Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)
At least one is reported dead as angry protests have spread across Tunisia in response to an austerity package imposed by the government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The protester died due to tear-gas inhalation Jan. 8 in Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of Tunis, with demonstrations reported from several other cities and towns, including Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's 2011 revolution. Under the new budget, which took effect Jan. 1, fuel prices are hiked, and new taxes imposed on housing, cars, phone calls, Internet services, and several other items. Hamma Hammami, leader of the opposition Popular Front, pledged to keep up the pressure, telling reporters: "We will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law is dropped."
Tunisia's parliament, the Assembly of People's Representatives, voted Sept. 14 to overturn a 1973 Ministry of Justice directive prohibiting marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man—a victory for the country's transition to secular rule. But one day earlier, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a controversial amnesty law pardoning thousands implicated in corruption and embezzlement of public funds under the former regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The opposition bloc (led by the Popular Front) boycotted the vote in protest against the insistence of the ruling coalition (made up of Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda) on passing the law in an extraordinary session. Hundreds protested outside the parliament building as the vote was held. Amnesty will only be granted to those who did not personally profut off of the corruption, or to those who pay back the money with penalties. Nonetheless, protesters condemned the law as a betrayal of country's 2011 revolution. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the amnesty law coiuld be a "final blow" in Tunisia's democratic transition, and called the back-to-back votes a case of "one step forward, one step back." (HRW, Jurist, Jurist, Sept. 15; Middle East Online, Sept. 14; HRW, May 23)
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) Aug. 16 that Judge Scott Silliman should have recused himself in a case concerning multiple defendants who were charged with aiding in the 9-11 attacks. The petitioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, argued that Silliman was biased in the matter and cited a 2010 comment in which Silliman called Mohammad and his co-defendants the major conspirators in th attacks. The court found that because Silliman "expressed an opinion that Petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused," he manifested an "apparent bias" and thus should have recused himself. The court granted the petition seeking recusal of Silliman and vacated a decision (PDF) by the US Court of Military Commission to reinstate charges for "attacking civilians and destroying property in violation of the law of war" against Mohammad and his co-defendants.
The democratic transition in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been the one real success story of the Arab Revolution, and the Tunisian uprising was also the first that served to spark the subsequent wave. So the Tunisian pro-democracy forces have international responsibilities, seen as keepers of the flame. When the Syrian revolution started in March 2011 (by school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall), it was directly inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. But while Egypt has slipped back into dictatorship, Tunisia continues to consolidate its new democracy. Holding special responsibilities are Tunisia's progressive-left forces—and in particular, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). A leading force in the 2011 uprising, the UGTT was also a pillar of the Tunisia Quartet, which in 2015 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its effort to broker dialogue between various factions and save the country from following Syria, Libya and Yemen into civil war, or following Egypt into a new dictatorship. So it is distressing to read that the UGTT (or its leadership, at least) appears to be following the misguided Western "left" into sympathy for the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.
Thousands of Tunisians on May 13 protested a bill that would grant amnesty to officials facing charges of corruption committed under the previous regime. Under the amnesty bill officials who had money seized from them following the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would be pardoned and have their funds returned. Proponents of the bill say it would help reconcile political divisions in the country but it has been met with massive public disapproval.
A Tunisian court sentenced British DJ Dax J to a year in prison on April 6 for "public indecency" and "offending public morality" after the artist played a remix of the Muslim call to prayer in a nightclub. The nightclub was subsequently shut down and charges were filed against the club's owner and the organizer of the event where Dax J was playing. These charges were subsequently dropped, but the prosecution appealed the dropped charges claiming the owner and organizer still maintain liability. Tunisia's religious affairs ministry commented on the charges and conviction saying: "Mocking the opinions and religious principles of Tunisians is absolutely unacceptable."