Hundreds of thousands marched today in
the streets of the main cities and towns of Tunisia against the
Gannouchi government and demanding a Constituent Assembly
Hundreds of thousands marched today in
the streets of the main cities and towns of Tunisia against the
Gannouchi government and demanding a Constituent Assembly. According to
the revolutionary youth which has taken the initiative of these
demonstrations, 250,000 marched in the capital Tunis alone, and another
100,000 in other cities (video of demonstration in Sfax).
A police source in Tunis gave the figure for demonstrators in the
capital at “over 100,000”. The Red Crescent said that this was “the
largest demonstration since the fall of Ben Ali”.
demonstrators marched through Bourghiba Avenue and to the Kasbah
Esplanade, outside the offices of the Prime Minister. As a matter of
fact, Gannouchi has had to move to the presidential Palace of Carthage,
chased by the constant demonstrations of the revolutionary youth, the
workers, the unemployed, etc. A massive banner presided the rally:
“Sit-in until the dissolution of the government”. The main slogans
shouted by the masses were “Gannouchi, dégage” (Gannouchi out), “RCD
dégage”, “Enough farces”, “Shame on this government”. Revealing the
internationalist character of the movement there were also shouts of
“Thawra Tunis, Thawra Masr, thawra thawra hatta’l nasr” (“revolution in
Tunis, revolution in Egypt, revolution until victory”) and in support of
the Libyan revolution against Gaddafi. (video, picture gallery).
This is an extraordinary resurgence of the movement which shows that
the enormous revolutionary upsurge which overthrew the hated Ben Ali on
January 14, has not dissipated. Immediately after the revolutionary
people had achieved that first victory, which cost the lives of many
martyrs, the ruling class and the politicians of the old regime started
to plot behind the scenes in order to make sure that although the
dictator had gone, the regime would remain untouched.
In reality, the problem that the ruling class in Tunisia faced – and
still faces – is that Ben Ali was not just a dictator, but his family
clan completely dominated all aspects of life and particularly large
parts of the economy. A thorough democratic cleansing of the old regime
represents a threat to the whole of the capitalist system.
First of all they created a “new” government of national unity where
all the key ministers were Ben Ali ministers, adding a few official
“left” opposition parties, one blogger and a few trade union figures to
give it some legitimacy. Showing a sharp revolutionary instinct the
masses did not fall for this. Within 24 hours, pressure from below
forced the UGTT trade union to withdraw from this farce of a government.
A series of massive regional general strikes forced Gannouchi to remove
the majority of RCD ministers from the government on January 27 and
then announce the dissolution of the RCD itself.
The UGTT bureaucracy then accepted this government. Again, the masses
did not fall for that. Gannouchi was still the Prime Minister but he
was a prominent representative of the old regime. To add insult to
injury, his government appointed new regional governors in order to
wrest power away from the different revolutionary committees which had
emerged during the revolution and which had in effect taken power in the
regions. Of these 24 “new” governors 19 had links to the old regime!
Mass demonstrations against them forced them to flee under Army
These mobilisations were combined with a wave of strikes, wildcat
walkouts, the physical removal of managers and directors linked to Ben
Ali in state owned companies and ministries, etc. The removal of Ben Ali
opened up the lid for all the pent up frustration which had accumulated
for decades. The UGTT bureaucracy was unable to stop this wave of
strikes, despite repeated public appeals by its general secretary
Abdessalem Jerad, who had been a Ben Alí loyalist right until the end.
He even went as far as to say that those calling the strikes were
“agents of the RCD, intent on causing chaos” and threatened to take
action against those trade union federations who did not follow the
The Tunisian revolution started with a combination of democratic,
social and economic slogans. The revolutionary youth which sparked the
movement were fighting for jobs, bread, against repression and for
dignity. The removal of Ben Ali was a first victory of the movement, but
they now want solutions to their demands. Empty talk about a new
constitution drafted by a panel of experts, rebuilding the country all
together and so-called “committees for the protection of the revolution”
will not give them jobs or bread. What makes them particularly angry is
that all the symbols of the old regime are still in place, starting
with the president Gannouchi who on February 20 declared that all
demonstrations would be banned.
On January 20 there was a massive demonstration by tens of thousands
which again marched to the Kasbah where a large number of youth decided
to organise a new sit-in (video).
Their demands are clear: a clean break with the old regime, the
dismissal of the Gannouchi government and a Constituent Assembly elected
by the people to decide the future of the country.
In order to try to divert, once again, the attention of the masses,
the UGTT corrupt leaders together with “left” legal parties and “civil
society” associations were putting the pressure on for the formation of a
“Council for the Protection of the Revolution”. Despite its grand
sounding name, which was designed to attempt to fool the masses, the aim
of such a committee was clear: to "give the new government its
legitimacy", according to the leader of the Democratic Forum for Labour
and Liberties (FDTL – legal opposition under Ben Ali) Khalil Zaouia. The
question that arises is, who is going to compose such a committee and
who is going to elect its members. The idea of the UGTT and FDTL leaders
was to exercise some sort of supervision over the Gannouchi government
in order to make the masses think that their interests were being
Immediately, all government parties refused such an idea. There is
already a government, they argued, why should there be another body
above it or next to it to supervise its work. The main problem remains
unsolved from the point of view of the ruling class: neither the
government nor the Committee or Council have any legitimacy amongst the
masses; particularly because they are completely unable to solve any of
the urgent demands of the masses who carried out the revolution.
The January 14 Front, a coalition of left wing and left nationalist
organisations, the main component of which is the Tunisian Communist
Workers ‘Party (PCOT), has been unable to channel the growing anger
against the Gannouchi government. Although the Front has an advanced
programme, which demands the downfall of the government, a constituent
assembly, the expropriation of the representatives of the old regime and
a national revolutionary convention, it has failed to take any
initiative to actually organise a movement to fight for these demands.
The Front even had a massive rally on February 12, with 8,000 in
attendance – very impressive and enthusiastic meeting, but it was just a
rally, nothing was decided, nothing was proposed.
The January 14 Front has threatened to call a national convention in
defence of the revolution. Such a body, if made up of elected
representatives from the revolutionary committees in the different
towns, regions, workplaces and schools, could lay the basis for a
revolutionary government representing the real will of the people.
However, the Front, and the PCOT as its strongest force, has just talked about it, rather than actually convening
such a meeting. Alma Allende, who has been sending regular chronicles
from the revolution, related the following incident. On February 20,
when tens of thousands filled the Kasbah and started the new sit-in, two
members of the Front arrived “to find out who had organised the
occupation.” “Reality moves faster than us” admitted Front members. This
is a sorry state of affairs. A genuine communist party must prove it is
worthy of its name by providing leadership to the masses. Having
the right slogans is an important part of leadership, but in a
revolutionary situation, a communist organisation must also give
What is most amazing is that in this situation, faced with the
attempts of all legal political parties to fool the masses through
different tricks, and the failure of the anti-government left to offer
any practical alternative, the revolutionary people have maintained such
a level of mobilisation. This shows an extremely high level of
consciousness on the part of the Tunisian workers and revolutionary
Starting with the reoccupation of the Kasbah on February 20, a new
wave of demonstrations has swept Tunisia. The participation of the youth
has been key, especially high school students which have come out, day
after day in their tens of thousands, providing the backbone of the
movement. All this work of leafleting, postering, word of mouth,
coordinated over facebook and twitter (with groups like Takriz playing a
key role) has culminated in the massive demonstration today. The
demonstrations have affected the whole country and during the week there
have been almost daily protests in Gabés (February 21), Ben Guerden (February 21), Monastir (February 21), Sfax (February 22), Redeyef (February 22), Kairouan (February 23), Sousse (February 23), Djerba (video) and many others.
The mood against Gannouchi as a representative of the old regime is
widespread and deep-rooted. An opinion poll on February 24 showed that
50.6% of the population were dissatisfied with the government (and only
33% had a favourable opinion). The same poll showed that 62% of the
people put unemployment at the top of their list of worries. Even more
revealing was the fact that more than 83% do not identify with any of
the existing parties! This shows the extent of the discrediting of all
the parties that were legal under Ben Ali, as people quite rightly
identify them as part of his regime.
It is interesting to note that the Islamic party Ennahdha was only
supported by 3.1% of the people in this poll, demolishing the idea
promoted by bourgeois commentators that in these countries it was a case
of supporting pro-Western dictators in order to prevent the rise of
Islamic fundamentalism to power. On Saturday, February 19th there was also a large demonstration, with a strong presence of women, defending the secular character of Tunisian society.
The mobilisation today was impressive, but the question arises: what
next? The overthrow of Ben Ali was not carried out just with mass
demonstrations, but with massive strikes in every region. The same was
the case when the revolutionary movement forced the removal of many of
the RCD ministers. Mass demonstrations will probably not be enough to
bring down Gannouchi. They need to be linked to regional strikes
culminating in a national strike which brings to the fore the question
of “who rules the country: the illegitimate government or the
The fact that the UGTT leadership accepted the second Gannouchi
government should not fool us. Regional federations and national unions
which represent a majority of the UGTT voted against the decision. It is
the task of revolutionary trade union militants at all levels of the
union to force a reversal of that decision and also to start the task of
cleansing the UGTT itself of agents of the old regime, starting with
Another important question that needs to be answered is: if the
government falls what is going to replace it? The revolutionary
committees which already exist need to be strengthened, spread to every
neighbourhood, workplace, school and university, give themselves fully
democratic structures and functioning, and linked up at local, regional
and national level through elected and recallable representatives. In
the current conditions, the convening of a national assembly of
delegates from the revolutionary committees could be the basis for a
provisional revolutionary council which could be tasked with convening a
democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly. Such an assembly
would be able to decide the future of the country in a fully democratic
way, sweeping aside all structures of the old regime.
These revolutionary committees, as is already the case in many
places, should be in charge of running everyday day life and all public
affairs (service delivery, public order, mobilisation, information,
etc.). In other words, the committees, as the only legitimate
representatives of the Tunisian people, need to take power and remove
the illegitimate government of Gannouchi.
The task of the revolutionary reorganisation of Tunisian society
should start with the confiscation of the wealth and property of the
Trabelsi clan and the renationalisation of all the companies privatised
by the Ben Ali regime. This wealth should be put under democratic
workers’ control and could provide the basis for a massive plan of
public works, the building of hospitals, schools, roads and
infrastructure, which would start to address the problems of
unemployment and poverty.
The Tunisian revolution has already served as an inspiration for the
revolutionary wave which is sweeping the whole of the Arab world. If it
manages to remove not only the dictator but also the whole edifice of
the capitalist system he served, then its example would be followed by
the millions of workers and youth who are finally removing the chains of
exploitation and oppression which have shackled them for decades and
- Down with Gannouchi!
- Down with the old regime!
- Revolutionary cleansing of the UGTT!
- General strike and mass demonstrations!
- For a national convention of the revolutionary committees to elect a provisional revolutionary council!
- A Revolutionary Constituent Assembly!
- All power to the revolutionary people!
The latest news from Tunisia is that after the massive demonstrations
today, the Gannouchi government has announced that there will be
elections "at the latest in mid-July". This is yet another attempt to
defuse the movement of the revolutionary workers and youth. The current
government has no legitimacy to call elections. Before there can be any
genuine democratic elections all the institutions of the old regime must
be brushed aside. The Tunisian workers and youth have the right to
decide what kind of regime they want to give themselves, through a
democratically elected revolutionary constituent assembly. While waving
the elections carrot in one hand, the Gannouchi government has also used
the stick, sending in the police (the same police force of Ben Ali) to
fire tear gas canisters against the demonstrators outside the Ministry
of Interior and the army to fire warning shots.