SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 187 April 2015

Tunisia: the response to terrorist attack

At least 23 people died in an attack by gunmen at the Bardo museum in Tunis on 18 March. Responsibility for this atrocious and cowardly attack has been claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group. A wave of indignation and anger swept the whole country. Thousands of Tunisians spontaneously took to the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of the terrorist assault, which took the lives of innocent people, including a Tunisian worker who was part of the museum staff.

Unfortunately, this type of attack is not very surprising. Recruitment activities and ideological indoctrination by jihadist groups have been on the rise for some time. This is helped by the ever-deepening social crisis, as well as by the complete breakdown of neighbouring Libya following western imperialist intervention which left that country in ruins. In recent years, thousands of Tunisians have joined the ranks of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, making Tunisia one of the main sources of foreign fighters in these conflicts.

The government is trying to use the attack to call for ‘national unity’. Tunisians should indeed stand together, but not with such a rotten government, which includes a party with roots in the old dictatorship, and one with roots in right-wing religious fundamentalism. None of these forces can be trusted to lead the struggle against terrorism.

More than half of the MPs of the ruling party, Nidaa Tounes (‘Tunisian Call’), are ex-members or sympathisers of the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique, the party of the former dictatorship. For years, it used the ‘fight against terrorism’ to destroy civil liberties and stifle any opposition in the country. As for the leaders of Ennahda, their ideological connections with some fringes of the reactionary Salafist movement are well established.

President Beji Caid Essebsi recently offered his condolences for the death of the Saudi despot, Abdullah, and invited Saudi prince Alwaleed to visit Tunisia. The prince’s regime has exported the poisonous Wahhabi ideology all across the region and beyond. Moreover, the recent attack is in part a consequence of the catastrophic wars led by imperialist powers in the Middle East, with whom both ruling parties have been keen to collaborate.

Army troops are deployed on the streets and, following the terrorist attack, many Tunisians might welcome such a move. But this deployment will not tackle any of the underlying problems. It might well be used to suppress other forms of opposition to the government’s rule and to stop people coming onto the streets to challenge the ruling powers.

The government is trying to use the shock and emotion caused by the shooting to attack our basic rights and to re-impose heavy state machinery. At the same time, it will continue the disastrous anti-poor policies that have alienated large sections of the population, and which have laid the basis for the growth of religious extremists. The call to put ‘all the nation’s efforts’ into the fight against terror can also serve as a convenient pretext to put an end to the strikes and social protests that are bubbling up in many sectors. It is part of the attempt to get rid of the legacy of the revolution and to restore a regime based on state terror.

Terror does not only have one face. It is also the continuation of torture in police stations and protesters being shot dead in the street, as in Dehiba in February. The majority of the Tunisian people do not want this type of terror either!

Most Tunisians have a legitimate aspiration for security. But the first, basic security is the right to have a regular job and a stable income, to be able to lead a decent life. This is denied for an increasing number of people. Tunisia has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and prices of basic items have jumped considerably. The policies of the new government – planning new cuts in state subsidies and other ‘pro-market’ measures – will only make matters worse.

Two years ago, during the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis, the CWI in Tunisia distributed a leaflet which said: "The growing misery in poor neighbourhoods feeds the soil from which the Salafists and jihadists recruit, especially among hopeless young people. If they do not see serious answers coming from the left quarters or from the trade union movement, the more desperate layers could fall prey to these reactionary demagogues. The only way the working class and the revolutionary youth can reach out to the masses of the have-nots is by creating a powerful national movement capable of fighting for the most pressing demands of all the oppressed".

As we are preparing for the 2015 World Social Forum, these words retain all their relevance. Indeed, the inability of the leadership of the working-class movement to provide a radical revolutionary alternative to the impasse of the capitalist crisis has provided the vacuum into which have stepped extremist groups in increasing numbers. Salafist and jihadist organisations invest much of their resources in the marginalised areas – from which the assailants of the Bardo came – where despair and mass unemployment are already doing half the work for them.

Chokri Belaid, a left leader murdered in February 2013, once commented: "You are afraid to go down the street? If only you knew what to expect if you stay at home!" The responsibility of rescuing the country from all forms of terror lies entirely in the hands of the working masses and youth. They share a genuine interest and desire in radically changing the state of things.

The assassination of the left leaders, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, was responded to immediately by two spectacular general strikes. Today, the UGTT union federation, the Popular Front and all the militant sections of the Tunisian left should take the lead and deploy their potentially considerable power to unite the masses behind a clear, class-based programme of action, independent from the current government. They should put forward a programme relying on the power of the organised working class and on the dynamism of the youth, with a view to carrying out deep social, economic and political change.

The most secure time in recent Tunisian history was when the masses, in their millions, ruled the streets and directly affected the country’s politics. The best traditions of our revolution in 2011, such as the building of revolutionary neighbourhood defence committees, should be revived. We cannot leave the struggle against terrorism and jihadism in the hands of the ruling establishment and its state apparatus, still infested with old regime supporters. The terrible sufferings that our Algerian brothers and sisters went through in the 1990s are testimonies to where this can lead.

It is time for mass mobilisation! The UGTT, the unemployed organisations, the left and the revolutionary youth must rally for mass action, but on their own terms. A call for a 24-hour general strike would be a good first step in this direction: for the unity of all workers, youth and the majority of the Tunisian people against terrorism and obscurantism. And also for the resolute defence of our democratic rights and for the building of a fight-back against the capitalist policies of social misery and state repression, which have contributed to the current situation.

Such a strike, coupled with street mobilisations across the country, would help to rebuild a mass struggle. It would put back centre stage the initial objectives of the revolution ‘for bread, jobs, and dignity’. That struggle can find its ultimate expression in the building of a democratic and socialist society, based on public ownership and working people’s democratic planning of wealth.

This is an edit of a statement by CWI-Tunisia

See the CWI website for the full version

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