24 Dead in Tunisia Clashes; US Ambassador Called In

Some 24 persons have been killed in clashes between protesters and government security forces in Tunisia. The government has closed schools and universities “indefinitely” as a way of demobilizing youthful protesters.

The Arabic press is reporting that Tunisia has called the US ambassador on the mat, and has called back its own ambassador in Washington, to protest statements by US officials that were critical of the regime’s actions and called for adherence to human rights norms.

The troubles broke out this winter when two unemployed workers in turn committed protest suicides. The permit of one as a street vendor had been pulled, and he was unable to get other work, and the government office concerned refused to meet with him. Students struck in solidarity with the unemployed, as have most attorneys, and now the situation has spiraled out of control. The students mind not only the high unemployment but the restrictions on civil liberties imposed by the secular, Arab nationalist regime. The regime of Zain Bin Ali, like that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, is a hybrid. It has a heritage in the Arab nationalism of the 1950s. But it has also been kept going by a cozy corporatism of army, business and cvilian politicians, and by an iron fist in a velvet glove, and has developed neo-liberal tendencies that benefit the rich and upper middle class but leave substantial numbers of farmers and urban workers out of the new prosperity.

Zain Bin Ali has responded by promising to put college graduates, who have been out of work for 2 years, into a new job, and to create 300,000 jobs over all. He labeled the protesters “terrorists.”

The question is whether Tunisia is a harbinger of things to come in other sclerotic nationalist regimes such as Egypt and Syria.

Note that since the Tunisian crisis has to do with labor unions, unemployment, class anxieties, and a student youth movement rather than with Islam; and since the Tunisian government is counted as a firm US ally, the American mass media is largely ignoring this story. Ordinarily if it bleeds, it leads; but not when it is about class instead of about race or religion, since the latter categories are the only ones useful to monopoly capital in keeping ordinary people divided and distracted.

Aljazera English has a video report:

The unemployed also commit suicide, at a rate 2 to 3 times greater than ordinary in the United States. In the US, workers are no longer organized by labor union (it is only about 12% that are). The unions were broken in the US, starting with Ronald Reagan. Thus, despite high unemployment, Americans now lack the organization to protest the way in which everyday workers have been badly treated while the bankers who caused the financial meltdown in 2008 have largely skated free, and, indeed been rewarded with hundreds of billions of dollars from the tax monies of the workers whose lives they destroyed.

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9 Responses

  1. RE your latest post concerning lack of union rep, and MSM
    (non)reporting of class vs. race/religion disturbances–
    take a look at “Stayin’ Alive–The 1970s and the last
    days of the working class,” by Jefferson Cowie.

  2. This snowballing tendecy to label any kind of dissent as “terrorist” is very troubling, given the growing body of laws that target anything so labeled.

    • A few years ago, protesters tended to be called “communists” or “reds.” Today they are “terrorists.” Earlier, they once were called “anarchists” (disrupters of the public order). Name-calling or labeling is a wonderful propaganda device that greatly assists us in avoiding thinking about the issues at stake and empowers us to react emotionally rather than rationally. The powers that be generally tend to discourage rational thinking, as such an approach might encourage disruptions of the comfortable status quo.

  3. “… the American mass media is largely ignoring this story. Ordinarily if it bleeds, it leads …”

    Well said, I think.

    The only thing I would add is not only “… keeping ordinary people divided and distracted” but frustrated as well.

  4. Is there such a thing as “monopoly capital?” Baran, Sweezy’s and others’ analyses are subject to a devastating critique. It may be shown that the phenomena associated with monopoly are found to be consistent with real capitalist competition.

    Monopoly makes sense only in the context of the other end of the spectrum from a theoretical chimera known as “perfect competition.”

  5. Thank you. Class warfare is the root of so many problems. There is no more “pie to grow”, we will have to share like never before. This will get ugly.

  6. Just a few years ago some fools were praising Tunisia’s brand of secularism and economic liberalization. Don’t hear any of those people now, but of course they were always hypocrites to begin with.

    Everything one needed to know about the Western world and democracy was learned in 1992, when every single Western government approved the suppression of the internationally observed elections in Algeria.

  7. I just got done chatting with a friend in Tunisia and he characterized the protests as “the revolution” to bring down Ben Ali. He said that the country was under curfew and humvees were patrolling the streets. He also said that the government was trying to hold onto power by shooting protesters because the entire country is against the government. Furthermore, he heard that Ben Ali’s family had fled the country and the chief of the army was replaced by the chief of intelligence because he refused to order the army to put down the protests.

    A big part of this story is how people are organizing over social networks in order to coordinate. My facebook news feed has been exploding over the past week with videos of the protests and pictures of the dead.

    I hope this story starts to gain traction in the US media, I think this could be the big push that makes Tunisia a democracy (is the 4th wave far off?). The country is already secular and western, the only thing left is the authoritarian government.

  8. Your analysis and comparisons are so well perceived! I would however include all the Arab regimes and not just Syria and Egypt.

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