The call for change and revolution from Tunisia has spread to other countries of the region, especially Egypt, where we have witnessed huge demonstrations of 15,000 to 50,000 people, throughout the country against the regime.
The demonstrations were organised by the "Movement of April 6" and other groups who called for a "day of revolt against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment."
Violent clashes between police and protesters lasted into early Wednesday morning, as security services sought to disperse a crowd of thousands that had planned to sleep in Tahrir Square in central Cairo. The "Movement of April 6", which was one of the initiators of the demonstration on Tuesday, called for a second day of mobilisation on Wednesday in Egypt; the latest reports estimate that several thousand people gathered in Cairo and throughout the country.
On Tuesday, two protesters died in the port city of Suez, east of Cairo, and one policeman was also killed, while security officials also said that 250 protesters had been wounded and another 200 arrested.
On its Facebook page, the group called on Egyptians to gather at the main square in Cairo, where 10,000 people, according to official figures, had already demonstrated on Tuesday. The role of cyber activists was very important in the mobilisation of protesters, in the spread of information, and as a way of voicing their opinions.
In 2008, according to the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, of approximately 160,000 blogs in Egypt, 20 percent were political in nature. These blogs have continually attracted popular attention, by criticising public officials and their practices, as well as denouncing torture and human rights violations by state security forces. The Egyptian regime today temporarily shut down Twitter and Facebook.
Neither the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition political party in the country, which has a strong capacity to mobilise, nor the Wafd, the first secular opposition party, have issued formal calls to march, but indicated that their young activists could join the procession. The Communist Party Tagamou did the same.
Egypt suffers from worse socio-economic patterns than Tunisia, with IMF and World Bank policies having been implemented in the country since the 1970s under a regime governed by Sadat. Since then, the Egyptian government has been systematically dismantling the social services of the state and increasing privatisation.
On a social level youth have suffered from the economic reforms made by the Egyptian government to attract foreign investment and develop exports. These reforms were able to boost macroeconomic figures, but the consequences of the social situation in the country were harsh and costly for the majority of Egyptians. The suppression or the diminution of subventions, particularly for basic necessities, combined with inflation of around 10 percent over the past few years, has resulted in harsher life conditions for the Egyptian population.
The issue of unemployment is also important: since 2000 the right for an automatic job for graduates was once again reconsidered (in the 1970s the government had already weakened its position on this issue). This stemmed from the Egyptian government's will to encourage the private sector to play a greater role in the creation of jobs. Unfortunately, despite an increase in education enrollment, poor educational standards and an educational system poorly attuned to the needs of the labor market, is the rule. These elements, together with an unwillingness to provide jobs and a weak education system, have produced high unemployment and underemployment levels among youth.
83 percent of unemployed people are between 15-29, and 47 percent between the ages of 20 and 24. Youth with secondary education or above constitutes 95 percent of unemployed youth. In addition to high unemployment levels, youth also suffer from underemployment. Around 72 percent of labor market entrants are employed in the informal and low wage sector.
In addition to this social degradation, sanitary levels are deteriorating, and health systems have witnessed an increase in diseases that were once nearly eradicated; this is particularly linked to malnutrition and to poor quality water.
Students and workers in particular have suffered from these neoliberal economic policies, just as in Tunisia, and this is why they were the two main actors in the demonstrations on Tuesday; so it was with al Mahala al Kobra, when students and workers came out in a joint demonstration in April 2008.
Egyptians are now challenging the authoritarian regime of Mubarak, which implemented these destructive policies. In Tunisia the revolutionary process remains a turning point. The first signs of counterrevolutionary movements, supported by members of the former regime, can be observed, while the demands of the protest movement, except the resignation of Ben Ali, have actually not been met by the so-called unity government, which was born dead and lost all legitimacy following the resignation of Ministers from the Unions and some opposition parties.
The need to continue the revolution is crucial in order to secure the democratic and social rights of the people. The movement has understood this threat and is therefore maintaining the pressure on the so-called unity government. The mobilisation of the movement has actually not weakened, and is still powerful. There was another general strike on Wednesday, 26th January in Sfax, the second biggest city in Tunisia, which mobilised over 50,000 people, demanding the dissolution of the Rally Constitutional Democracy (RCD) and a new government.
The protests continued these past few days in Tunis and in several regions within the country, waiting on the formation of a new unity government cleansed of former members of the ruling regime. The protesters also called for the complete dissolution of the RCD and some socio-economic reforms.
Hundreds of people, from cities in west-central Tunisia such as Sidi Bouzaid, Kasserine, poor rural areas where the movement of protest started, have actually formed a "caravan of freedom" and they are camping on the Kasbah Square, in front of the office of the Prime Minister, demanding the departure of members of the former ruling party from the government and action on social and economic issues.
On Monday 24th January, primary school teachers launched an indefinite strike demanding the resignation of Ben Ali’s ministers. The National Union of Secondary Schools called as well for a one-day strike Thursday, 27th January to organise demonstrations calling for the dissolution of the government which was imposed on the Tunisians.
The fizzling out of the popular protest, which was counting on the so-called unity government, did not occur. The unity government has tried to appease the protesters through symbolic measures such as providing emergency aid to victims' families and merchants who were damaged during the revolts and providing a monthly grant of 150 dinars (80 euros) for unemployed graduates who will also benefit from a social security cover and preferential tariffs for transport.
These decisions aim to put an end to the protest movement and to avoid addressing the fundamental socio-economic problems of Tunisia. A monthly grant will not solve the issue of unemployment or high cost of living. The movement of protest, which continues to be based on social and economic demands, was nevertheless not influenced by these attempts at appeasement.
The whole Tunisian economic system will have to be changed, because the Tunisians have seen the terrible consequences of an economic system which relies on low wages and foreign direct investment. This economic option is actually presented to countries poor in raw materials as the price to pay to ensure employment and development. But economic dependency clearly has its downsides. From the reversal of the international economic environment in 2009, Tunisia was found trapped by an artificial model, with all the negative consequences on employment and domestic incomes. IMF and World Bank policies have actually created more dependency and more underdevelopment.
The so-called unity government has not only tried to put an end to the protest movement by these symbolic measures, but has used physical force to do so: police have been ordered to disperse the different demonstrations, and tear gas has been used. In addition, the security apparatus that used to oversee the police state established by Ben Ali has not been dismantled, human rights organisations stressed on Monday.
Former ruling members of the government are trying to gather counter-revolutionary forces against the movement. On Tuesday, 25th January, for example, a pro-government rally took place on Avenue Bourguiba, gathering more than 2,000 demonstrators. They chanted slogans in favor of the current Prime Minister and also against the head of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), Abdessalem Jrad. At Gafsa, capital of the mining area in west-central Tunisia, shaken by social unrest in 2008, it took the intervention of the army to end clashes between divergent groups outside the headquarters of the regional union association. Through the movement, the union became a leading actor on the Tunisian political scene and now refuses to participate in the unity government.
Students and workers have to face this counter-revolutionary threat, which could put an end to the movement and demands for social, economic and political change in Tunisian society. The threat of a return to the old order is clearly present. The need to continue the revolution and make it permanent is crucial for the Tunisians to be able to secure their future democratic and social rights, and this is also why it is important for the revolution to spread in the region: to strengthen the movement in Tunisia will liberate other masses from their regimes.
Similar signs of discontent among Arab masses have been seen in the past few days, with demonstrations mixing social and political demands, most notably in Jordan, another important western-backed regime. Firstly it is important to note that some 25 percent of Jordanians live below the poverty line, according to a study of the Economic and Social Jordan. The Hashemite kingdom has been implementing neoliberal policies for years now, and this path was accelerated by King Abdallah II’s arrival to power in 1999. These policies included opening the trade regime, privatising state-owned companies, and eliminating most fuel subsidies.
The global economic slowdown, however, has depressed Jordan's GDP growth while foreign assistance to the government in 2009 plummeted, hampering the government's efforts to reign in the large budget deficit. Export-oriented sectors such as manufacturing, mining, and the transport of re-exports have been hit the hardest. Unemployment rates are estimated at around 30 percent.
Last Friday, thousands of people demonstrated in cities across the kingdom to protest against inflation and unemployment, and also to demand the downfall of the government, despite the release by the latter of 120 million dinars (169 million USD) to bring down prices and create jobs. The government has also decided to increase salaries for civil servants and pensioners to 28 USD per month.
Protesters nevertheless called for a new demonstration on Friday, 28th January and demanded a "constitutional amendment" that would limit the powers of the king. They asked that the head of parliament become the de facto prime minister or Chief Executive, who is actually elected directly by the people. The Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint or dismiss the prime minister of his choice.
The ruling bourgeois classes of Egypt and Jordan, have not only been serving financial foreign interests, impoverishing their societies; they are tools of imperialist policy. Both regimes are close US allies and have defended US policies at all costs, especially on the Palestinian issue. They are the only two countries that have made peace with Israel and concluded economic as well as security agreements with the Zionist state. Egypt has played an important role in the siege of Gaza.
We can observe how once again neoliberal policies and imperialism are linked and reinforce each other. It is basically a bourgeois comprador ruling class enriching itself through the implementation of neoliberal policies serving foreign economic and political imperial policies.
Permanent revolution is relevant once again. The movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere are based on social and political demands, and the students and workers are the main actors in these events. These protests came out of the social injustice and authoritarian and corrupt regimes. A socialist revolution would assure political democracy and would try to put an end to inequality, exploitation and oppression of the people by their regimes. The only solution to liberate the people and put an end to destructive neoliberal and imperialist policies is permanent revolution. The people of the region have understood this and they are in the streets now.
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