TUNISIA: Journalist Suicide Sparks Mass Uprisings

By Mike Talavera

Eight years since a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire sparking what would come to be known as the Arab Spring, the self-immolation of Tunisian journalist Abderrazk Zorgui on Monday has provoked another wave of protests across the country.

In the town of Kasserine, also the site of the 2010 self-immolation, Zorgui posted a video online shortly before killing himself. He condemned the corruption of the Tunisian government and lamented the poverty he and other Tunisians currently face.

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“For the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution,” Zorgui said in the video.

The National Union of Tunisian Journalists had called for a general strike on January 14, 2018 to commemorate the beginning of the Arab Spring and to renew demands for better working conditions.

In the past two weeks, people have revolted in the cities of Kasserine, Jbeniana, and Tebourba. Protesters have hurled rocks at the police, injuring several, and the state has fired tear gas at the crowds and arrested at least 18 people.

Zorgui and the masses who have risen up have expressed frustration with the broken promises of the revolts that began in 2010. Tunisia is praised by imperialists as the most modern Arab country, and bourgeois analysts tout the so-called 2011 revolution as a successful and largely non-violent overthrow of a corrupt leader, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was even awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition of labor unions, professional associations, and non-governmental organizations, for “its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Tunisian Revolution of 2011.”

Imperialists were happy to applaud the relatively peaceful transition of power in Tunisia even as they capitalized on the turmoil and disorder that ravaged the other countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

In the case of neighboring Libya, the United States intervened militarily, resulting in the Libyan government’s present split.

Spearheaded by then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the United Nations froze Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s assets on February 26, 2011, and in the following months imposed a “No-Fly Zone,” a euphemism for a US-enforced aerial occupation which eventually turned into an outright bombing campaign.

The so-called rebels were able to seize the capital of Tripoli thanks to the air support, and shortly after captured, beat, stabbed, and shot Gaddafi to death. Clinton was informed of Gaddafi’s death during a CBS interview, and in response joked, “We came, we saw, he died!”

The lack of Communist leadership among the armed groups that revolted against Gaddafi resulted in chaos after the 2011 victory, leading to an ongoing civil war that continues to encumber the Libyan people.

The US and its entourage the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) did not stop with Libya in their imperialist crackdown of the Arab Spring. Syria, another Arab Spring country, became the site of a proxy war between the US and Russia, the imperialist clash claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and displacing millions of the masses. Yemen, which also saw protests in 2011, also became a war zone for imperialists and is currently being assaulted and plundered by US ally Saudi Arabia, supplied by US arms.

Bourgeois pundits claim that the Tunisian 2011 revolts avoided the instability witnessed in the other Arab Spring countries due to the strength of Tunisian labor unions. Tunisia’s independence from the French occupation in 1956 was brokered by the Neo Destour Liberal Party, supported by this same legacy of labor unions.

In essence, labor unions serve to negotiate piecemeal concessions for the working class without ever challenging the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This compromising political stance dominated Tunisia’s struggle for independence, which turned out to only be nominal.

In the years since being permitted its autonomy,  the Tunisia government has politically been under the thumb of US imperialism. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has dictated its economic policies, instigating the bread riots of the 1980s and other revolts leading up to 2011.

The 2011 Tunisian uprising did not alter this relationship with US imperialism, and likewise its political and economic oppression also remains unchanged. The revolution called for by Zorgui must be led by communists who must struggle to consolidate the Communist Party in Tunisia.

Without this ideological leadership, the masses of Tunisia will fall back into the vicious cycle of oppression at the hands of the US imperialism.