Interview: Tunisia's 'unfinished revolution'

Friday, November 16, 2012
Abdel Jabbar Madouri

Abdel Jabbar Madouri has been a militant in Tunisia from his early secondary school days. He was jailed three times (in 1987, 1993 and 2002) because of his political activism. After every arrest, he was tortured, then sentenced to more than 12 years in jail.

Madouri spent four years living underground during the Ben Ali regime, which was overthrown in January last year -- sparking the “Arab Spring”. He was also deprived of the right to work or to obtain a passport.

Madouri is also novelist and member of the League of Free Writers and some of his novels were banned by the dictatorship. Today he is member of the national committee of the Tunisian Workers’ Party and is editor of its newspaper Sawt Echaab (People's Voice).

Green Left Weekly’s Peter Boyle interviewed Madouri, with translation by Tunisian journalist Haithem Mahjoubi.

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The sacrifice of the young Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi opened a new wave of popular revolt across the Arabic countries and beyond to Spain and eventually the whole world through the Occupy movement. But how much has been gained by the revolution in Tunisia? Is the democratic space still opening up?

We can say that this revolution has achieved certain aims such as the abolition of the ex-ruling party (though elements of it still operate freely, but with little public support), freedom of expression and media and also the dissolution of the hated secret police, if only in a formal way.

The revolution also achieved, for the first time, a democratic election despite some failures and lack of transparency and equal opportunity in the election campaigns.

The election of the constituent assembly was one of the goals that people fought to achieve. Unfortunately, the Islamic Ennahdha coalition exploited the revolution to win a majority in those elections.

Many of the tasks of the revolution remain unfinished because of the strength of the forces of counter-revolution seeking to circumvent the revolution.

Among these unfinished tasks are the enforcement of accountability; an investigation and end to corruption in government institutions; a purge state agencies, bringing those responsible to account for crimes against the people -- especially putting on trial those who murdered the martyrs of the struggle -- and redress for their victims.

What has been achieved by the one year-old Constituent Assembly? And did the workers movement and the left have much input into its decisions?

More than a year after the election, the Constituent Assembly has still not drafted laws that reflecting the demands of the revolution. With the majority of assembly members, of representatives, Ennahdha is able to pass laws for its own benefit.

This has made it clear to the people that this is no revolutionary government, but a government of a new dictatorship working against the completion of the tasks of the revolution.

The people’s rejection of this government can be seen in the growing demonstrations and sit-ins in public squares and in the streets in front of government offices. So the revolutionary process is moving slowly along with the transitional to equality.

Amnesty International says there have been some reversals of the democratisation. Protesters, activists and journalists have been attacked. What is the situation for freedom of political expression and organisation?

The Ennahda government has used the Islamic fundamentalist Salafist militias to attack independent journalists so that it dominate public media and put its loyal supporters and allies in charge of the main media institutions.

It has refused to put to into practice laws guaranteeing media freedom and establishing an independent commission for information. So, journalists are still fighting for independence and freedom.

What is the state of the trade union movement? How strong is your party in the trade union movement? Is there a problem with corruption and co-option of trade union leaders by the capitalist parties and the state?

The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) is the biggest union in Tunisia. The UGTT has been organised since 1952 and is playing a very important role in fighting the government's plans.

It is true that this union suffered from corruption during the Ben Ali regime. But after the revolution, it has regained its integrity, energy and a leading role social and political struggles in cooperation all with other popular organisations.

The Workers’ Party is very strong in the UGTT. The trade union movement is working with the newly formed Popular Front, which was launched in October by 12 political parties that are all active in the UGTT.

The constituent parties of the Popular Front are left-wing parties and progressive nationalists that took part in the revolution and suffered repression under former dictatorship.

The Popular Front is the now largest political force apart from the ruling Ennahda and the “Tunisia Appeal” party, which represents the remnants of the old regime.

How much danger does Tunisia face from the religious fundamentalists?

Islamic fundamentalism remains part of the political landscape of Tunisia and occasionally expresses itself through attacks on bars, artists and police. Some fundamentalists have been killed in clashes with the police.

But the popular resistance has led to the isolation and decline of the influence of the fundamentalists. The recent manifestations of Salafist violence is due to growing government complicity with these groups.

There have been some recent significant strikes in Tunisia. Can you explain what this was about?

We have been organising several workers' campaigns to claim three main things: First, the passing and implementation of the laws to regulate working conditions that remain precarious for most workers. Secondly wage increases to keep up with the rising cost of living and better working conditions, especially working hours and occupational safety.

Third, regulation of employment and dismissal of workers in public institutions.

Can you explain the recent protests about women's rights in Tunisia?

Since it came to power, the government has tried to circumvent the demand for women’s rights, especially in relation to polygamy, the regulation of the minimum age of marriage and gender equality in rights and duties.

But its attempts have failed because of the resistance from civil society, including the women's associations which are very strongly engaged. Still the struggle women's rights in Tunisia remains strong challenge.

Will the elections promised for June 2013 satisfy the popular will in Tunisia? How well do you expect the left to do in this elections? What are the prospects of a new revolutionary upsurge?

The revolutionary forces are aiming to be influential in next June's election and to use these elections as an opportunity to achieve the demands for which the people revolted.

Our most important goal is providing employment, freedom and ending our country's dependency on the great imperialist powers.

It is certain that the left led by the Popular Front will be active and influential in this election. According the last opinion poll, the Workers Party had 6% of the vote and is in the fourth place. But it is expected that the Popular Front would get more than 15% of the vote in the coming elections.

Because of the deterioration of the living conditions of the Tunisian people and the government's inability to deal with these situations, a second revolution in Tunisia is also expected. The Popular Front is ready for this eventuality and prepared to lead such a revolution to achieve its goals.

What is your party's view of the developments in Libya and Syria? Are the imperialist powers beginning to successfully manipulate the “Arab Spring”?

The imperialist powers are collaborating with reactionary regimes in the Arabic region especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They have succeeded in thwarting revolution in Syria by converting it from a popular uprising to a devastating and dirty civil war.

In Libya, the situation looks somewhat different, especially since the Libyans began rebuilding state institutions. But the Libyan revolution needs to carry out a lot more struggles to achieve Libyan people's demands.

The imperialist powers are working hard to control the situation in the countries of the so-called Arab Spring. They are aiming to find customers in the area, especially after the coming to power of Islamist parties in Tunisia and Egypt and their collaboration with the imperialist-Zionist agenda.

In the other side, there are the ongoing revolutionary processes and the parties that lead them in both these countries.

From GLW issue 947