What's Next for People's Power?
In response to the backlash from the regime's diehards, I asked Gaigi what the people in the neighborhoods were doing to protect themselves. "Barricading the streets after curfew," he said in an email on Sunday from Tunis. "All the youth are gathering to spend the night together and make sure no one passes unless they know the person, the person is not suspicious, or it is the army. Even the police have problems crossing the barricades since they are part of the problem. The people will let them cross if they know them, and if they do not look suspicious, otherwise they would immobilize them and deliver them to the army. The army is closely collaborating with people in different neighborhoods to catch the [security] militias."2
Such a description suggests the larger challenge now facing Tunisia's Jasmine Revolt, as it is now described. The "people's power" that toppled the rotting edifice of dictatorship and crony capitalism of Ben Ali represents the fertile soil for a new, democratic Tunisia. But for this vision to succeed it will take a sustained effort to organize and mobilize ordinary Tunisians in defense of their own power, for democratic rights and economic justice.
As the dust clears now from the first modern popular uprising to depose an Arab dictator, both the strengths and the weaknesses of the people's revolt are being revealed. To a large degree the Tunisian national uprising was a spontaneous social phenomenon, thriving on its own self-generating momentum. In fact, there were no existing political organizations with enough influence to derail, for the sake of some rancid compromise, the rising wave of the people's power.
Critically, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the country's only legal trade union and long a regime supporter, turned against the president in the days leading up to his downfall. In various regions of the country, local unions reportedly played key roles in the mobilizations. Can the once moribund UGTT now serve as a rallying force for new, sustained mobilizations in defense of ordinary Tunisians economic interests? Or, will new organizations arise out of the struggles of a now awakened population?
Significantly, new Tunis street demonstrations are already taking place, demanding that the new government exclude all representatives of the old regime. Currently, the defense, interior, and foreign ministries remain in the hands of members of Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally party. It remains to be seen how these challenges will play out.
In the end, the people of Tunisia have taught the entire world that the cry for justice is more powerful than the tanks and torturers of despotic regimes. Indeed, who would have thought a month ago that Mohammed Bouazizi's desperate act setting himself on fire would eventually set an entire nation on fire?
Such is the power of a people who are no longer afraid.
Mark Harris Website: http://www.Mark-T-Harris.com.
1. "Tunisia: Protests Continue." Al Jazeera English, Jan. 14, 2011. click here
2. Tomboktoo blog, Youssef Gaigi. http://tomboktoo.wordpress.com .