Tunisia: Siliana uprising wins demands

Protests in Siliana.
Saturday, December 8, 2012

Protesters have taken to Tunisia's streets to insist the transitional government of Hamad Jebali fulfill the demands of the January 14 revolution that overthrew dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The regional city of Siliana, located 130 kilometres south-west of the capital Tunis, 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 regional general strike. The UGTT called for more jobs, local development and the resignation of Governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi, who protesters said 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 government, led by the Islamist Ennahda party. Unemployment continues to rise, reaching 18% in March, while Jebali's promise to create 25,000 on taking office remains unfulfilled.

Police repression of dissent, virulent under the old regime, continues. The November 27 protest, which drew 5000 people, came under birdshot 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 used force 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 protesters using incendiary devices. More than 210 bird shot 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. Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra said: “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 across the nation. Solidarity demonstrations were held by UGTT supporters in other regional areas and the larger coastal cities. Throughout the Siliana governorate, demonstrators continued to clash with police on December 1 and 2.

The cause was also supported 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 independence leader and unionist Farhat Hached, were attacked by hundreds of Islamists with knives and sticks, a witness told Reuters.

More than 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 December 13. AFP reported on December 5 that the demands of the strike would include the dissolution of League for the Protection of the Revolution, which state-run TAP said was responsible for December 4's attack.

The League called a protest in Tataouine on October 18, in which Lotfi Naguedh, coordinator of the ex-regime party Nidaa Tounes, died. The League is believed to be associated with ruling party Ennahda.

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

Tunisia Live reported Sliman Rouisi, of the regional branch of the UGTT, as saying: “The main demands of trade unionists in Sidi Bouzid are … 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, and dissolve the League for the Protection of the Revolution because it has committed a crime against the unionists.”

In the lead-up to the second anniversary of Bouazizi's immolation on December 17, pressure continues to mount on Ennahda and the ruling parties to fulfill their rhetorical support for the January 14 revolution.