This week's window on the Middle East - July 23, 2012

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: Workers' strikes, the ongoing revolution from below

Arab Awakening
22 July 2012
  • Workers' strikes: the ongoing revolution from below
  • Syria headlines 2: decapitating Damascus
  • The day Syria came to Doha
  • ‘Too big to succeed’: a case of Sunni politics in Bahrain
  • Egypt’s stake in the Syrian revolution
  • Uncle Ramadan is back
  • Plenty of advice, little Tunisian information
  • Questioning the Tunisian Revolution, its Motives and Outcome
  • Workers' strikes: the ongoing revolution from below

    By Soha Farouk

    "Undoubtedly, the economic chaos witnessed by Egypt today is an inevitable outcome of the sins of a bygone era that reigned over the country for many years, spreading all kinds of corruption, fraudulence and neglect, disregarding the citizen, annihilating the economy and haemorrhaging the country's human and natural resources leading us to the brink of explosion which accelerated the glorious January, 25 revolution"

    This excerpt praising the Egyptian revolution and harshly attacking the former regime is not from a revolutionary activist’s exposé, as it may seem, but by one of the Mubarak regime business tycoons, an influential ex-member of the former ruling National Democratic Party. He was invited to a businessmen’s meeting by Morsi, the new president, to discuss investment sector reform. Ironically, in his suggested four-step action plan to reform the industry, protecting workers' rights was briefly mentioned at the end, in a very schematic and unconvincing way.

    In fact, either before or after Mubarak, workers' rights have rarely been placed at the top of the political agenda. Although their several strikes and protests since the 2000s are considered one of the first sparks of January 25 revolution, they failed to reap its fruits. Soon after the outbreak of the revolution, they succeeded in retrieving, partially, their right to organize and form independent trade unions by founding the Egyptian federation of independent trade unions enclosing thousands of new free unions. However, the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) with the same old corrupt figures striving to contain the independent unionists, was not dissolved. Divided and self-organized, with very poor financial and human resources, the newly formed unions are unable to counter bureaucratic ETUF power. Hence, empowered by the revolution, workers protests and sit-ins continue apace.

    Nevertheless, they have been accused by the media of disrupting the production cycle by protesting for their own rights as a sector, when what is required is the sacrifice of our own selfish interests in order to go back to work to rebuild the country's economy. Furthermore, SCAF has issued a new law to criminalize anyone participating in or calling for a strike or a sit-in that negatively affects the work of public institutions and threaten the country's security. Moreover, new trade union legislation, giving workers more freedom to form free associations and syndicates, was also blocked.

    On another note, although half of the parliament's seats are reserved for workers and peasants as stipulated by the constitution, workers, voicing labour demands, have so far had very weak representation in the post-Mubarak, democratically elected, and recently dissolved, People's Assembly, with 4% only of the total seats. Their interests were also neglected in the debates of the legislative and presidential electoral campaigns of both the liberal and Islamist forces. Support from the Freedom and Justice party, retaining the parliamentarian majority and presidential power, was limited to a few controversial statements, mediation to end strikes and even attempts to break them by force. Rather, the free-market-oriented party managed by liberal businessmen is more active now, and determined in the syndicates' elections to gain a good majority and control their boards. As for the constitution-drafting committee, ETUF members are the sole representatives of the workers interests, against a background of gathering calls for the abolition of the workers’ and peasants’ parliamentarian quota in the new constitution.

     The recent Mahallah textile workers strike has been followed by many other protests, all raising the same demands of a minimum wage, permanent contracts, health insurance and purge of the factories’ corrupt managers. This has revived the tug-of-war between Facebook-less protestors and the SCAF working alongside figures of the former regime. It has returned public attention to their struggle.

    While the bickering over power continues, with disputes between the liberal, Islamist and military forces stealing the show, the battle against the horrendous inequality that casts a deep shadow over Egyptian society, constitutes the last chance to push the revolution forward before being strangled by the capitalist forces dominating the economy. The more active and robust becomes the revolution from below, the closer we are to the rewards which lie in social justice.      

    Syria headlines 2: decapitating Damascus

    By Rita from Syria

    Manar was one of very few female employees who went to work on the morning of the July 18. The traffic on the streets of Damascus was light, and state institutions were open but half emptied of staff. Manar had brought her dog with her to work because she was afraid of not being able to return home safely. Her home lies in Mukhayam Al-Yarmouk, very close to where the most violent clashes between the Syrian army and the FSA had been witnessed the night before. However, she told me she was certain the end of the "crisis" was at hand because the regime forces had promised to bring an end to the fighting and restore calm to the capital within 48 hours.

    Manar is staunchly pro-regime and completely convinced by the regime's conspiracy narrative. Manar and others like her have little interest in the increasing number of casualties and imprisoned civilians; in their eyes they are all part of a foreign terrorist plot. Some continue to repeat a refrain which was heard at the beginning of the revolution: "Let's turn Der'aa into a potato field", only now Der'aa has been replaced by Homs, Rastan, Hajjar al-Aswad in Damascus. The list goes on. For the likes of Manar, protesters in these cities and towns are deemed to be of less value than a grubby potato.

    But what happened later that day does not seem to have been in line with Manar's expectations. The offices of National Security had been targeted in al-Rawda neighbourhood in the heart of Damascus. Reports were coming in that an explosion had completely destroyed the building killing key figures from the inner circle of President Bashar al-Assad. The targets had been men directly responsible for the killings and repression perpetrated by the Syrian regime on its people over recent decades and even more so since the beginning of the revolution in Syria.  Abu Mu'az , a spokesperson for the al-Sahaba battalion of the FSA claimed responsibility for the attack.

    This had been the second attempt to assassinate members of this inner circle which in the Orwellian New-Speak of the Ba’thist regime had been designated ‘anāsar Idaret al-azimah [The Elements of Crisis Management]. The first attempt took place two months ago when food prepared for them during one of their meetings was poisoned. There are conflicting reports as to the success of that attempt. While unofficial sources in the FSA claimed three casualties with the remainder in a critical condition receiving treatment at the Shami Presidential hospital, official Syrian television showed video clips of the very same officials carrying out their day-to-day duties and denied the attempt had ever taken place.

    It is interesting to note that Syrian state television, well-known for distorting facts and denying the existence of a mass-movement against the Syrian regime, was on this occasion quick off the mark to spread news of the assassination less than an hour after it had taken place. This was all the more surprising given that the attack at al-Rawda is a painful blow to the Syrian regime which may lead to a collapse in morale of its armed forced and security services. This has fuelled conjecture. An increasingly prevalent notion doing the rounds among some groups of Syrian activists is a sense of creeping doubt pointing to the existence of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Syrian regime. A quick glance at status updates on social networking sites used by activists seems to confirm this.

    All this is contrary to what was expected at the start of the day's events. It was hoped that the removal of the upper echelons of the regime would force the rapid withdrawal of the regular army and security services from their positions and create chaos in their ranks. Instead we have witnessed a show of strength from the regime with an unprecedented military escalation in the heart of Damascus. Tanks started rolling into densely populated neighbourhoods in most areas of the capital while helicopter gunships blighted the bright azure sky.

    An intensive military assault began on neighborhoods in the capital in the early hours of Thursday, July 19. The attack was most vicious on the neighbourhoods of Hajjar al-Aswad and al-Qaddam. Fighter planes bombed the funeral procession of the martyr Abdul Rahim Samour in Sayyida Zainab, located on the road to Damascus International Airport, resulting in a further 100 people being killed. For those who survived, there was no respite as the clashes continued and the mortar shells continued to rain down upon them. Some young men who had been seen celebrating the  attack on the National Security Office were attacked on the ring-road  in the South of  Damascus. Their bodies were left dumped by the roadside.

    The international community remains unable and unwilling to arrive at a unified position at the Security Council. Instead, it continues to propose illogical and ineffective initiatives. In the meantime, the Syrian street continues to count down the days - and we naively believed it would be days – to settle this dispute which has harvested the lives of so many Syrians. Some in the opposition ranks remain frightened by what they see as uncontrolled elements of the FSA 'brand'. On the other hand, regime supporters continue to back overwhelming state brutality as the means to crush the revolution. For millions of ordinary Syrians the terror knows no end. These are the headlines from Syria.

    The day Syria came to Doha

    By Michael Stephens

    Events in Syria this week took a dramatic twist with the explosion of a bomb which ripped through one of the most secure buildings in Damascus killing four of Bashar al Assad’s closest security advisors.

    This article is not about that, but the extraordinary scenes that I was fortunate enough to witness at the beating heart of Qatar’s soft power in the region, Al Jazeera, as the course of the day’s events unfolded.

    The day of the bombing, I spent much of the day at Al Jazeera Arabic in my capacity as a military and strategic analyst for my Institute, having been asked to provide analysis and comment on the rapidly changing military events that were taking place as the rebels made their push for Damascus. A busy, but otherwise not unusual day, given the severity of events. I prepared for the usual commentary lines discussing prospects for intervention, UN Security Council resolutions and whether the rebels could hold their recent gains.

    Then came the bomb, and everything changed. The station went into overdrive, with journalists and producers taking to the phones desperately trying to confirm what had happened. Information and rumours were rife and seemingly nothing could be verified, confusion was the order of the day. But all of a sudden the confirmed news of the death of Assad’s brother in law Assaf Shawkat filtered through.

    What followed were remarkable scenes; the Syrians in the news room erupted in joy. Shouts and cheers spread across the room, people jumped out of their seats and ran to each other embracing so tightly that one might confuse them for family or long lost lovers.

    One production assistant, Fahad, a resident of Idlib whose cousins had been detained and tortured for months by the Assad regime collapsed into the chair next to me and burst into uncontrollable tears. The pain of 18 months of death and suffering was it seems, too much for him to bear. The tears I can only assume were a mixture of both grief and joy, which my very British pats on the back did nothing to assuage. His colleagues helped him up, only for his legs once again to give way underneath him, as he fell hysterical at my feet.

    It is hard to forget the sight of these few men and women and their reactions, indeed something in the air changed that day. A sense perhaps that finally their country might see freedom after months of struggle, bloodshed and hard work to bring the stories out of Syria to ensure that the world had the chance to hear and see what was happening.

    Al Jazeera often gets blamed for agendaizing the Arab revolutions; imparting its stamp on the political affairs of other nations and twisting their direction in the shape of Qatar’s wants and needs. This may be true; it may not be true, but whatever the agenda of Al Jazeera as it pertains to the Syrian crisis, one thing is for certain, there was no agenda in Fahad’s tears, nor in the embraces of his colleagues.

    In a previous column I wrote that, ‘the Arab Spring will not come to Doha’. I was wrong, because for a brief few moments I saw the same passion, energy and emotion that lights the streets of Homs, Hama and Deir az Zour, and the joy that spread across swathes of Syria when some of their most hated oppressors met their untimely end. The pictures on the streets of Idlib were replicated inside the studio, the news was it seemed being made as much in Al Jazeera as it was in Syria itself.

    If the scenes which greeted the departure of Assad Shawkat were anything to go by, I cannot even begin to imagine the scenes when Assad finally, after so much bloodshed and pain, is relieved of his position and allows Syria once again to be free.

    ‘Too big to succeed’: a case of Sunni politics in Bahrain

    By Hasan Tariq AlHasan

    Less than three weeks ago, the predominantly Sunni political group dubbed The Gathering of National Unity (TGONU) released an important 14-page political statement in which it articulated its view on becoming a political movement independent of the government. The report, which took on a confrontational tone, comes a long way from February 2011 when TGONU emerged mainly as a Sunni response to the Shiite-dominant protests taking place at GCC (Pearl) Roundabout.

    Back then, TGONU represented a government-backed Sunni political alliance encompassing various political groups such as the Salafists (Al-Assala), the Muslim Brothers (Al-Menbar), Azharis[i], Arab Nationalists, and others. Today, owing to a number of internal rivalries, power struggles and a government effort to undermine it over the past year and a half, TGONU can hardly be described as much more than an Azhari-Arab Nationalist alliance with diminished mobilizing capacity.

    The report argued that the ruling establishment, acting through proxies such as the Salafist Al-Assala and the Muslim Brother Al-Menbar has endeavoured to nip in the bud any prospect for the crystallization of TGONU as an independent Sunni political group capable of making genuine demands for reform vis-à-vis the government. In effect, the possibility that the prospect might open up of a cross-sectarian alliance with the predominantly Shiite opposition capable of facing down the government, is nothing short of a political nightmare for the conservatives in the ruling establishment.

    Accordingly, although TGONU emerged at first sight in February and March 2011 as a potent alliance of different Sunni political groups, it soon manifested a number of internal rivalries that would subsequently lead to its disintegration. These rivalries quickly materialized in the debate over the form that the organization was to take. In a personal interview, Shaikh Abdulatif Al-Mahmood contended that while Al-Assala (Salafist) and Al-Menbar (Muslim Brotherhood) advocated a minimalist configuration, such as turning TGONU into a registered charity and maintaining it as an informal alliance respectively, Al-Mahmood himself alongside his supporters advocated registering the organization as a political society.

    Al-Mahmood and his allies, most of whom have a history of political activism, eventually prevailed. Their victory was even more evident as both the more government-loyalist Al-Assala and Al-Menbar failed to obtain almost any representation in TGONU’s Central Committee. Elections for the Central Committee held in July 2011 came to be dominated by the Azharis, such as Al-Mahmood himself and Shaikh Naji Al-Arabi, and Arab nationalists such as Ibrahim Hijris most of whom came from the Al-Jam’iyya Al-Islamiyya [The Islamic Society] and the Jam’iyyat Al-Wasat Al-Arabi  [Society of the Arabic Center] respectively.

    Soon enough, prominent Salafists and Muslim Brothers such as ex-MP Shaikh Nasser Al-Fadhala began announcing their resignation from the group. Supposedly, rival movements secretly applauded by the government such as the Sahwat Shabab Al-Fateh [Al-Fateh Youth Awakening] - a vocal group often discounted as a youth branch of the Bahraini Muslim Brotherhood – sprouted simultaneously, leading to considerable tensions with TGONU. As a result, the latter gradually witnessed its prominence on the Sunni political scene wither away.

    Today, TGONU’s recent political report accuses the ruling establishment of using it merely as a political tool against the opposition, albeit a tool that it now wishes to discard. Despite recent attempts to incorporate a greater youth element and to make a comeback on the political scene, it is difficult to imagine TGONU successfully evolving beyond the Azhari-Arab Nationalist alliance that is at its core today.

    Finally, the case of TGONU is an interesting one for it sheds some light on political dynamics within the Sunni community and how the ruling establishment in Bahrain deals with them. It confirms the notion that although conservatives within the ruling establishment will go to considerable lengths to ensure Shiite political movements are kept at bay, one can expect the establishment to be equally relentless in ensuring for itself an uncontested domination over its core Sunni constituency.

    Egypt’s stake in the Syrian revolution

    By Amro Ali

    When Tahrir Square was not playing host to Egypt’s revolutionary sequels, it became one of the chief unofficial nerve centres of the Syrian Revolution. Thousands of fleeing Syrians quickly connected with Egyptian activism, coordinated with the Syrian National Council (SNC), raised awareness amongst Egyptians, set up tents, launched weekly protests, collected donations, hosted conferences, pressured the nearby Arab League, and disseminated information from inside Syria with international media outlets and journalists based in Cairo.


    Syrians in Alexandria demonstrate against Bashar

    Syrian activities could be found in the shadow of the Arab League building and on the steps of the Alexandria’s library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. In various protest marches, Syrian flags compete with Egyptian flags and Syrian accents become increasingly audible.

    Syrian activism in Cairo developed major advantages over other regional capitals. Amman was overrun by Syrian intelligence operatives, Beirut saw Hezbollah and pro-Assad allies hand over Syrian activists and defecting soldiers back to the Syrian regime, and despite Turkey’s state-sanctioned benevolence towards the Syrian uprising (and Turkey has done much for the opposition), is suspected by key Syrian opposition figures of harbouring Turkish, some would say neo-Ottoman, designs on Syria’s future. The minority Kurds who feature prominently in the SNC are at the forefront of such suspicions.

    Cairo was a different story. The Syrian revolution came to the streets of Egypt with a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) busy with its own internal issues, and a public space that had become synonymous with civil disobedience and witnessed its own revolution. Three primary Syrian revolutionary movements set up shop: the Muslim Brotherhood induced Syrian Revolution Association in Egypt (SRAE), the moderate Dignity movement, and the non-political Syrian Freedom Youth. Syrian activism was facilitated by a favourable environment.

    Egyptian society has arguably declared ‘total war’ against the Assad regime. Numerous segments of the Egyptian public have thrown their weight behind “their” Syrian revolution and cheered for their team. Egypt’s ageing Nasserist generation, young liberal activists, Anti-Alawite Islamists alike, all supported the narrative of their counterparts on the Syrian revolutionary front. Not to mention Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who wish to see their franchise in Syria prevail.

    Often Egyptians cross societal lines in the interests of the Syrian revolution. In one case, an Egyptian friend of mine was requested by a Salafi group to feature in a pro-Syrian revolution awareness video. I asked him why he was chosen, given that he was neither a Salafi nor did he have a beard. He replied that was exactly why, as the more progressive elements of Egypt’s Salafi groups sought a consensus on the Syrian Revolution and having a “non-divisive” looking Egyptian would help push the Syrian revolution up the list of priorities for Egyptians.

    High up it is. According to a December 2011 Gallup poll, 56 per cent of Egyptians supported the Syrian uprising, 31 per cent said they were unsure, and 12 per cent said they were opposed to the Syrian protesters. Yet the 31 per cent should not be interpreted as support for Assad, it is regional instability that inspires the public’s assessment, particularly in the Coptic Church where people fear for their counter-parts at the hands of Islamists. Today, anecdotally, the support for the protests has considerably grown.

    Egyptian activists have been moonlighting the Syrian revolution due, in part, to dissatisfaction regarding their own revolution. Twitter feed noise shows Egyptians tweeting advice to their counterparts in Syria such as “Do not take photographs with tanks (@MYousrySalama)” and “Don't forget Bashar's wife. She should be buried with him. Do not leave her free and do what some idiots I know have done (@esraamahfouz).”

    Egypt’s high politics have also taken on the cause with earnest. Last February, members of the SNC entered Egypt’s parliament to a rapturous welcome and bearing the Syrian freedom flag, the first time in living memory that a non-Egyptian flag was brought into parliament.

    Something about Assad’s Syria taps deep into the fears of the Egyptian psyche: the republican heredity succession that started in Damascus when Bashar inherited power from his father in 2000 threatened to spill over into Egypt too. The Mubarak family at least saw a precedent, and what followed were years of policies and manoeuvers designed to pave the way for Gamal Mubarak’s succession to the throne. Bashar’s ominous face always loomed in Egypt’s media and public discourse of what awaited Egypt’s future.

    The subtext exhibits a powerful historical romanticism – past dynasties and dictatorships, from Saladin to Gamal Abdel-Nasser that united Syria and Egypt have fuelled a pan-Arabism from below that now challenges elite-driven pan-Arabism from above. This is underpinned by the unspoken ethos of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, in which one Arab society needs to aid another Arab society against their respective dictatorships.

    This is nurturing a symbiotic relationship between the post-revolutionary states of Egypt and soon to be Syria. Egypt perceives Syria as a partner (albeit a slightly junior one) that it needs if it is to fulfil regional ambitions that are yet to take shape. At first glance, this mayseem unlikely, given SCAF’s lack of imagination and lacklustre policies. Yet Egypt’s military establishment are growing weary of a rising Turkey and Iran that marginalises Egypt’s regional role. This partially explains why Syrian activism in Egypt is tolerated by them.

    Furthermore, there is a growing discourse in Egypt’s media, academia, and across the political spectrum on what Egypt’s role should be in the region and how to revive its soft power. Syria prides itself as the co-author of Arab ideas and cultural works, yet it requires heavyweight Egypt - its complex social structures and dynamic agencies - to disseminate such trends throughout the Arab world.

    There is a long way to go though. Egypt’s economic dire straits need major fixing and Syria’s road to political stabilisation will be long. Yet the pages of the future look more blank than before with an emerging generation of Arabs in possession of ink-filled pens. Which Arabs hold onto those pens is the next question.

    Uncle Ramadan is back

    By Karim Adel

    Uncle Ramadan is back and to Egyptians he’s back after what seems like a long while…

    Although it’s an annual event this is the first time in two years that we celebrate without any turmoil and under a civil president… so it’s just safe to say Uncle Ramadan is not going to sleep while he's with us this year…


    Traditional Ramadan Lanterns displayed on Egyptian streets

    You can see him walking down the old ancient alleys in the Al Hussein area in Islamic Cairo making sure all the colourful lights are hung well from building to building, he's making sure all the giant colourful lanterns are hanging on every balcony…

    He's passing from home to home to make sure everyone, poor or rich gets a chance to eat after sun set…

    He makes sure all those who have money have gathered some to give out to the poor and that every area and street has at least one charity group meal, set up for the poor and homeless every day of the 30 days of fasting…

    He's double checking to see if the Mesaharaty is awake to walk down in his neighbourhood beating the drum one hour before dawn to wake up everyone to go grab a last bite before the next day’s fasting starts..

    What’s left? Oh yes, we have to pass by the bakery and make sure all the Konafas are done well, imagine how unhappy us Egyptians will be without a great Konafa dessert after Iftar Uncle Ramadan…it remains a mystery to me how they turn dough into those long delicious golden strings..

    What? OK Uncle. I will turn on the radio for you. I know this is a month of ritual for you, especially in Egypt, where a week mustn’t go by without hearing the Holy Quran being recited in Sheikh Refaat’s voice, that voice that comes right from his soul without the need of vocal cords… such small things are what makes this month different in Egypt from anywhere else on the planet…

    I know how much you missed us Uncle Ramadan, last year, when you tried to visit but the streets were full of blood, and our air was filled with anger and tear gas.. We tried to welcome you to join us in Tahrir, but our own military, our own flesh and blood attacked us and tore down our tents and beat us up… and when some of us tried to hide in the mosque next to the Tahrir compound, they dragged them out by force in the Holy Month, during the daytime hours of fasting while they were yelling Allahu Akbar!

    I know what you saw last year was so disgusting to sit through and I know you had to leave and all of your beautiful rituals were taken away with you. All you left us with was a reminder that we can have faith and we can carry out our basic rituals and not to forget that God will be on our side. That faith left many of us in the past year…

    But luckily for us some of us didn’t lose it and it’s because of them that God is still taking care of this region and of us as people….

    This year Uncle Ramadan we are enjoying you the way Egyptians always specially enjoyed you, in joy, faith and peace..

    This year we will use your presence to increase that faith that tomorrow will be better..

    And as a gift, you arrive here with the great news that our brothers in Syria are approaching their long-awaited freedom and that Damascus is now free and that Bashar has fled to a coastal city. Well, we have a request Uncle Ramadan, before you leave us this year, take him and Mubarak and all that evil circle of men with you, help us make this place the happy peaceful place it once was…

    We hope we can both enjoy your stay this year and enjoy each others’ presence..

    Your birthday is the same day that God created earth and that God revealed to Jesus that he will be the Messiah and it’s also the month that God started revealing the holy Quran to Prophet Mohammed…

    Your last 10 days of your visit is a time where the gates of heaven are open and all prayers are answered, so it’s a month that should be celebrated by all humanity..

    Therefore I’ll pass on your message to everyone else and tell them, no matter what religion…  pray well this month, God listens to all and the whole world needs prayer now…

    Ramadan Karim to everyone…

    Plenty of advice, little Tunisian information

    By Kacem Jlidi

    The Troika’s three presidents, who can hardly get their act together, each have a different agenda for the next elections.

    Mustapha Ben Jaafar, President of the National Constituent Assembly was the first to speak out. He recommended that the elections be held on March 20, 2013, six months after finalizing the draft of the country’s new constitution, anticipated to take place on October 23,2012.

    On the other hand, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has recently rejected that day without explaining the reasons for the postponement or suggesting an alternative date. He is probably enjoying his duties and wants to extend his provisional job as chief of government.

    As for the provisional President of the Republic, Moncef Marzouki, he thinks it is better that the elections take place earlier than expected.

    Current disharmony among the Republic’s leaders is fuelling suspicion and does not help to stabilize the overall situation or save the economy. ‘Tunisia’s political transition will need to be accompanied by rapid economic regeneration if it is to be truly successful’, has commented Chris O’Connor, UK’s Ambassador to Tunisia.

    Tunisia’s priority, according to Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt in his speech at a Wilton Park conference in London, is to ensure economic growth and provide jobs for young people; a pressing demand that can be solved in part by developing and investing in regional trade within North Africa, developing the Maghreb’s economic potential and encouraging intra-regional co-operation.

    ‘A striking feature of North Africa is that its countries each have closer trade links outside the region than within it. Over 70% of their imports and exports are with Europe while only 4% are with each other. But their economies are highly complementary, some with large energy reserves, others with strong service industries, agriculture or industry. Most economists agree that increasing connectivity between these countries would benefit all of them’, added O’Connor.

    Meanwhile, Tunisians need to be informed of the government’s roadmap and I think they need to elect a more stable government in the shadow of a comprehensive constitution that guarantees every body’s basic rights, and acts in the direction of encouraging free trade and circulation and developing entrepreneurship.

    The original date for holding the elections, October 23, 2012, was previously proposed by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi. The date was agreed on by at least a dozen political parties who signed a document, including Ennahdha and Ettakatol, two of the parties forming the Troika.

    Questioning the Tunisian Revolution, its Motives and Outcome

    By Ahmed Medien

    More than a year and half passed since thousands of Tunisian went to street to oust ex-president Ben Ali and his totalitarian regime. Poverty and unemployment has risen since then. Tunisia hasn’t changed much from the police state that it has always been, and the people aren’t satisfied with the outcome of their revolution.

    Just recently, Tunisian police were reported attacking journalists, two cartoonists were thrown in jail for 7 years in jail and citizens still complain about state abuse whether administrative, financial or more often physical.


    Abuses that would never be accepted in other western democracies are still tolerated in Tunisia. The problem: people get used to the status quo. A minority does speak out, but they always fail to rally support from society at large.

    There is no excuse, however, for the failing economy in Tunisia and the unimplemented reforms. It is untrue that the Tunisian revolution had no leadership. Political opposition has existed since the formation of the modern state of Tunisia in the 1950’s. But the very fact that these people couldn’t bring about the changes that they’ve been talking and writing about for decades suggests that they should do their people a favour and resign.

    To be fair, the problem now in Tunisia isn’t confined to the politicians that people elected freely on October 23. Of the chants that were taken up in the 3-month span between December 2010 and March 2011, “Employment, Freedoms, National dignity” may seem clear at first. But on a closer look it is hard to know if the third term is meant to emerge from the previous two, and equally unclear who the Tunisian people were addressing with these words.

    Was the Tunisian revolution an attempt by the Tunisian people to take power for themselves and give themselves new freedoms? Or did they just want to be rid of the-then regime, while still maintaining the same kind of bully state that they had been living under for almost 60 years?

    The fact is, not all of the Tunisian people voted to empower themselves. In fact if you look at it more closely, most Tunisians are loosely-speaking ‘socialist’ whether under European or Nasserist Pan-Arab influence. Many still want the government to employ them, feed them, and take care of them. Others want the state to interfere with people’s liberties and dictate what is politically correct or not.

    The result is major state interference in people’s lives, moral choices and money-making. Nobody is going to be happy any time soon.  Collectivism will never lead the Tunisian people or the Tunisian state to any better place. But so far, nobody has dared to criticize the Tunisian revolution or the decisions of the Tunisian people.

    As a Tunisian student who is a fervent admirer of the American and French revolutions, the Tunisian revolution does not meet my standards. Right now I can only compare it to the Russian revolution in 1991. If that hunch is correct, it will dissipate itself in just a couple of decades.

    Many fascist countries in this world do allow their people to elect their representatives through universal elections. Iran does too; but is that the freedom of which the Tunisian people were dreaming?

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