To the outside world Tunisia, the small country that inspired the Arab world to revolt, is moving towards a substantive democracy. Protestors, from all walks of life, took to the streets of Tunisia and shouted with one voice” the people demand the fall of the regime”. Although the demands were crystal clear “jobs, freedom and dignity”, the current troika government – a coalition government formed by Ennahda after October 2011 elections- has been virtually paralyzed to concretize those demands. Those demands were vigorously championed by the current leadership back to the glorious days of the election campaigns. Today, the “legitimate government” is working day and night with an iron hand to deny those demands.
Impoverished under Ben Ali and still marginalized two years after the popular uprising, Siliana which is about 120km (75 miles) south of Tunis witnessed on Wednesday a second day of confrontations between the angry inhabitants of the city and the armed police forces which resulted in more than 200 injured people. Similar clashes took place in different parts of Tunisia especially in the interior regions since the elections brought the troika government to power. This kind of protest serves as a reminder to the government of the priorities of the people and the frustration over the slow improvements in development and economic prosperity. The hostile attitude of the government towards social protests has nonetheless escalated the people’s distrust of the social “renaissance” in the near future.
The crackdown on protesters did not deter the people of Siliana from demonstrating for a third straight day to demand the resignation of the governor, the release of the detainees who were arrested during the violent clashes that witnessed the same city in April last year and the implementation of projects which would boost development in the region. Trade unions have called on protests and the residents of Sililana turned in masses to the streets to make their voices heard. To alleviate the economic grievances of the people of Sililana, the police forces resorted to rubber bullets and pellet guns. According to the medics of the hospital of Sililana nineteen people were partially or totally blinded. The heartbreaking incident fueled more anger and disillusionment with the government that came to power through the ballot box.
What the ruling class doesn’t seem to understand is that their violent response to the social demands will trigger more determination on the part of the people to reclaim their lost revolution. It is often thought that the legacy of Ben Ali is dead, but the opposite is blatantly true. A close examination of the rhetoric of the coalition government leaders reveals that the same threatening tone of Ben Ali is still vibrant two years after the Tunisian people toppled the dictator. “There is no more “Dégage” (leave) and the governor of Siliana is here to stay”, says the prime minister of Tunisia Hamadi Jebali in a brief radio interview. To justify their failings, the government officials have often pointed to some conspiracy plots orchestrated by the “counter revolutionary” elements, rival political parties and the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) remnants (the former ruling party) to weaken the legitimate government, elected by the people to implement the goals of the revolution.
Only a few months ago, in August 2012, Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the so called” Arab Spring”, was home to violent clashes between the security forces and the people who staged sit-ins to demand the improvement of their quality of life. Once again tear gas and rubber bullets were the answer to tackle the frustration of the people over the worsening economic conditions. Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh accused the political parties and the opposition of manipulating the masses and urging them to demand their rights. In the eyes of the decision makers, the mere fact that the people exercise their right to protest and demand their economic rights was perceived again and again as a suspicious and orchestrated plot and never as a spontaneous and a leaderless protest. Exclusion from decision making, poor living conditions and high unemployment were among the chief driving forces to bring about masses to the streets; now still living almost in the same inhumane conditions, the people still demand social justice.
The ruling coalition is accusing everyone else of the ordeal that plagued the poor town of Siliana, and are not willing and hesitant to assume their own responsibility in the losses that followed the clashes. The government‘s mentality of victimhood is rooted in the belief that “us” the government and its supporters are the forces of virtue whereas “them” are the forces of evil who are hampering the progress of the agents of virtue. In a press conference held on Thursday, The head of Ennahda party political bureau ironically justified the use of weapons against the protesters to protect the public facilities and noted that the ammunition used to defend the governmental buildings in Siliana are imported from democratic countries. Does the fact of using weapons made in democratic countries, such as Italy or the US, legitimate the crackdown on protests demanding social justice?
The negative image of the brutality of the police forces or (the police of Ben Ali) is still vibrant in the minds and hearts of Tunisians. Unfortunately, reform in the institution of security forces seems to be moving in slow motion as everything else in this country. Human rights violations and abuses during protests and in jails still occur in Tunisia while the government turns a blind eye. The heavy use of tear gas and force in the demonstrations of April 9th 2012 raises the question of the true commitment of the legitimate government to human rights and the rule of law.
Recently, the World Bank and the African Development Bank have both announced sizeable loans to support Tunisia including aid for deprived regions. The World Bank loan is for $ 500 million and the African Development Bank loan is for $387.6 million. Will foreign aid bring about economic stability and prosperity to a country struggling to achieve freedom and social equality at the same time?
In the old days, Ben Ali and his clan miscalculated the will and strength of the people to shape their destiny. What will happen next is probably possible to predict, the recent past serves us as a guide. The Ben Ali regime relied on police and violence on large part to cling to power; the people relied on non-violent means of protests to reclaim power. The patience of the Tunisian people will eventually run out, they won’t tolerate bringing back the practices of the regime that they two years toppled. Tunisians broke down the wall of fear that had long deprived them of their dignity as human beings.
Meanwhile in the Presidential palace of Carthage, a Human rights advocate, who now serves as Tunisia’s first elected President, once said that “the government that turns its guns against its own people, loses its legitimacy”. Tunisia’s President, Moncef Marzouki, might be busy with hunging the Chatham House” Award that he recently won on the wall of his palace.