By Jean Shaoul:
Strikes and protests sweep Tunisia
17 August 2012
On Tuesday, several thousand workers demonstrated in Sidi Bouzid. The city in the impoverished interior of Tunisia is where the vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself on December 17, 2010, sparking the uprising against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The protest was directly opposed to the interim government led by the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that came to power following elections last October.
The Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT), the main trade union federation, had called for a general strike. It said that more than 90 percent of workers had joined the strike. Shops and offices in the city centre were closed for the day.
The demonstrators marched to the courthouse, demanding the release of dozens of political activists detained since July following demonstrations that were brutally put down by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Some but not all were later released, including 12 of the activists arrested at a protest last week in Sfax, 160 miles south of the capital.
The strikers and their supporters shouted slogans, including, “The people want the fall of the regime!” and “Justice, woe to you, Ennahda has power over you!”
The demonstrators also called for an end to the totally inadequate access to water and electricity that is making everyday life an intolerable burden.
Earlier, on Monday evening, National Women’s Day, tens of thousands of Tunisians, mainly women, took to the streets of the capital Tunis and other cities to demand that women’s equality and rights be protected under the constitution being drafted by the Islamist government.
The demonstrations were by far the largest since the government violently broke up a march last April. Protesters fear that the constitution will downgrade the status of women. They carried banners saying, “Rise up women for your rights to be enshrined in the constitution” and “Ghannouchi [Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi] clear off, Tunisian women are strong”.
They demanded that the government remove the proposed Article 27, which defines women as “complementary to men”, from the new national charter, in favour of the existing 1956 law that grants women full equality with men.
The 1956 Code of Personal Status outlawed polygamy, established civil law, and gave women the right to vote, open bank accounts and set up businesses without their husbands’ consent. It was later expanded to include, among other things, the right to work and abortion.
According to a translation by France 24, Article 27 in the new charter affirms that “The state guarantees to protect women’s rights, as they stand, under the principle of man’s complement within the family and man’s partner in developing the country”.
This has been widely interpreted as the first step on the part of the Islamists to roll back women’s position in Tunisia in line with Sharia law.
Demonstrators called for the government to address the economic deprivation in the interior regions and to end unemployment.
The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, the Tunisian Human Rights League, the Republican Party, the Social and Democratic Path, and the Call for Tunisia party organised another rally at the Congress Palace in Tunis, calling for “effective and unconditional equality in rights and duties between men and women” and warning against “a new regression and possible backsliding in women’s gains”.
Protests to mark National Women’s Day on Avenue Bourguiba in the capital were earlier banned by the government, ostensibly over traffic concerns. Avenue Bourguiba was the focal point of the mass protests that led to the ouster of Ben Ali, the longtime ally of US and French imperialism, in January 2011, sparking mass movements all over the Middle East and North Africa.
Demonstrators also took to the streets of Monastir and Sfax.
See also here.
Tunisia: UN Working Group On Women Calls On Tunisia to Safeguard Achievements in Equality: here