After being delayed by three months, the official campaign for Tunisia's constituent assembly began on October 1, paving the way for the October 23 elections. More than 80 different parties, many formed or legalised since the overthrow of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, and about 1500 different lists vyed for a place in the 218-member assembly.
Lina Ben Mhenni, 27, is a Tunisian blogger and activist for freedom of speech, women’s rights and student rights. Her blog, A Tunisian Girl, was censored under Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s regime. During the early days of the uprising against Ben Ali that started on December 17 last year, she travelled to the rural Tunisian cities of Sidi Bouzid, Regueb and Kasserine to document police repression and catalysing protests throughout the country.
Egyptian scholar and researcher Samir Amin spoke with Hassane Zerrouky on the Arab revolts that have broken out this year, for L'Humanite. The interview was translated by Yoshie Furuhashi for www.mrzine.org . Abridged version appears below. What's happening in the Arab world six months after the fall of dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia?
The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (PCOT) held the first session of its first party congress as a legal organisation on July 22. The congress was held over July 22-24 in Tunis. It featured foreign delegates and guests from Europe, Latin America and the Arab world. Estimates of attendees ranged from 1700 to 2000 people. PCOT leader Hamma Hammami gave a speech in which he defended the party from accusations of involvement in violence.
The Kasbah in Tunis was once again the scene of violent clashes between police and revolutionary youth after protests on July 15 to advance the revolution were broken up by force. The protests, dubbed “Kasbah 3”, were demanding the resignation of key ministers in the interim government and the sacking of those responsible for the killings of protesters during the January uprising against dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The protests also demanded the regime stick to October 23 as the date for constituent assembly elections.
The revolutionary struggle for democratic and economic freedoms continues to grow in Tunisia and Egypt in the aftermath of the ousting of dictators Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Western powers are working to block these struggles — just as they supported the fallen dictators until the very end. Vast sums of money have been pledged by the United States, European Union and the Group of Eight (G8 — the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia and Japan) to aid what British Prime Minister David Cameron termed “democracy, freedom and prosperity” in the Middle East.
Tunisia's first election since the downfall of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali may be delayed from July 24 to October 16, Kamel Jandoubi, president of the High Authority for the Elections, told a meeting of political parties on May 26. But days later, the interim government reaffirmed its commitment to the July 24 elections for a constituent assembly. Moez Sinaoui, spokesperson for the interim prime minister Beji Caid el Sebsi , told state news agency TAP on May 29 that the original date “is a roadmap and a position of principle to prepare this important political event”.
Tunisia's interim government has again been rocked by protests calling for greater democracy, transparency and for a “new revolution” to defend the gains of the protest movement that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. The protests began on May 5 after Farhat Rajhi, a former interior minister in the post-Ben Ali government, claimed that military and political elites from Ben Ali's regime would carry out a coup d'etat if Islamist parties win a majority in the July 24 constituent assembly elections.
After ousting former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his supporters from office, the Tunisians have again hit the streets — this time, to demonstrate against the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. About 300 people demonstrated at Tunis’ central Avenue Bourguiba against her visit on March 16, Reuters said. The next day, Clinton met with President Foued Mebazaa and Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi. About 100 people protested, in the face of dozens of riot police, two military helicopters and a water cannon, Al Jazeera said.
Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi announced on March 7 the dissolution of the country’s secret police arm, the British Guardian said that day. This step toward democracy is the most important taken by any Arab country for decades. Tunisia’s interim government also abolished the Ministry of Information, which had been in charge of censorship, allowing a free press to flourish, GlobalPost.com said on March 7.
In the face of renewed protests in Tunisia's capital, Tunis, Tunisian prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned on February 27. This was one of the key demands of the popular movement, which has continued to push for democracy in the aftermath of the January 14 toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In another concession to the mass movement, the interim government announced that elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution would be held on July 24, AlJazeera.net said on March 4.
Ahlem Belhadj is a Tunisian revolutionary socialist and member of the Ligue de la Gauche Ouvriers (Left Workers’ League). It is a part of the January 14 Front, which unites left-wing groups seeking to push Tunisia’s revolution forward by creating a new government free from members of the former ruling party, and supports policies reversing neoliberalism. Belhadj spoke with Green Left Weekly’s Tony Iltis on February 12 about the Tunisian revolution. * * *
Ongoing democracy protests in Tunisia, which continued beyond the January 14 overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to demand a government free from the former ruling party, were hit by a wave of vicious repression in late January. The protesters from the “caravan of liberation”, which had camped for five days outside Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s offices in Tunis, were driven off the streets on January 29.
The popular revolution that has overthrown US- and French-backed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (in power since 1987) continues to shake the country despite repression. It has sent shockwaves through the regime, raising prospects of inspiring the democracy movements in other Arab nations. Jordan has been hit by protests against price rises.