple the prime minister so he can be the sacrifical lamb on behalf of the royal family. Even the protests against rise in prices and unemployment have reached unprecedented regions such as the Palestinian Authority and the Saudi capital where there were demonstrations by many who are unemployed.

This is a semi-spontaneous uprising with the absence of opposition parties in the country and the weak presence of non-governmental organizations. Its spontaniety was its strength. And now it threteans to be its weakest link. In Tunisia, the dictator has fallen but not the dictatorship. His forces are still present although they are weakend. They are stationed in the security apparatus and the military, not to mention their external supporters in Paris and Washington, and its dependence on chaos.

The battle is not over. The battle is turning the uprising into a revolution. And now what remains is to salute the martyrs, monitor the developments and movements of friends and foes, and extract the lessons.

Now is the time for new doses of hope in the Jasmine, heralded by the Jasmine revolution, in the homeland of Jasmine.

Fawwaz Traboulsi is professor for History and Political Science at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. He worked as Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York City and is currently Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He publishes on Arabic history, politics and social movements.

Translation into English by Tuqa Nusairat

This article was first published here.