Class analysis of Tunisia

Tunisia: middle classes to turn against revolutionaries?
We herewith reproduce an interessing assessment of the current situation in Tunisia of which we believe that it contains valid elements. As supporters of the revolutionary left we see it as a warning to take appropriate measures to gain as much influence as possible to vblock the counter-revolution.

Anti-imperialist Camp

Khelil wrote me this (I cite with his permission and I can confirm his analysis. I have indeed received emails from irate Tunisians who told me that they did not want Ghannushi to step down):

"1) The middle class (adult and youth) is greatly irritated that Ghannoushi stepped down (over 2,000 gathered at his home after his announcement to call for his return in a spontaneous affair; Mr Gannouchi, mes excuses chui 1 de la majorité qui ont choisi le silence is a Facebook page and another for Ghannoushi has over 10,000 fans) and now what is being called the "silent majority" is starting to stand up against the UGTT union which is behind the continuing protests. A majority of Tunisians, especially the middle class, is growing resentful that leftist and Islamist factions are claiming to speak in the name of "the people" and "the revolution" and that the UGTT is undermining efforts to get people back to work. Protests are starting to attack the UGTT and the self-proclaimed committee that they have set up with Nahda claiming to "protect the revolution". The middle class does not want the UGTT to claim their voice, and this includes the youth of middle class families as well who are starting to attack the UGTT.

2) The far-left is making much of the noise and has set up righteous committees: The January 14 Front is another case in point, a gathering of leftists, communists and even the Ba'ath movement. These committees speak presumptuously about how they are the vanguards of the revolution and they are seeking to protect it, and thus they should play a larger role in the transition. But the middle class, represented by much of the establishment press, has begun to push back and decried these groups as opportunists whose demands for, say, higher wages at a fragile economic time is selfish, that they are simply a loud minority, and that their policies would wreck the nation's economic prospects. The January 14 Front and UGTT have both made far-left calls for nationalization et cetera which are opposed by the middle class, mainstream opposition, and by France (which has been the beneficiary of many privatizations).

3) The Islamists are also anxious to get recognition and want to have a role in crafting the constitution but they are simply now riding the coattails of the far-left and UGTT. Ghannoushi is being ambiguous and the Islamists also discredited themselves with the hateful fest in front of the Synagogue and efforts to burn brothels (neither of which Nahda condemned) and the strong showing at the lacite march I think has made them coy a bit and to decide to adopt a more low-profile and behind the cover of UGTT (which is actively working with them).

4) Expect in the next days and weeks an onslaught by the middle class to discredit and even disband into the UGTT into several unions which would be easier to keep the far-left restrained; as its claim to be representing the revolution is being challenged by the middle class opposed to its economic proposals. Its president is already the focus of attacks (degage) and people are circulating his past photos and efforts with Ben Ali. A lot is being posted all around Facebook. And a new Facebook page titled UGTT, je bosse demain et je t'emmerde has already got over 17,000 followers in just eight hours after being put up. I have seen several Facebook pages against UGTT and many have over 10,000 fans. And there was a small demonstration against UGTT today in front of their offices and a large one is being planned this Saturday March 5. The middle and upper-class is pissed at the continuing protests and there is a growing hatred of the UGTT and other leftist groups (the attacks are becoming very vociferation) and fear that continued instability will ruin the economy, lead to far-left and Islamist power grabs, and even threaten a political vacuum that will lead to a new strongman. Basically, the camped demonstrators in the Casbah and the UGTT will no longer be able to claim that they speak for the revolution and they act in the name of Tunisians as this message is being strongly rebuked. A centrist party will likely be formed to counter the far-left. The middle class is energized now.

5) There is clear class division between the coastal middle and upper class and the interior working poor and the southern city of Sfax, Tunisian's second city, long shut out from power and now seeking to make their voice heard. Until now they had the platform, but remember that Tunisia is a majority middle class people with middle class aspirations, most people just want to return to work and gradually rebuild the nation and dislike fiery words and radical platforms. The demonstrators in front of the Casbah are far removed in education, social and political values and dress from the mainstream middle (there is also a heavy condescending attitude toward them as the middle class considers them to be poorly educated, if not illiterate, and just "ga3rah" as Tunisians say, i.e. uncivilized) The far-left is really just talking to itself about "neo-liberalism" et al, they are energized but in the minority. And remember that the press and the army are rooted in the middle class, France supports that approach as well, and the far-left and Islamists will lose in the end. It is still going to be noisy and messy for now but the growing anger against the UGTT means that it has overreached in its demands, the middle class is now calling for the UGTT to stop playing a political role. A demonstration took place Feb. 25 attacking the UGTT's call for strikes. As I said it will still by messy in Tunisia for now, but in a country like Tunis the center will eventually win and I think that the middle class is so angry now that they will come out stronger in the election and the far-left and Islamists will be the worse off for it. The far-left has alienated and scared off most of the country with their pronounced platforms, I think they really misread the scene. And hoodlums have used the disorder of protests to loot shops and attack cars and while they were simply opportunists (and some were even found to have been paid by the last vestiges of the Ben Ali goons), people are blaming the UGTT for creating the circumstance.

6) Lastly, whatever happens in Tunisia I believe is only a taste of the class-divide battle which will take place in Egypt, where the class inequality is even more pronounced. Tunisia's division between the far-left, union and the middle class, business class (which represent the center-left, center and center-right) is tame and will be, I think, quick to quite down in comparison to the debates that will soon dominate a far larger nation like Egypt."

As'ad AbuKhalil/ The Angry Arab News Service