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In the Arab world’s deepest state, the revolution continues

In News on February 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

morocco

02/20/2013

Ten years ago, in what was the first – and until early 2011 the only – successful youth-led rebellions in the Arab world, Moroccan metalheads launched an unprecedented series of protests against the arrests and prosecution of 14 of musicians and fans on charges of Satanism. The charges were ludicrous, ranging from killing cats to having ash trays shaped like pentagrams (never mind that the pentagram is on the Moroccan flag); but the precedent of similar Satanic metal affairs in Egypt and other Muslim countries gave them a fair degree of valence in a society that, despite its international reputation as a haven for tolerance, remained a conservative society.

Yet where their Egyptian counterparts were driven largely underground in the wake of its 1997 “affair”, Morocco proved a very different case. In one of the earliest adoptions of the kind of grassroots social media organising, supporters of the jailed young people combined email and internet campaigns with savvy publicity (including performances in front of the court house where activists were on trial) that attracted enough international media attention not only to force the government to overturn the convictions, but also helped to reshape the contours of acceptable identities within Moroccan society.

By 2005, Morocco’s main grassroots festival, “L’Boulevard”, was not only attracting tens of thousands of fans for nights devoted to metal, hip-hop and trance music, but also featured significant amounts of open social and political activism on issues such as homelessness, AIDS and Amazigh (Berber) rights. Indeed, art was openly being used as a vehicle to corral young people into spaces where they could be educated and motivated to become far more socially and political active than most Arab governments would then tolerate. Local branches of hardcore international activist movements like ATTAC were even organising film festivals to accompany the festival.

One could even witness cops and metalheads – goths even! – laughing it up at together while hijab-wearing teens rocked out to British hardcore bands and local rock, rap and metal groups whose music verged on the unabashedly political and a time when underground music scenes in other countries of the region still kept their true sentiments close to the vest.

Add to the mix a young King who’d taken the unprecedented step of apologising for his father’s oppressive rule and establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as sponsoring reforms of the traditional family law, and an opposition movement – the Justice and Charity movement (al-Adl wal-Ihsane) that was committed to directly taking on the monarchy and to non-violence and dialogue with other sectors of society – and it seemed Morocco was poised to be the first Arab state to make a substantial transition to democracy.

Indeed, as the first decade of the 21st (Christian) century drew to a close, it still seemed to many people who regularly travelled across the Middle East and North Africa that Morocco was at the forefront of the admittedly slow and often tortuous evolution towards substantive democracy.

It was all, it’s now clear, if not quite a lie, then far closer to a mirage than to a real development of democratic foundations in Morocco.

Arab world’s deepest state

As with most attempts to understand the inner workings of contemporary Arab authoritarianism, one need go no further than the archive of WikiLeaks to obtain a good idea of why Morocco has so far avoided a successful push for significant change to its governing politics and economic system. Put succinctly (as US diplomats are surprisingly apt at doing in cables to their superiors), the “appalling greed” of the King – whose wealth more than quintupled during his first decade in power – and the ruling establishment, or Makhzen, while poverty remains “at the core of civilisation” in major cities such as Marakkesh and even more so in the countryside, much of which is still without electricity and/or running water.

With all that’s happened the last few years, it’s easy to forget just how honest a glimpse into the workings of the United States’ most important Arab/Muslim allies WikiLeaks provided when they came out almost four years ago. As one cable explains, corruption in Morocco

“during the reign of King Mohammed VI is becoming more, not less, pervasive… While corrupt practices existed during the reign of King Hassan II… they have become much more institutionalised with King Mohammed VI… XXXXXXXXXXXX’s experience demonstrates a reality, of which most Moroccans dare only whisper – the influence and commercial interest of the King and some of his advisors in virtually every major real estate project here. A former US Ambassador to the Morocco, who remains closely connected to the Palace, separately lamented to us what he termed the appalling greed of those close to King Mohammed VI. This phenomenon seriously undermines the good governance that the Moroccan government is working hard to promote.”

Another cable explained that corruption and the lack of transparency by the King and the ruling elite created an “‘explosive situation'” at a time when Moroccans face rising prices for goods whose production and distribution is often assured by the king’s own companies. These issues too have long sparked hushed debate in Moroccan business circles…”

At the heart of this corruption for hundreds of years lies the institution of the Makhzen, which includes the King and his immediate advisers and the political and economic elite surrounding them. As I explained in a previous Al Jazeera column, the Makhzen has come to signify not just the power holders in Morocco, but the manner in which power has been exercised and flowed through society. Having developed over several dynasties stretching back over half a millennium, the Makhzen system constitutes one of the most stable political orders in history. In the pre-colonial era, the rule of the Sultan was always tenuous outside of the main towns; during this period, the mediating role of the Makhzen and its ability to help direct flows of wealth and power to the centre was crucial to maintaining whatever degree of political coherence existed in a particular period.

Under French rule, from 1912-1957, the Makhzen was revamped and significantly strengthened, bequeathing a state to the newly independent Kingdom that had historically unprecedented control over the territory included in the new country. But the networks and flows of power sponsored and contained within and by the Makhzen supported “traditional” power brokers and practices rather than encouraging democratic institutions. At the same time, however, centuries of experience surviving against internal and external opposition have provided the Makhzen, and the monarchy and state, with an incredible institutional memory and savoir-fairewith which to manage dissent.

Few states can match the skill with which the contemporary Moroccan state has managed to continue to arrogate more of the country’s wealth to the King and his coterie while maintaining the system’s hegemony across the majority of Moroccan society. To be sure, there have been moments of significant stress on the system caused by the rampant inequality and the oppression necessary ultimately to preserve the status quo. Mohammed’s father Hassan II survived two assassination attempts in the 1970s. And on February 20, 2011, a group of youth activists organised the Moroccan answer to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution, launching a wave of unprecedented protests, the likes of which had not been seen since the country’s independence from France.

From barbarism to revolution

But the King and his deep state have well managed the challenge, co-opting the reform banner of the opposition, bringing in a major share of the Islamist forces, while variously dividing and delegitimising the pro-democracy forces. A New Constitution was approved by an incredibly wide margin based on the belief that it did offer at least some substantive reform of the King’s and Makhzen’s power, but in fact it has left his executive power unchecked. And has not meaningfully addressed the policies of wealth concentration and political oppression that have, unbenounced to most of the outside world, continued.

The Justice and Development Party, the official “Islamist” party, has like its Egyptian equivalent completely embraced the system it once protested, becoming little more than a “puppet” for the Makhzen. As one activist explained to me, “Now that the Islamists have their Prime Minister, everything that goes wrong can be blamed on him rather than focusing blame on the King and Makhzen, which are the main source of our problems.”

Indeed, Morocco stands as almost the polar opposite to Bahrain, on the other extreme of the Arab world. Where the Bahraini monarchy could not survive without the support of powerful neighbours and patrons (particularly the Saudis and other gulf monarchies and the US and UK), the Moroccan monarchy remains, for the time being, the unquestioned source, broker and mediator of power in Morocco. Its deep roots across Moroccan society allows it to attenuate the application of violence and restrictions on the media and political freedoms with discourses of royal beneficence, piety and charity that have thus far inoculated the King from serious calls for him to relinquish political power or for the end of the monarchy.

On the other hand, despite the imbalance of power between them and the ongoing international support for the Moroccan government, activists continue to search for new ways to pressure the state and the King to open up the country’s political and economic system, more substantively democratise, and address the rampant institutionalised corruption that will inevitably doom any reform, never mind revolutionary process. For many, Tahrir remains [Arabic] a powerful model as young activists share their stories and experiences [Arabic] even though directly taking on the establishment can earn one a significant prison sentence, not to mention a severe beating and worse.

Social media remains an important battleground, from Facebook [Arabic] (the number of whose Moroccan users increased by over half a million since 2011) to more innovative tools, all of which aim to challenge the widespread propaganda of the King/Makhzen and its foreign supporters and commentators that a “Moroccan Exception” (istithna’ maghrebi) will enable the system to continue in its present form and (im)balance of power into the foreseeable future.

As Moroccan blogger and activist Zineb Belmkaddem argues in her assessment of the last two years, more and more “Moroccans know” the reality of the system in which they live. The problem today is that this knowledge is not accompanied by a belief in a way forward, or a sense that things are so bad there is no longer much left to lose. Indeed, one of the main problems facing those pushing for what could be termed “revolutionary reform” is the ongoing belief by most Moroccans (especially the most disenfranchised and politically abused that “the country’s progress is completely dependent upon [the King's] generosity”.

Against intense propaganda (it’s impossible to watch the state TV or read a paper without seeing images of the King opening a new hospital or institute, or providing charity for the poor), the majority of the people still imagine that the best hope for survival is to work through or around the corruption and political opportunism that define the country’s political life.

But this dynamic cannot continue indefinitely. It is striking to me how many Moroccans are talking today the way my Egyptian friends were talking in the latter part of 2010: “This can’t go on…”, “If the government doesn’t alleviate people’s suffering there will be an explosion…”, “If things don’t change soon the opposition that replaces us will make the government wish for the good old days…”, and so on.

Then as now, the one thing no one could anticipate was what would spark a revolutionary wave of protests that would shake even the deepest state to its core. And while the octogenarian Mubarak and his wildly unpopular son could be jettisoned to protect the larger system, King Mohammed is still in the prime of his rule. It’s hard to imagine how the system could survive his downfall if the explosion, increasing numbers of people believe could occur in the near future happens.

Like the thumping music of Moroccan metal pioneers Reborn (whose members were arrested during the 2003 Satanic affair), or the words of poet Abdellatif Laabi, Morocco’s artists and activists remain unremitting in their attacks on the “rule of barbarism” represented by the existing system and the “monstrosities” and “automatons” it has produced. As the jailed rapper, El Haqed, sings in his (in)famous song “Dogs of the State” [Arabic], “They exploit our wealth and leave us only crumbs while so many freedom fighters have died for us.”

Fans of Arab hip-hop and revolutionary music more broadly will not be surprised at the striking similarities in Haqed’s words and those of artists like Tunisia’s El General or Egypt’s Ramy Essam and Arabian Knightz. If and when the next round of mass protests erupts in Morocco, King Mohammed, like his counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, won’t be able to see he wasn’t warned. What remains to be seen is whether the Makhzen, for centuries so adept at variously negotiating and fighting its way out of any and all internal challenges to its power, will finally lose its footing, and let power slip through its hands, and if its hold begins to slip away, how far it will go to preserve its centuries-long hold over Morocco and an increasingly angry populace will go to pull it away once they realise doing so is no longer a dream but might actually be possible.

Via Aljazeera

The Secret Rise of 21st Century Democracy

In News on February 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM

chavez

02/20/2013

New economies based on greater democratic control, real representation and citizen participation are on the rise. There is much to be learned from countries like Venezuela that break from the Washington Consensus.

If Americans knew the truth about the growth of real democracy in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, we would demand economic democracy and participatory government, which together would threaten the power of concentrated wealth. The seeds of both are beginning to sprout in the US despite efforts to keep Americans ignorant about them. Real democracy creates a huge challenge to the oligarchs and their neoliberal agenda because it is driven by human needs, not corporate greed. That is why major media in the US, which are owned by six corporations, aggressively misinform the public about Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes, “The Western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it.” In fact, just the opposite is true. Venezuela, since the election of Chavez, has become one of the most democratic nations on Earth. Its wealth is increasing and being widely shared. But Venezuela has been made so toxic that even the more liberal media outlets propagate distortions to avoid being criticized as too leftist. Venezuela is a front line in the battle between the elites and the people over US-style democracy, as we described in Part I of this series.

We spoke with Mike Fox, who went to Venezuela in 2006 to see for himself what was happening. Fox spent years documenting the rise of participatory democracy in Venezuela and Brazil. He found a grassroots movement creating the economy and government they wanted, often pushing Chavez further than he wanted to go. Venezuelan democracy and economic transformation are bigger than Chavez. Chavez opened a door to achieve the people’s goals: literacy programs in the barrios, more people attending college, universal access to health care, as well as worker-owned businesses and community councils where people make decisions for themselves. Change came through decades of struggle leading to the election of Chavez in 1998, a new constitution and ongoing work to make that constitution a reality.

Challenging American Empire

The subject of Venezuela is taboo because it has been the most successful country to repel the neoliberal assault waged by the US on Latin America. This assault included Operation Condor, launched in 1976, in which the US provided resources and assistance to bring friendly dictators who supported neoliberal policies to power throughout Latin America. These policies involved privatizing national resources and selling them to foreign corporations, de-funding and privatizing public programs such as education and health care, deregulating and reducing trade barriers.

In addition to intense political repression under these dictators between the 1960s and 1980s, which resulted in imprisonment, murder and disappearances of tens of thousands throughout Latin America, neoliberal policies led to increased wealth inequality, greater hardship for the poor and working class, as well as a decline in economic growth.

Neoliberalism in Venezuela arrived through a different path, not through a dictator. Although most of its 20th century was spent under authoritarian rule, Venezuela has had a long history of pro-democracy activism. The last dictator, Marcos Jimenez Perez, was ousted from power in 1958. After that, Venezuelans gained the right to elect their government, but they existed in a state of pseudo-democracy, much like the US currently, in which the wealthy ruled through a managed democracy that ensured the wealthy benefited most from the economy.

As it did in other parts of the world, the US pushed its neoliberal agenda on Venezuela through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These institutions required Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) as terms for development loans. As John Perkins wrote in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, great pressure was placed on governments to take out loans for development projects. The money was loaned by the US, but went directly to US corporations who were responsible for the projects, many of which failed, leaving nations in debt and not better off. Then the debt was used as leverage to control the government’s policies so they further favored US interests. Anun Shah explains the role of the IMF and World Bank in more detail in Structural Adjustment – a Major Cause of Poverty.

A turning point in the Venezuelan struggle for real democracy occurred in 1989. President Carlos Andres Perez ran on a platform opposing neoliberalism and promised to reform the market during his second term. But following his re-election in 1988, he reversed himself and continued to implement the “Washington Consensus” of neoliberal policies – privatization and cuts to social services. The last straw came when he ended subsidies for oil. The price of gasoline doubled and public transportation prices rose steeply. Protests erupted in the towns surrounding the capitol, Caracas, and quickly spread into the city itself. President Perez responded by revoking multiple constitutional rights to protest and sending in security forces who killed an estimated 3,000 people, most of them in the barrios. This became known as the “Caracaza” (“the Caracas smash”) and demonstrated that the president stood with the oligarchs, not with the people.

Under President Perez, conditions continued to deteriorate for all but the wealthy in Venezuela. So people organized in their communities and with Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez attempted a civilian-led coup in 1992. Chavez was jailed, and so the people organized for his release. Perez was impeached for embezzlement of 250 million bolivars and the next president, Rafael Caldera, promised to release Chavez when he was elected. Chavez was freed in 1994. He then traveled throughout the country to meet with people in their communities and organizers turned their attention to building a political movement.

Chavez ran for president in 1998 on a platform that promised to hold a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution saying “I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.” Against the odds, Chavez won the election and became president in 1999.

While his first term was cautious and center-left, including a visit by Chavez to the NY Stock Exchange to show support for capitalism and encourage foreign investment, he kept his promise. Many groups participated in the formation of the new constitution, which was gender-neutral and included new rights for women and for the indigenous, and created a government with five branches adding a people’s and electoral branches. The new constitution was voted into place by a 70 percent majority within the year. Chavez also began to increase funding for the poor and expanded and transformed education.

Since then, Chavez has been re-elected twice. He was removed from power briefly in 2002, jailed and replaced by Pedro Carmona, the head of what is equivalent to the Chamber of Commerce. Fox commented that the media was complicit in the coup by blacking it out and putting out false information. Carmona quickly moved to revoke the constitution and disband the legislature. When the people became aware of what was happening, they rapidly mobilized and surrounded the capitol in Caracas. Chavez was reinstated in less than 48 hours.

One reason the Chavez election is called a Bolivarian Revolution is because Simon Bolivar was a military political leader who freed much of Latin America from the Spanish Empire in the early 1800s. The election of Chavez, the new constitution and the people overcoming the coup set Venezuela on the path to free itself from the US empire. These changes emboldened the transformation to sovereignty, economic democracy and participatory government.

In fact, Venezuela paid its debts to the IMF in full five years ahead of schedule and in 2007 separated from the IMF and World Bank, thus severing the tethers of the Washington Consensus. Instead, Venezuela led the way to create the Bank of the South to provide funds for projects throughout Latin America and allow other countries to free themselves from the chains of the IMF and World Bank too.

The Rise of Real Democracy

The struggle for democracy brought an understanding by the people that change only comes if they create it. The people viewed Chavez as a door that was opened for them to create change. He was able to pass laws that aided them in their work for real democracy and better conditions. And Chavez knew that if the people did not stand with him, the oligarchs could remove him from power as they did for two days in 2002.

With this new understanding and the constitution as a tool, Chavez and the people have continued to progress in the work to rebuild Venezuela based on participatory democracy and freedom from US interference. Chavez refers to the new system as “21st century socialism.” It is very much an incomplete work in progress, but already there is a measurable difference.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR points out that real GDP per capita in Venezuela expanded by 24 percent since 2004. In the 20 years prior to Chávez, real GDP per person actually fell. Venezuela has low foreign public debt, about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is only 2 percent of GDP. Weisbrot writes: “From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half, and this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chávez took office.” Venezuela has reduced unemployment from 20 percent to 7 percent.

Venezuela is making rapid progress on other measures too. It has a high human development index and a low and shrinking index of inequality. Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated “the fifth-happiest nation in the world” by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that,”No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.” Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in underserved areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing.

Venezuelans are very happy with their democracy. On average, they gave their own democracy a score of seven out of ten while the Latin American average was 5.8. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Venezuelans reported being happy with their democracy compared to an average for Latin American countries of 38 percent, according to a poll conducted by Latinobarometro. While 81 percent voted in the last Venezuelan election, only 57.5 percent voted in the recent US election.

This is not to say that the process has been easy or smooth. The new constitution and laws passed by Chavez have provided tools, but the government and media still contain those who are allied with the oligarchy and who resist change. People have had to struggle to see that what is written on paper is made into a reality. For example, Venezuelans now have the right to reclaim urban land that is fallow and use it for food and living. Many attempts have been made to occupy unused land and some have been met by hostility from the community or actual repression from the police. In other cases, attempts to build new universities have been held back by the bureaucratic process.

It takes time to build a new democratic structure from the bottom up. And it takes time to transition from a capitalist culture to one based on solidarity and participation. In “Venezuela Speaks,” one activist, Iraida Morocoima, says “Capitalism left us with so many vices that I think our greatest struggle is against these bad habits that have oppressed us.” She goes on to describe a necessary culture shift as, “We must understand that we are equal, while at the same time we are different, but with the same rights.”

Chavez passed a law in 2006 that united various committees in poor barrios into community councils that qualify for state funds for local projects. In the city, community councils are composed of 200 to 400 families. The councils elect spokespeople and other positions such as executive, financial and “social control” committees. The councilmembers vote on proposals in a general assembly and work with facilitators in the government to carry through on decisions. In this way, priorities are set by the community and funds go directly to those who can carry out the project such as building a road or school. There are currently more than 20,000 community councils in Venezuela creating a grassroots base for participatory government.

A long-term goal is to form regional councils from the community councils and ultimately create a national council. Some community councils already have joined as communes, a group of several councils, which then have the capacity for greater research and to receive greater funds for large projects.

The movement to place greater decision-making capacity and control of local funds in the hands of communities is happening throughout Latin America and the world. It is called participatory budgeting and it began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has grown so that as many as 50,000 people now participate each year to decide as much as 20 percent of the city budget. There are more than 1,500 participatory budgets around the world in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Fox produced a documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which explains participatory budgeting in greater detail.

Democracy Is Coming to the USA

Participatory budgeting is a method of participatory government in which people manage public money. In this democratic process, community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It provides communities with greater control over their economic lives and more input into the investments in their community.

In the US and Canada, participatory budgeting exists primarily at the city level for the municipal budget. It also has been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies. The first city to put in place participatory budgeting on a citywide level is Vallejo, CA. Other US cities that have started using it are Chicago and New York.

Chicago was the first city in the US to use this process. Since 2009, residents of Chicago’s diverse 49th Ward have decided how to spend the $1.3 million annual capital budget of Alderman Joe Moore. Capital budgets do not include hiring people, but are for physical improvements to the neighborhood. Residents identify spending ideas and select community representatives in neighborhood assemblies. These representatives develop full project proposals from these ideas, and then residents vote on which projects to fund. The capital spending-budget pie chart has changed dramatically since it went under popular control. It moved from a handful of large projects to four or five times as many small projects, according to Maria Hadden, who was involved in the process and works with the Participatory Budgeting Project. Today, four Chicago aldermen use participatory budgeting.

In New York City in 2011, City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams launched a participatory budgeting process to let residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. In 2012, the number of Council Members involved in Participatory Budgeting in New York City doubled to include David Greenfield, Dan Halloran, Stephen Levin, and Mark Weprin, giving the community real decision-making power over approximately $10 million in taxpayer money. The response by participants in the process is very positive. There are many examples of the success of participatory budgeting from around the world.

Here is how the participatory budgeting process works: “Residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects.” The people are not advisors in this process; they are decision-makers.

Participatory budgeting advocates point to six advantages of the process, which include greater transparency and accountability, greater understanding of both democracy and community needs and stronger connections between members of the community and their city.

Participatory budgeting does not cost the government any extra money. It is a method for deciding how to spend existing funds. To put in place participatory budgeting, political will is required from above, and community support from below. The budget needs to be controlled by someone willing to agree to permit the public to decide how to spend a portion of it. Usually, community organizations are involved to engage people and push the process forward, especially those working with marginalized communities. Participatory budgeting does not usually require any change in law. For more information, see: 72 Frequently Asked Questions about Participatory Budgeting, or attend their May conference, “Building a Democratic City.”

In previous articles, we have written about other aspects of economic democracy including worker-directed businesses and cooperatives and community work. Participatory budgeting is another example of the kind of change that creates economic democracy, which is beginning to take root in the United States. Other changes include building sustainable local living economies, democratizing the money supply through alternative currencies and time banks, creating publicly owned banks, creating land trusts for permanently-affordable housing and establishing a universal, publicly-financed single-payer health care system. There is more information about these on our economic democracy web site, ItsOurEconomy.us.

Lessons for Americans and Others

The 21st century is a time to rethink where we are heading. It is time to form new economies based on greater democratic control and to build new formations of government based on modern constitutions that are more democratic, providing real representation as well as direct and participatory democracy. If the US media would stop demonizing Venezuela and other countries that break from the Washington Consensus and instead tell the truth, we could learn from their successes and failures and could vastly improve our own democracy and economy, both of which are doing poorly.

The US Constitution is treated by many with unquestioned reverence. But, in truth, it is a document that needs to be updated. Even a member of the US Supreme Court has made this point. Justice Ruth Ginsburg, when speaking to Egyptians who were considering their new constitution, urged Egyptians to look to other countries’ newer constitutions for guidance saying, “[I] would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” She noted several other models that have emerged and offer more specific and contemporary guarantees of rights and liberties, pointing to South Africa’s constitution, which she called a “really great piece of work” for its embrace of basic human rights and guarantee of an independent judiciary. She also noted Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms and the European Convention of Human Rights.

Thurgood Marshall, before he became a Supreme Court justice, assisted Kenya in writing its constitution, which he modeled after the European Convention on Human Rights. Unlike the US Constitution, the Kenyan document guarantees rights to education, health, welfare and a right to work. Other models of advanced constitutions are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the recent Iceland Constitution written by crowd sourcing of their population and the Venezuelan Constitution. While the US Constitution was the model for the world in the 20th century, today constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the US Constitution than they were at the end of World War II. Of course, there are excellent parts of the US Constitution, but surely we can learn from others.

The economic transformation of Venezuela is also a learning opportunity for the US, Europe and others. Venezuela is not moving toward Soviet or Chinese communism or centralized socialism, nor is it embracing US big finance-dominated capitalism. It is charting a new course – Chavez’ “21st Century Socialism” that is being built from the bottom up. Richard Gott writes in the Guardian:

The changes in Venezuela have had an effect beyond Venezuela. They have encouraged Argentina to default on its debt; to reorganize its economy thereafter and to renationalize its oil industry. Chávez has helped Evo Morales of Bolivia to run its oil and gas industry for the benefit of the country rather than its foreign shareholders, and more recently to halt the robbery by Spain of the profits of its electricity company. Above all, he has shown the countries of Latin America that there is an alternative to the single neoliberal message that has been endlessly broadcast for decades, by governments and the media in hock to an outdated ideology.

The essential lesson is a rejection of neoliberal policies of privatization, lack of investment in social services and placing the market in charge of the economy. Unfortunately, in the United States the Washington Consensus that destroyed Latin American economies is being applied at home creating a record wealth divide, widespread unemployment and underemployment, inadequate social programs and lack of investment in a new economy. President Obama and Congress continue to move toward austerity and threaten a deeper recession or worse.

One country that has embraced similar reforms as Venezuela is Ecuador. The Center for Economic and Policy Research issued a report last week that found in Ecuador “possibly the most comprehensive financial reform of any country in the 21st century.” Ecuador’s “New Deal” nationalized the central bank, used the money to invest in infrastructure, housing and co-ops, enacted progressive taxes and capital controls, bargained hard on foreign loans and oil concessions, enforced anti-trust laws to break up the financier-owned media oligopoly, made a counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus of sufficient size, increased spending on health and education and is doing far better than it was before the Great Recession.

Like the Venezuelan experience, the experience in Ecuador should give Americans hope. Ecuadorians went against powerful forces – the US empire and its oligarchy. As the report notes, “A government committed to reform of the financial system, can – with popular support – confront an alliance of powerful, entrenched financial, political, and media interests and win.”

Predictably, the US corporate media, as it has done to Chavez and Venezuela, is attacking Ecuador and its popular president Rafael Correa. President Correa recently experienced a landslide re-election, yet The New York Times published what can only be described as a “hit piece” on him beforehand, headlined “Ecuador’s President Shows Confidence About Re-election, Too Much for Some” describing this populist democrat as authoritarian. Like Venezuela, Ecuador has a new constitution, challenged the oligarchic media and is in the midst of a “citizens’ revolution” that has included throwing the US out of a military base, for a time ending diplomatic relations with the US empire and providing diplomatic protection to Julian Assange.

There are lots of lessons for Americans: Build from the grassroots, keep building no matter who is elected, push your political friends farther than they want to go, don’t trust the corporate media and do question the official consensus of the political and economic class that rules us. In the end, we need to build the two pillars of economic democracy and participatory government to overcome the concentrated wealth and corrupt government that rules through a mirage of managed democracy. That is our task. It is a path of proven success.

Via Truth-Out

Tunisia’s Unfinished Revolution: From Dictatorship to Democracy?

In News on February 19, 2013 at 11:47 AM

02/19/2013

On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s 23-year long dictator Ben Ali fled the country he ruled over in the face of a popular uprising which began the previous month. Tunisia represented the spark of what became known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ Over two years later, Tunisians are back in the streets protesting against the new government, elected in October of 2011, now on the verge of collapse as ministers resign, protests increase, clashes erupt, violence flares, and the future remains unknown.

So the question lingers: what went wrong? What happened? Why are Tunisians back in the streets? Is this Tunisia’s “unfinished revolution”?

The Spark

Tunisia had been ruled by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 until the revolution in 2011, a regime marred by corruption, despotism, and repression. While the revolution itself is generally traced to the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, on December 17, 2010, leading to protests and clashes which spread across the country, there was a longer timeline – and other profound changes – which led to the actual revolutionary potential.

Tunisia’s revolution was largely driven by economic reasons, though political and social issues should not be underestimated. Tunisia has a recent history of labour unrest in the country, with the General Union of Tunisian Workers – UGTT – having led protests which were violently repressed in 1978, bread riots in 1984, and more labour unrest in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008. There were also a number of political clashes from the 1990s onward, between the state and the Islamic movement an-Nahda (Ennahda). After the UGTT was repressed in 1978, it was permitted to exist in co-operation with the state, following along the lines of labour and union history within the West itself. While the state felt it had a firm control of Tunisian society, there were growing divides with the youth, who for years would lead their own protests against the state through human rights organizations, the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), or other associations.

Within Tunisia, a crisis had emerged among young graduates in higher education from the mid-1990s onward, with a serious lack of employment opportunities for an increasingly educated youth. From this period up until the revolution, most protests in Tunisia were organized by youth in university organizations and student unions, using tactics such as sit-ins, chaining themselves to buildings, or hunger strikes, which were often met with state violence. Suicide had become another tactic of protest, “a political manifesto to highlight a political demand and to underline the social fragility it implies,” in the words of Mehdi Mabrouk from the University of Tunis. This was understood as the “emergence of a culture of suicide,” identified in a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as “a culture which disdained the value of life, finding death an easier alternative because of a lack of values and a sense of anomie,” which was “particularly true of unemployed and marginal youth, so that death was more attractive than life under such conditions.” It was within this context that Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide became the spark for the wider protests, first in Sidi Bouzid, and quickly spreading across the country, with youth leading the way.

With the help of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the youth activists in Sidi Bouzid were able to share their revolt with the rest of the country and the world, encouraging the spread of the uprising across Tunisia and the Arab world at large. A relative of Bouazizi described the protesters as having “a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other.” Thus, while Tunisian media ignored the protests in Sidi Bouzid, international media and social media became increasingly involved. Tunisia had 3.6 million internet users, roughly a third of the population, who had access to live news about what was taking place within their country, even though the official national news media did not mention the events until 29 December 2010, twelve days after the protests had begun. The government began to arrest bloggers and web activists in the hopes that the protests would fade or diminish in fear, yet it only motivated the protests further. From the first day, the Sidi Bouzid branch of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) was engaged in the protests, while the national leadership of the UGTT was considered to be too close to the regime and national ruling class to act independently. However, the regional branches of the UGTT had “a reputation for gutsy engagement,” wrote Yasmine Ryan in Al-Jazeera. The Sidi Bouzid branch of UGTT was one of the main organizing forces behind the protests, and when protesters were killed in neighbouring regions, it erupted nation-wide. Thus, students, teachers, lawyers, and the unemployed joined together in protest first in Sidi Bouzid, and then across the country.

Dictatorship or Democracy?

Tunisia happened to be a “model US client” in the words of Richard Falk: “a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political expression.”

Just in line with the closest of American and Western allies – and ‘clients’ – in the region, the strategy for the West is one of unyielding support for the dictatorship, so long as “stability” and “prosperity” and ensured. The term “security” is a euphemism for control of the population, while “prosperity” is a euphemism for economic exploitation and profit for the rich few, domestically and globally.

American attitudes toward Tunisia were often reflected in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, in which as early as 2006 the U.S. Embassy in Tunis reported that the issue of succession from Ben Ali was important, but concluded that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic,” however, despite US rhetoric for support of democracy, the cable noted, “the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali,” that is, assuming the departure does not include a transition to democratic government. If problems arose for Ben Ali, and he became “temporarily incapacitated,” reported the U.S. Embassy, “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi,” who had close ties to the West and Americans, in particular. Ghannounchi, incidentally, was implanted as the interim president following Ben Ali’s escape to Saudi Arabia in January 2011, though shortly thereafter had to resign due to popular opposition, since he was a high official in Ben Ali’s government.

In July of 2009, a diplomatic cable from the American Embassy in Tunis noted that Tunisia is “troubled,” and that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.” The Ambassador noted that while America seeks to enhance ties with Tunisia commercially and militarily, there are also major setbacks, as “we have been blocked, in part, by a Foreign Ministry that seeks to control all our contacts in the government and many other organizations.” America had successfully accomplished a number of goals, such as “increasing substantially US assistance to the military,” and “strengthening commercial ties,” yet, “we have also had too many failures.” The same cable noted: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.” Ben Ali’s regime relies “on the police for control and focus[es] on preserving power,” while “corruption in the inner circle is growing.” The Embassy noted, however, that with “high unemployment and regional inequalities” in the country, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”

So how did the United States seek to preserve “stability”? Imperial powers do what they do best: provide the means to continue repression and control. Between 1987, when Ben Ali came to power and 2009, the United States provided the government of Tunisia with a total of $349 million in military aid. In 2010, the United States provided Tunisia with $13.7 million in military aid alone Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime. The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they asked if the “Arab authoritarian bargain” was collapsing, noting that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the bargain – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course,” noting: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.

The National Security Council document stated that the Middle East was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” meaning the West, and United States in particular, and this was largely due to the fact that the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world.” Thus, the National Security Council stated, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for strengthening the Free World.” The document further wrote that: “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and that the people in that part of the world “believe the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress,” which included US support for “reactionary” regimes and America’s “colonial” allies in Europe, notably France and Great Britain. These beliefs, the report noted, were indeed accurate, that “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led… to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.”

Acknowledging this, the NSC document stated that instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Though this would of course include providing “military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” which essentially
amounted to maintaining the status quo. The same document also added that, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”

And so then we come up to present day, where the United States maintains the same policy, as Chomsky suggested, “the Muasher doctrine” of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” But everything is clearly no longer under control, and there are many things that clearly are wrong. Just as the 1958 National Security Council document suggested guiding “revolutionary and nationalistic pressures” into “orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West,” so too were US planners in recent years seeking to do the same.

Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-government-supported organization promoting state-capitalist “liberal” democracy around the world, so long as it aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs. In short, the report was produced by no less than a select group of America’s strategic and intellectual elite.

Published in 2005, the report suggested that “democracy and freedom have become a priority” for the United States in the Middle East, though there are conditions to Washington’s ability and interest in promoting these concepts: “First, does a policy of promoting democracy serve U.S. interests and foreign policy goals? Second, if so, how should the United States implement such a policy, taking into account the full range of its interests?” To the first question, the report suggested that it was in the U.S. interest to promote democracy in the Arab world, noting: “Although democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.” However, as the report noted: “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, the report suggested: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”

The United States was not interested in rapid change, since, the report argued, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” The report itself concluded: “While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”

Thus, when it comes to the issue of choosing between supporting a “dictatorship” or “democracy,” the issue is one of interest: which regime supports U.S. and Western interests better? In the short-term, dictatorships provide “authoritarian stability” and maintain control, however, in the long-term, a transition to a Western-style democratic system allows for less pressure built up against the system, and against the West itself. Dictatorships provide short-term “stability” (i.e., control), while top-down democracies provide long-term “stability.” The question, then, is merely of managing a transition from one to the other, no small task for an imperial power: how to maintain support for a dictator while encouraging the slow evolution of democratic governance.

The issue of “democracy” is further complicated by how it is defined or pursued. For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity,” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.” In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit is the goal. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.” Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. This makes the American strategic interests in the transitions of the ‘Arab Spring’ all the more important to attempt to manage and control. Genuine democracy would bring an end to American and Western hegemony, yet, the “Muasher doctrine” of “everything is under control” has failed in the case of both Tunisia and Egypt. What then, is left for Western interests?

Tunisia’s Transition to “Democracy”

Immediately following Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, the land of exiled dictators, a “caretaker” government was quickly established in order to “lead the transition to democracy.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister (and the American favourite to replace him), helped to form a “unity” government, but after one day of existence, four opposition members quit the government, including three ministers from the UGTT trade union, saying they had “no confidence” in a government full of members from Ben Ali’s regime. Hundreds of people, led by trade unionists, took to the streets in protest against the transitional government.

Six members from Ben Ali’s regime appeared in the “unity” government, presided over by the former Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazaa. Ghannouchi stepped down in late February following popular opposition to his participation in the “unity” government, though he was replaced by Ben Ali’s former foreign minister. In February of 2011, the United States offered “military training” to Tunisia in the follow-up to the planned elections for later in the year, to make Tunisia a “model” revolution for the Arab world.

A public opinion poll conducted in Tunisia in May of 2011 revealed that there had been “a steep decline in confidence for the transition period,” noting that in March, a poll revealed that 79% of Tunisians believed the country was headed in the right direction, compared to only 46% who thought so in May. Roughly 73% of Tunisian’s felt that the economic situation was “somewhat bad or very bad,” and 93% of respondents said they were “very likely” to vote in coming elections.

In October of 2011, Tunisians went to the polls for their first democratic election, “the first vote of the Arab spring.” The election was designed to elect an assembly which would be tasked with one mission: to draft a constitution before parliamentary elections. The An-Nadha (Ennahda) party, an Islamist party which was banned under Ben Ali, was expected to receive most of the votes, though most Tunisians felt guarded in terms of seeking to protect their “unfinished revolution.” Lawyers lodged complaints that in the nine months since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, torture and police brutality continued, while human rights activists noted that cronies from Ben Ali’s regime continued to dominate the corrupt judicial system. One human rights activist noted, “We are overwhelmed with cases of human rights abuses. You wouldn’t believe there had been a revolution… Torture is the way things are done, it’s systematic. They have not changed their practices at all,” referring to the police.

On October 23, 2011, the Tunisian elections took place, with the Islamist party Ennahda winning 89 out of 217 seats, after which it joined with two secular parties to form a ruling coalition known as the ‘Troika.’ A year after the Troika had been in power, by October of 2012, Tunisians felt disheartened by the pace of the revolution. One young activist stated that, “They are failing on security, they are failing on the economy, and they are failing when it comes to liberties and rights… They have nothing to do with the revolution. They are completely disconnected.” Amnesty International even noted in October of 2012 that: “The authorities need to seize this historic opportunity and confront the painful legacy of abuse and violations of the pasty and enshrine in law and in practice universal human rights with the aim of making the rule of law a reality in the new Tunisia.”

Rachid Ghannouchi, the party’s chairman (no relation to Mohammed Ghannouchi), said that Ennahda “pledges to continue working with our national partners towards building a national consensus that takes Tunisians forward towards the protection of their revolution and achievement of its aims.” Over the previous year, the opposition within Tunisia had time to develop better than it did prior to the October 2011 elections, with new parties and organizations emerging. One, a decidedly non-mainstream party, the Tunisian Pirate Party, advocates direct democracy and freedom of expression, with its leader stating, “The classic political parties are trying to buy and sell people. The youth of Tunisia, we refuse this masquerade, this system… All they want is power, they don’t listen to us. They have betrayed the people.” On the other hand, the government was facing increasing pressure not only from the left opposition, but from the more conservative Salafists, ultra-conservative Islamists, who reject democracy and want Ennahda to take a firm grip on power.

At the time of Ben Ali’s overthrow, Tunisia had an unemployment rate of 13%, but by the end of 2011 it had risen to 18%, where it remains to this day, and was as high as 44% among young university graduates. Strikes, sit-ins, and protests had continued throughout 2012, and with 800,000 unemployed Tunisians, some were looking to new avenues for answers. The Salafists were providing poor young people with a different path. A former director at Tunisia’s UGTT trade union noted, “Salafism taps its social base into a pool of often deprived people inhabiting the so-called poverty belts surrounding inner cities… The rise of salafism is a socio-economic phenomenon before being a religious one.” Salafists call for a strict enforcement of religious law, and have taken part in protests which shout anti-Semitic and homophobic chants at times, leading many to fear the potential for women’s rights as well as those of various minority groups.

Salafists have also been linked to attacks on individuals and groups, opposition meetings and organizations. When complaints are made to the Ennahda government’s police forces, little is done to address the issues to persecute crimes. Human Rights Watch noted: “There is an unwillingness or an inability to arrest individuals… People have been attacked by people they identify as Salafis; they file a complaint to the judicial police, and in many cases the guy is never arrested.”

The Obama administration sought to contribute to the “stability” of the new regime in Tunisia by providing $32 million in military aid from January of 2011 to spring of 2012. An American General and head of the U.S. Africom (Africa Command) noted that on top of the military aid, the United States was continuing to train Tunisian soldiers, having already trained 4,000 in the previous decade. It would appear to be no less than the Muasher Doctrine with a difference face.

Clashes have increased between opposition parties and trade unionists with pro-government supporters as well as Salafists. In October of 2012, an opposition figure died after clashes between his supporters and pro-government forces calling themselves the League for the Protection of the Revolution. On December 17, 2012, at an event commemorating the two-year anniversary of the protests that began the revolution, angry protesters hurled rocks at the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki and the parliamentary speaker in Sidi Bouzid. As the president and speaker were hustled away by security forces, protesters chanted, “the people want the fall of the government.”

By December of 2012, it was clear that the frustration of Tunisians unsatisfied with the failure of the subsequent governments to meet their demands was “starting to overflow again.” In late November, the government had even sent troops to Siliana following four days of protests spurred on by demands for jobs and government investment. President Moncef Marzouki stated that, “Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” though admitted that the government had not “met the expectations of the people.” With unemployment remaining at 18%, a third of the unemployed being college graduates, one publishing company owner noted that, “Ben Ali ignored the blinking red lights on the economy, and that is what got him thrown out… The unemployed are an army in a country the size of Tunisia.” Since the revolution, the United States had provided Tunisia with $300 million, with the European Union providing $400 million, and the World Bank approving a $500 million loan, all in an attempt to prop up the new government, though it remained incapable of meeting the demands of its population.

A poll conducted by the International Republic Institute was published in October of 2012, revealing that for Tunisians, “employment, economic development, and living standards were chosen most often as top priorities for the current government,” though 67% of respondents felt the country was moving in the “wrong direction.” In another survey from late 2012, nearly half of Tunisians reported that they were “worse off” since prior to the revolution, with only 14% who felt their personal situation had improved. For Tunisians, the success of the revolution was defined more in terms of economic issues, with 32% stating that democracy “means the distribution of basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter – to all citizens,” while 27% define democracy as the right to criticize leaders, compared to only 25% who defined it “as alteration of leaders through elections.”

The Second Spark?

On February 6, 2013, a secular party leader and opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, a major critic of the Ennahda government, was assassinated outside of his home, shot in the head and neck, marking the first political assassination in Tunisia since the colonial period. Belaid was a major critic of the government’s failure to prosecute the criminal activities of violent religious groups linked to Salafists and pro-government forces. His death triggered widespread protests, many of which turned violent as government forces dispersed them using tear gas, while Tunisia’s biggest union, the UGTT, called for a general strike. Many felt that Ennahda was responsible for his murder, if not directly then by failing to reign in the radical Islamists.

On February 8, a general strike brought tens of thousands of Tunisians into the streets in protest and in mourning of Chokri Belaid. Belaid was a respected opposition figure, but also a prominent trade unionist and lawyer, and was “one of the most outspoken critics of the post-revolution coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.” The day before his assassination he had appeared on television criticizing the increased political violence in the country. One barrister noted during the protest, “not since colonial times in the early 1950s has Tunisia seen a clear political assassination in the street.” Many spoke out against the shadowy Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, made up of small groups of men “who are accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.” Belaid was a prominent critic of these groups, which he had publicly condemned as being linked to the ruling Ennahda party, a claim the party denies. The president of a Tunisian NGO, Jalila Hedhli-Peugnet, stated that Belaid “was not assassinated under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, now he is assassinated under the democracy of Ennahda.”

Coincidentally, on the day of Belaid’s assassination, Human Rights Watch released a report raising concerns about Tunisia for “the slow pace in reforming security operations and the judiciary, the failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups, and the prosecution of nonviolent speech offenses.” The worry for the region over two years since the Arab Spring began, reported HRW, was whether the new governments would respect human rights, which “will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes.” Throughout 2012, the courts in Tunisia applied already-existing repressive laws of the Ben Ali dictatorship to persecute nonviolent speech which the government considered harmful to “values, morality, or the public order, or to defame the army.” Artists have been charged for sculpting artwork deemed “harmful to public order and morals,” while two bloggers received prison terms of seven-and-a-half years for writing posts considered “offensive to Islam.” Over 2012, “assaults were carried out against intellectuals, artists, human rights activists, and journalists by individuals or groups who appear to be motivated by a religious agenda.” After reports had been filed on multiple occasions, “the police proved unwilling or unable to find or arrest the alleged attackers.”

In January of 2013, Amnesty International noted that after two years since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the abuses of the police forces and judicial system had yet to be addressed, specifically in relation to the period of the uprising between 17 December 2010 and just after Ben Ali fled, when roughly 338 people were killed and over 2,000 injured in protests. While Ben Ali was tried in absentia for the killings, only a few members of the security forces had been convicted for killing protesters.

Following the assassination of Belaid, Amnesty International immediately called for an “independent and impartial investigation” into his murder, noting that attacks against political opposition groups had been increasing, and that a meeting which Chokri Belaid had attended the Saturday before his murder was violently attacked and that Belaid had been receiving death threats. The Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International noted: “Two years after the ousting of former President Ben Ali, there is an increasing mistrust in the institutions that are supposed to protect human rights and Tunisians will not be satisfied with a sham investigation.”

Following the assassination, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali suggested that the coalition government should dissolve and form a non-partisan, technocratic government, though this was immediately rejected by members of his Ennahda party itself. All across Tunisia, a general strike was observed while tens of thousands took to the streets in multiple cities to mark the funeral of Belaid and to protest the government, often clashing with security forces.

The Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular party which was a member of the coalition government and whose leader, Moncef Marzouki, is president of Tunisia, said on Sunday February 10 that its party members would quit the government in protest against the handling of the political crisis, as tensions between the parties continued to accelerate. Meanwhile, pro-Ennadha government supporters also took to the streets, though in significantly less numbers than the opposition, to voice their support for the government.

Thus, with the Tunisian government on the verge of collapse, with the people seemingly on the verge of another uprising, and with increasing tensions between secular and Islamist groups, Tunisia continues its unfinished revolution. It is tempting to draw the comparison to Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party holds power, and where the population is again rising up against the government and in support of the revolutionary ideals which led them into the streets two years prior. As thousands again took to the streets in Egypt on February 8, they were met with riot police and tear gas.[49] It would appear that the Western-sponsored attempts to prop up Islamist governments to establish control over their populations is backfiring. Where the revolution goes, only posterity can say, but one thing is clear: the unfinished revolution in Tunisia – as elsewhere – is only finished, and democracy is only achieved, when the people themselves have made it and declared it to be so.

For those of us in the West, we must acknowledge that there is a stark contrast between the rhetoric and reality of our nations, as in, the difference between what our governments say and do. For all the blather and trumpeting about democracy we hear, the actions of our nations go to arming, training, and supporting repressive regimes, whether they take the form of secular authoritarian dictatorships, or Islamist “democratic” coalitions.

As we continue our own struggle for democracy at home, whether it is students in the streets of Quebec, Indignados in Spain, anarchists in Greece, Occupy Wall Street activists in New York, or the indigenous movement of Idle No More, we must realize that the same tax dollars which are used to have the police assault and repress protesters at home, are also used to assault, repress, and kill our brothers and sisters abroad in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and beyond. Their revolution is our revolution. Their democracy is our democracy. Their freedom is our freedom. And their future… is our future.

Via Truth-Out

The Artist Against the System

In News, NWO, World Revolution on December 27, 2012 at 4:35 PM

12/24/2012

Jon Rappoport:

Whatever his medium, the artist stands outside the group and group’s slogans.

If the group is living in Tuesday, he is living in Friday.

He sees invention everywhere, even in the faces that float by on the street. He sees their theatrical roles and the messages that are written on their lips before they speak.

He sees the preposterous crises that are concocted to lead to revelations that never come. Populations walk through one gate after another, deeper into an internal slavery that knows no limit.

The artist sees one genuine emotion after another parlayed into flashes of cheap sentiment.

In midst of all this, the artist doesn’t surrender. Nor does he only observe. Nor does he only point out the lies.

He CREATES.

He always has.

The artist opposes the most popular trends of the moment.

The trend now, under various guises, is the Collective.

We need to realize that the Collective, no matter how it is defined or shaped or covertly hidden, is seeking to marginalize the person who imagines and creates new realities.

The artist is able to spot the Collective. He opposes it.

This opposition can’t be settled and resolved with some absurd “rainbow philosophy” that pretends to include everybody. It can’t be dismissed or merged in a melting lump of happy-happy cosmic cheese.

Those pseudo-philosophers who speak about consciousness as if it were one all-embracing ocean, within which we are merely tiny and ineffectual drops of water, have already developed a convenient amnesia about the artist.

Down through time, in the face of every spiritual system devised by the priest-class, the artist has said no. Instead, he has built his own worlds. He has lived the life of imagination, immune to the latest and greatest “New Age.”

He has asserted his power.

This is the natural mantle worn by the person who invents, imagines, improvises, creates: power.

Power that is apart from the group.

The artist not only sees, with great clarity, the mindless brain-dead gatherings of Collectives; he not only sees how they are built; he not only sees how they import “the highest ideals” to flesh out their slave-programs and objectives; he not only rejects all this; he creates something entirely different.

He invents worlds of his own. Many worlds.

The artist proliferates. He doesn’t reduce.

The artist isn’t looking for the “one thing” that will unite us all under a banner of harmony. He knows all such harmonies wear out and are eventually co-opted to produce mass hypnosis.

The artist rebels. In rebelling, he reveals the uniqueness of the individual. He doesn’t pay lip service to this uniqueness. He demonstrates it.

The artist destroys the Matrix, over and over.

Whether in art, science, philosophy, healing, or any other field of human endeavor, the person who lives by and through imagination creates new realities. As the artist, he challenges the status quo on every level.

This isn’t a superficial undertaking. It isn’t an attempt to “do something pretty and nice.” It isn’t part of “being a good citizen.”

The Collective is a fungus that seeks to swallow up people and nations. It enlists the highest-flying ideals as a cover. It sweeps away resistance with what seems like the most honorable of intentions.

Humanity on this planet has been undergoing a transformation into one ten-billion-member cult. You can find its leaders just by listening to their voices and their sentiments. They all come from the same manual.

This is really war by other means.

In the dying days of the engorged Roman Empire, which had squandered its capital through wars of conquest, it was decided that these other means were necessary. And so the Roman Church was invented. It would employ all the idealisms of past ages.

It would actually produce an unprecedented version of mind control as the weapon of conquest.

And today, we have “the Global outlook.” This is the silky cover for drawing in populations to a perverse dream of unity for all.

“We will harmonize the world.”

This is exactly the kind of program the artist has always rejected.

The artist says: there are an infinity of worlds, and they can exist side by side; artists create them.

When that message is lost, we lose what we are and enter into amnesia.

ROBOT OR FREE?

There are some people who hear the word CREATE and wake up, as if a new flashing music has begun.

This lone word makes them see something majestic and untamed and astonishing.

They feel the sound of a Niagara approaching.

They suddenly know why they are alive.

The creative life is about diving in. It’s about a kind of transformation that shreds programming and gets down to the energy of the Fire.

Most people don’t want to travel to that grand arena because they have been trained like pets by some sector of this society to be good girls and boys.

The creative life isn’t about little changes done in little penguin steps. It’s about putting your arms and your mind around Deep, Big, and Wide Desire. It’s about making that Desire come to life.

99% of the world has been trained like rats to adore systems. Give them a system and they’re ready to cuddle up and take it all in. If they have questions, or if they want to argue, it’s about how to tweak the system to make it a little better. And with every move they make, they put another blanket over the Fire Within.

They sleepwalk through life and say yes to everything.

Maybe you once saw something truly free that didn’t care about consequences, and it blew you into tomorrow and turned on your soul’s electricity for an hour.

Maybe you’re sick and tired of bowing and scraping before a pedestal of nonsense.

CREATE is a word that should be oceanic. It should shake and blow apart the pillars of the smug boredom of the soul.

CREATE is about what the individual does when he is on fire and doesn’t care about concealing it. It’s about what the individual invents when he has thrown off the false front that is slowly strangling him.

CREATE is about the end of mindless postponement. It’s about what happens when you burn up the pretty and petty little obsessions. It’s about emerging from the empty suit and empty machine of society that goes around and around and sucks away the vital bloodstream.

People want a certain level of defined comfort, and they want to BELONG TO SOMETHING.

“I want to belong. It’s my reason for being. It’s my hole card. Therefore, I’ll sit on my imagination, so it won’t take me out beyond this thing I want to attach myself to.”

The propaganda machines of society relentlessly turn out images and messages that ultimately say: YOU MUST BELONG TO THE GROUP.

Day after day after day, year after year, the media celebrate heroes. They inevitably interview these people to drag out of them the same old familiar stories. Have you EVER, even once, seen a hero who told an interviewer in no uncertain terms: “I got to where I am by denying the power of the group, by denying the propaganda that says we all have to BELONG.”

Have you ever heard that kind of uncompromising statement?

I didn’t think so.

Why not?

Because it’s not part of the BELONGING PROGRAM, the program that society runs on to stay away from the transforming power of IMAGINATION.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 2012

In News, Viral Videos, World Revolution on December 20, 2012 at 12:31 AM

12/19/2012

Seasons greetings!!

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