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Manning & the Law
CROSSING THE LINE
Corruption in U.S.
Activism Not a Crime
War in Arizona
James Patrick Jordan
Hyatt v. UNITE-HERE
Medicare for All
Chamber & Capitalism
Savage Imperialism 4
"No Progressive Champion"
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The Gay Oscars
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Zaps - 03/11
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How We Got Here and the Task Ahead
Hunger strikes were the last resort for Tunisian activists as they fought against a brutal and oppressive regime. Prior to the ousting of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali by an unprecedented people's uprising on January 14, there seemed to be no end in sight to the regime's wide-ranging human rights violations. For Tunisians, unemployment, poverty, and lack of civil liberties have long made life intolerable. Many were forced to flee the country rather than challenge the authoritarian rule of Ben Ali and his security apparatus, which grew in numbers to double, even triple, the nation's army.
Tunisians protest on January 19 against the participation of the former ruling party, RCD, in the interim government following the ouster of President Ben Ali—photo by Nasser Nouri
While Tunisia may not have appeared to be the most likely location for a successful popular rebellion, the country always had the potential for hosting one of the most active civil societies in the Arab Maghreb countries. This was what prompted Ben Ali and his regime to largely dismantle a once thriving, diverse, and highly educated civil society expressed through three main pillars: labor unions, the Islamic movement, and a strong student body.
When Tunisia gained independence from France in 1957, the anti-colonial fervor that gripped the country produced an active civil society that wished to move from a French sphere of influence into a nationalistic one. The national leader at the time, Habib Bourguiba, didn't dare upset the growing mobilization of the country, but succeeded in using and later co-opting and manipulating the mass movement to maintain control over the country. This lasted for decades, until Ben Ali carried out his "tranquil revolution" and ousted Bourguiba in 1987.
Ben Ali's success in maintaining his regime for 23 years hinged on several major strategies. He ensured that the presidential palace was the ultimate center of power, thus denying anyone else the chance to gain popularity outside a closely-knit circle. A system of patronage also existed, whereby those who played by the rules were granted space to operate and benefit. For example, during the 2004 elections, the Movement of Socialist Democrats (MDS), an opposition party, actually endorsed Ben Ali's re-election bid because it helped "complete the process of democratic pluralism." Other parties, including the Popular Unity Party (PUP), whose former leader Mohamed Bouchiha once ran for president, also seconded Ben Ali's bid to "drive the democratic process."
And what about those who refused to play by the rules? The Islamic Nahdha party and the Tunisian Community Workers' Party (POCT) are two such examples. Ben Ali contained the "unruly" opposition through brutality, crackdowns, and torture. The attempt to silence both parties was equally and decidedly brutal, but in 1991, a Nahdha protest and call for change seemed to spread quickly to universities and working-class neighborhoods. The event signaled a possible repeat of the Islamic resurgence in Algeria and Ben Ali was determined to stifle it.
Ben Ali's violations of human rights grew rapidly. Various Western powers that had hailed Ben Ali's model of political moderation were, of course, aware of the bizarre democracy underway in Tunisia. Ben Ali's ability to crush dissidents earned him high regard and constant accolades by these very powers, particularly Tunisia's former colonizer, France.
With major hurdles out of the way, the various branches of Tunisia's security apparatus had little to do, save silencing the people. The mafia-like police used many means of control, leaving activists with few options. In a report issued weeks before the Jasmine Revolution, Amnesty International stated: "Worn down by years of harassment and with no remedy in sight, hunger strikes seem to have become the final recourse for journalists, political activists, government critics, and human rights defenders in order to draw attention to their legitimate demands to have their fundamental human rights respected."
Human Rights Watch published a report on October 21, 2010, when the situation in Tunisia seemed to be reaching intolerable levels. It decried the government's relentless campaign against labor and student unions: "No realm of civil society in Tunisia is safe from government interference, not even trade unions, if they are considered critical of the government. Using methods ranging from bureaucratic machinations to physical aggression, the Tunisian government is keeping Tunisia's unions under its thumb."
Less than a week after Ben Ali was forced to leave the country, the Arab League's Secretary General Amr Moussa warned other regional countries of the possibility of more Tunisia-style revolutions should their policies remain unchanged: "The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment, and general recession.... The political problems, the majority of which have not been fixed...have driven the Arab citizen to a state of unprecedented anger and frustration."
In Tunisia that "unprecedented anger" has reaped unprecedented results, leaving Tunisia with the task of rebuilding a civil society that was weakened, demoralized, and purposely disjointed by a calculating and oppressive regime. The prospects for freedom are now greater than ever in Tunisia. Despite the many serious challenges ahead, this is cause for celebration.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.