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On the sixth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution, January is still feared

Image of the Tunisian Revolution that took place in January 2011 [Chris Belsten/Flickr]
People come together during the Tunisian Revolution that took place in January 2011 [Chris Belsten/Flickr]

The revolution in Tunisia is not over yet, and there is enough evidence to justify saying that. However, nor has it achieved all its goals either. It still receives blows from those plotting daily to end it while inspiring its supporters and giving them the resilience and will to resist in order to prevent a relapse and backward step. This is obvious in the atmosphere surrounding the sixth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution.

The month of January is a difficult month in Tunisia because of the memories of rebellion and disobedience since the era of its first President, Habib Bourguiba. He was loved and respected by Tunisians but they insisted that they wouldn't give in to his political will when he made a wrong decision and tried to impose it on the people. This led to two serious clashes, the first of which was when the regime decided to break the Tunisian General Labour Union by force, after a relatively long period of obedience and a policy of subjugation. Although the union leadership was part of the ruling party at that time, its desire for independence from the executive branch in order to play a role in criticising liberal policies carried a heavy price. Clashes erupted and, on 26 January 1978, a general strike was announced. In response, the regime deployed the army, which shot hundreds of citizens. It was a horrible and bloody day that cost a lot of lives, but it changed the path of the country and revealed the presence of a severe crisis within the regime. Gradually, this paved the way for the removal of Bourguiba from power ten years later.

Also during the Bourguiba era, Prime Minister Mohammed Mzali decided to raise the price of bread in an attempt to reduce the budget deficit. He was faced with widespread unrest in response, starting on 3 January 1984. The army went onto the streets again to face unarmed citizens, and over 100 people were killed, damaging Tunisia's image abroad.

This made Bourguiba cancel the bread price increase. Again the people took to the streets, but this time to cheer rather than criticise the regime, calling Bourguiba the "biggest mujahid" (fighter), a label that he cherished and wanted to hear from his people as it fed his ego.

Most important in recent history, though, was January 2011 which put an end to the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Month-long protests spread and forced him to cut short his vacation overseas before he left for permanent exile.

Since 2011, successive governments in Tunisia, no matter how popular they are, have a fixation with January. Why? Because it seems to be the most heated, complicated and rough month, witnessing non-stop, large scale protests whereby Tunisians remember all of the grievances that have still not been dealt with, especially in those areas and provinces that are waiting for urgent solutions instead of the attractive promises that have always been made by ministers and politicians with no clear or binding plan.

This year, January brought the same as previous years: Sidi Bouzid witnessed popular activity; the residents of Ben Guerdane had a sit in; and north-western regions protested. The government found itself in a crisis which pushed it towards media and political mobilisation in the hope that this would ease the tension.

The main reason for what has happened in this year's January is that those areas, and others, are still at the same place as they were six years ago, with the same slogans. The people have realised that all politicians, whether right-wing, left-wing or centre, are incapable of changing the situation; that they have no political creativity. Everyone raises the same slogan to which they get the same old promises, but they do not achieve anything on the ground that could convince the people that things are moving forward.

It is true that Tunisia is stable when compared to other countries which witnessed the spark of revolution, but without resolving the economic and social issues, the revolution cannot remain steadfast forever.

Translated from Arabi21, 15 January, 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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