Saturday, January 15, 2011

Revolution in Tunisia: Can it deepen and widen?

Luna 17
New Left Project
January 14, 2011

The future of Tunisia hangs in the balance. There could be bloody retribution by the corrupt old regime, despite it being beheaded (with the hurried exit of ex-president Ben Ali). Or the democratic advance could become permanent, with new freedoms and a more liberal government.

But the radicalism, militancy and social weight of the popular movement raise the spectre of a third possibility: social and economic revolution, not just the 'democratic revolution' we are clearly now witnessing. Whether that becomes an actuality depends principally on the combativity, strength and political independence of Tunisian workers.

This is about deepening the revolution - from a democratic revolution (which, let's be clear, is already driven by mass action from below not by machinations inside the elite) to - whisper it - a socialist revolution. Because, ultimately, that's what is needed to permanently end the poverty, mass unemployment, economic insecurity and inequality that has largely triggered the Tunisian revolt and given it such force.

But there's also the question of widening the revolution, spreading it in what has been described as a "domino effect" across north Africa and the Middle East. Algeria, a neighbour, has already been witness to profound social upheavals in recent days and weeks. This is no abstract question.

Egypt is the most populous of Arab states, with a large working class. One Egyptian commentator has said: "Every Arab leader is watching Tunisia in fear. Every Arab citizen is watching Tunisia in hope and solidarity."

Mohamed Ali of the Islam Channel is a former political prisoner of the Tunisian regime. Interviewed on the BBC's Newsnight, he compared Tunisia to the country which prefigured the Eastern Bloc revolutions of 1989, saying "Tunisia is the Poland of the Arab world - this is like 1989". He also said: "We have got rid of the head of the snake, but the revolution is continuing".

There are two articles I recommend for exploring these issues further. Joseph Daher's new piece, 'Tunisia: the revolution begins', gives an account of an extraordinary 24 hours in the Tunisian revolt, but also raises the issue of the country's working class deepening the revolution. Ian Black's Guardian commentary concerns the potential for broadening the revolutionary process across the Arab world.

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