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Tens of thousands of youth rise up against the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia

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Last month the dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, sent Sharon an invitation to visit the country. This has provoked massive opposition from the youth. Throughout the whole of last week, one school after another, one campus after another, came out in protest. Many have been arrested and badly beaten by the police. Thus Tunisia joins the long list of unstable countries throughout the region, but because the protests are against a regime that is a friend of US imperialism these have not made the headlines like the events in Lebanon.

The “personal invitation” of President Ben Ali, the dictator of Tunisia, to “General” Ariel Sharon, the Israeli butcher of the Palestinians, to visit his country next November during the World Summit of Information Society has inflamed the Tunisian youth.

When President Ben Ali made his invitation public on February 25 he probably never imagined he would provoke the ire of the students and school students all over the country. He probably felt comforted by his fraudulent election “victory” last year and by the benevolent support of the United States and the governments of the European Union – starting with France- for his bloody regime. Tunisia has been portrayed in the last ten to fifteen years as one of the most stable and quiet countries in North Africa, the ideal holiday resort.

This invitation to Ariel Sharon was clearly made under American advice, as Tunisia has no official diplomatic relations with Israel. The Tunisian regime wants of course to be part of the new Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East. Therefore it needs to “normalise” its relations with the Israeli Zionists. In reality Ben Ali is a candidate to become the most reliable Arab ally of the Americans. In return for the role of docile American puppet, Ben Ali wants further support for his dictatorship and some economical aid to finance the mafia clans of his entourage.

Solidarity with the Palestinian and Iraqi masses

The Palestinian question is a burning question in the whole of the Middle East, especially amongst the youth who identify strongly with the fate of the Palestinian masses. Many Arab youth know that it is not only the Israeli state machine which is repressing the Palestinians but that all the Arab regimes contribute to one degree or another to holding down the heroic Palestinian youth.

Rapidly last week, the anger and indignation reached boiling point on the campuses all over Tunisia. The scope of the protests only became clear at the end of the week. Tens of thousands of university students and secondary school students defied the ferocious repression of the police in strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations to protest against this provocative invitation.

The courses have been closed down at the “Institut Supérieur des Sciences Humaines et Sociales Ibn Charaf”. In Sfax, five students, including two women have been arrested and tortured. In Jebiniana, the police entered a secondary school. The campus witnessed violent clashes between the police and the students. The faculty of science of Bizerte and the university of Jendouba have been closed. Dozens of students have been arrested. Some students have already been put on trial. In Monastir on Saturday, March 5, the police stopped a peaceful demonstration before it could leave the campus. In other places teachers have been “preventively” arrested, three leaders of RAID ATTAC have been abducted and no news has been heard of them since. The general secretary of the Progressive Democratic Party - a moderate opposition party - has been beaten up by the police. The leader of this party has declared that Ben Ali should withdraw his invitation or else he will have to “march over dead bodies” during his visit.

Human right lawyer Mohamed Abou has also been arrested after having published an article on the internet in which he compared the Tunisian jails with the prisons of Abu Ghraib, famous for the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American guards. The lawyers of Tunis, the capital have announced a strike for this Wednesday to protest against this arbitrary detention.

Last Friday in Tunis thousands of plain-clothed policemen tried to stop a new demonstration in the centre of town. As soon as a small group of students gathered the police pushed them down the side streets were they were brutally beaten. Dozens of students were arrested. Some of them were freed later. Another human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui was brutally beaten. She suffered different fractures and her right eye was injured. One of her daughters also suffered injuries to her head. Many of the students who have been beaten received injuries to their heads and limbs. School students who have been arrested, before being released have been forced to sign statements in which they declare that they will not take part in any further demonstrations. Also trade unionists and other opposition figures have been participating in the demonstrations.

In another effort to stifle the opposition demonstrations, the government has closed down access to many informative websites. This is really ironic for a country which is going to host the World Summit on the Information Society!

Over the weekend calls have been made to coordinate the actions across the whole country. The numerous Internet sites, weblogs, etc., which the regime cannot control are used to achieve this goal.

A catalyst for more general discontent

Not accidentally it is the youth which has erupted against the regime. The invitation of Sharon is merely a catalyst for a more generalised discontent which has not found a point of reference over the last few years. This lack of a point of reference gave the impression of the Tunisian youth of passivity and atomisation. But this has now changed! Despite the fact that Tunisia is presented as a stable and prosperous country the situation of the masses has deteriorated.

Unemployment has not been absorbed by the economic growth. Growth has been at an average of 5% in the last three years. Over ten years the growth average has not gone above 4%. Those are better growth figures than the neighbouring countries, but not sufficient to alleviate the conditions of the masses, the youth in particular.

Official figures estimate the level of unemployment at 15% to 16% of the active population. But the so-called “active population” represents only 48% of the population, the other not being even considered as being able to work! Worst hit by unemployment are the youth and more specifically the educated youth. 68% of the unemployed are under 30 years of age. Two thirds have just left high school or university. The younger you are and the more you have studied the more chances you have of not finding a job. What a terrible waste of talent! What a cruel paradox, a paradox the Tunisian youth shares with the Moroccan students! Hundred of thousands of young students will join the list of unemployed in the next two years. To this flagrant injustice we must add that some hundred thousand textile workers will lose their jobs before 2008 as part of the new Free Trade Zone established in the area.

Official figures indicate that only 4% of the Tunisians live in poverty. This is another lie. In the cities 15% of the population lives on less than 2US$ a day. Nationally one in four Tunisians is poor. Wages have declined in the last 20 years. The minimum wage is almost 15% less than what it was in 1984!

Students and workers must bring down the Ben Ali dictatorship!

Combine this with an asphyxiating repression and you understand why the Tunisian youth is rising up against the dictatorship of Ben Ali. It might be just a first battle, comparable to a skirmish in war, but the battle has started, there can be no doubt about it. In the next few days we will see how the situation evolves. For the moment, the regime does not seem to be giving any sign of withdrawing the invitation to Sharon.

Therefore the students should continue and organise their actions at national level. A national day of action should be called. Action committees should be established bringing together students and workers with the aim of fighting the regime. This action should not only be directed at the student community but also to the workers in the factories and the offices, to the peasants in the villages. The heroic students should direct their actions not only against one measure of the regime – the invitation to Sharon –but also against the whole regime. Moderate opposition parties - in reality the authorised parties of the regime even if they do make some critical noises - are trying to limit the movement to opposition to the invitation to Sharon. By doing this they want to take the regime under their protection. However, the invitation to Sharon is just one aspect of the pro-imperialist character of the dictatorship. The whole economic policy of low wages, unemployment and brutal repression of free speech and organisation, is linked to the pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist character of the regime. That’s why other demands, social and economic demands, should also be taken up by the protest movement.

The best thing the Tunisian youth can do to help our brothers and sisters in the occupied territories of Palestine and Iraq is to overthrow the puppet Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia. To do this the Tunisian youth and workers need much more than heroism and determination. They need a mass revolutionary party to assist them. This party does not exist yet but can be formed out of the best youth and workers who are today protesting on the streets of Tunisia.

* Solidarity with the heroic youth of Tunisia against ferocious police repression
* Free all those arrested and drop all charges against them. 
* Punish the torturers and the police officers responsible for the repression 
* Full and complete amnesty for political prisoners 
* Full democratic rights for the Tunisian youth, workers and peasants. For the right to free speech, association, strike and demonstration. 
* Solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian and Iraqi masses against imperialist occupation. 
* Form democratic action committees in the universities, schools, neighbourhoods, factories, building site and villages to unite and coordinate the struggle against the Ben Ali dictatorship. 
* The present movement should take up the demands of the workers, the peasants and the oppressed: a job for all, no job losses, unemployment benefit, 100%   wage increase linked to the rise in the cost of living, for a shorter working week without loss of pay, free transport, free education, etc. 
* Down with the capitalist mafia dictatorship of Ben Ali! 
* For a workers’ and peasants’ government committed to abolishing capitalism and establishing a socialist planned economy. 
* For a Socialist Tunisia within a socialist federation of the Middle East!

March 7, 2005

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