Another slap to the Tunisian Revolution, another stab in the womb of the Arab Spring. The attack to the Museum of Bardo of March 18, 2015, was a political act. Contrary to what several Western media have related, the attack was most probably not orchestrated by ISIS, but by a brigade named ʿAqba Ibn Nāfiʿa, connected to al-Qāʿeda in the Islamic Maghreb[1]. The armed men were directed to the Tunisian parliament, which is located in the same block of the Museum. The Parliament was discussing the reform of the Terrorism Law, curiously enough similar to the one adopted by ousted president Ben ʿĀlī in 2003, and used to repress oppositional groups[2]. The parliament was therefore trying to redress the anti-democratic abuses practiced in the name of the war on terrorism, and to refocus it on crimes threatening democracy, people’s security and social cohesion. When the armed men, that March 18, realised that they could not enter the Parliament as planned due to the deployment of security forces, they hid in the Museum after having shot at the tourism bus. Therefore, the operation was originally not addressed against the so-called Kuffār, the unfaithful ones, the non-Muslims, a topic so dear to ISIS propaganda; it was a plain political act. Two days after the Tunis’ attack, I participated in a talk-show on SkyTV, and the leading question in the studio was: «Is the Spring’s colour black, and is ISIS surrounding us?». This is not the right question to be addressed. True, security at the European borders must be upgraded, but in my view the main question we should ask ourselves right now is : How to preserve the achievements of the Tunisian revolution?

It is interesting to notice that the sociology of the youth joining Jihadism is equivalent to those protesting against the pre-2011 regime: often coming from the same poor districts, without access to job opportunities, deceived by the establishments, in quest for an identity and of their stolen dignity. Jihadism within the Arab context is an enemy of the recent Arab revolutions, as much as the ousted or still in place corrupted regimes are. Jihadism opposes the values chanted in the Arab streets: freedoms, jobs and opportunities, social justice and citizenship. The time will most probably reveals to us the shared interests the two camps opposing the Arab revolutions have in common. Not many have highlighted the fact that some of the leaders of the Islamic State were detained in Damascus’ prisons and freed as of 2011 to divide and «Islamize» the opposition. Or that Al-Asad’s regime bombed ar-Raqqa, one of the Syrian cities controlled by the Islamic State, only once the Americans intervened militarily, while other Syrian cities such as Alep or Derʿā had been the target of the Syrian air force since the early times of the uprising. Or that the Islamic State sells oil to Damascus and Damascus is helping to operate the terrorist movement’s oil and gas facilities via regime close characters such as businessman George Haswānī, whose assets have been frozen by the EU[3]. Not many have highlighted that journalists cannot access Sinai, and therefore nobody can reports independently on what happens there and who has organized attacks against Egyptian soldiers in the last two years, and how much is the Egyptian security effectively operating to prevent terror attacks on their soil.

The effective agenda we need, should we Western civil society and nations be interested in legitimizing Arab youth’s aspirations and preserving Arab democratic forces from annihilation, should look like that :

  • Advocating for transitional justice in Arab Spring countries. The only nation where such a process has been effectively activated is Tunisia, with the Instance Vérité et Dignité, but also this process is currently threatened by the intentions of the Presidency of the Republic to replace it  with «National Reconciliation», which looks more like an amnesty without identification of personal responsibilities. In Egypt or Libya, not even that has been possible, and few only have paid for the mass murders committed during the revolutions, or the systematic robbery of the public treasury.

  • Promoting social redistribution policies, and investing in peripheral areas or areas lagging behind more than in large-scale public works. Last Fall, I was in Egypt and was shocked by the posters displayed along the main avenues, sponsored by local political figures and businessmen, and stating: «The dream of the Egyptians? The new Suez Canal!». Not health, not employment, not education any more: the Suez Canal! Egyptians were invited to loan their savings to the State for it!

  • Re-launching dialogue with Islamic non Jihadist groups, challenging them within the democratic arena, and preserving at the centre of dialogue the objective of national unity beyond any specific ideological affiliations. If we believe that secular forces per se are the only carers of universal values in those countries, we misunderstand the culture and history of those countries and undermine the legitimate possibility of the emergence of a religion-inspired political camp within a democratic context. Having declared the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Salafi Ansār as-Sharīʿa in Tunisia terror groups, or taking clear side of the Tobruk government and of those calling for «cleansing » Libya of political Islam, is not necessarily serving people’s interests.

  • Demanding a debt moratorium to channel those nations’ public resources toward filling the social and economic gap disintegrating their societies, on the one hand, and upgrading the security capacities, without however harming citizens’ fundamental freedoms, on the other hand. And reconsidering privatization or austerity policies which are imposed by international creditors to ease the payback of foreign debt. Some figures: Egypt is indebted for around 28 billion € and it annually pays 2,4 billion € in debt services (figures 2013); in 2011, the Tunisian foreign debt amounted to 20,2 billion €, and that represents roughly 20% of the State’s budget[4].

While Bardo was hit by that repugnant terror attack, thousands of people were besieging the new headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, demanding the end of austerity and privatization policies, and the prosecution of corrupted financial and political elites putting people on the edge of impoverishment with their policies. «It has long since become clear that the policies implemented during the crisis were not meant to be temporary – they have been safely embedded into the state and EU institutions. This has paved the way for a new phase, a model of society of precariousness and very limited social rights» state the organizers of Blockupy, the mobilisation which has surrounded a few days ago the financial district of Frankfurt [5]. There has been also over there violence in the streets, at a different scale, targeting goods and properties, but still violence. Of different nature, but fuelled by the same emotional rage and fury. We cannot ignore that violence is becoming the more and more a modality of expression of hidden conflicts shaking the roots of our systems, and we cannot avoid to ask us global questions about where we are heading to. And if we do so, here is an unavoidable matter: what is the relation between Capitalism and Democracy? And the answer is close to be: they have switched of role. Capitalism is not a tool for redistributing scarce goods according to rules and measures of Democracy any more, and Democracy serves as institutional framework and ethical legitimization to the accumulation process of Capitalism. No surprise if the future of Greek pensioners counts less than the interests stocked by European banks. Or, no surprise if Italian business community goes to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh economic forum of March 13, 2015, with the blessing of Italian authorities, ignoring that the Egyptian regime is further repressing freedoms and neglecting public services[6].

Another point of concern is that the cycle of anti-terrorism measures seems following the waves of social unrest against the reduction of democratic spaces and social rights. It is certainly a coincidence, but it certainly serves the purpose of role switch between Capitalism and Democracy as well. Take what happened after Charlie Hebdo’s tragic events. A new generation of anti-terror measures saw the light with an extension of the definition of terrorist acts overlapping the right to dissent and criticize governmental policies. Egypt adopted a law on terrorist entities last March 1, 2015, allowing rights groups and political parties to be designated terrorists by using vague expressions such as «infringement of the public order or social peace», or «advocating by any means for the obstruction of laws». Spain is discussing a reform of the Penal Code which includes among terror crimes again vague formulations such as «public disorders», or even crimes against assets when «obliging public powers to do an action or to abstain from doing it». That could allow courts to declare terrorist practices any resistance act against house ejections for those who cannot pay back a bank loan, or protest rallies against privatisation measures.

The same day, March 18, results of Israeli elections were announced, reconfirming Netanyahu’s party as the one receiving the relative majority of votes. Arik Ascherman, a renowned member of Rabbis for Human Rights, has written on his Facebook profile:  «If Kahlon[7] will stick to his declared principles, there is some hope that something good will come out of these elections for Israelis living in poverty. There is much less of a chance that anything good will come out of these elections for weak and underprivileged non-Jews (Palestinians, Negev Bedouins or asylum seekers). Additionally, until now there has always been a majority that wanted to believe that their leaders were working for peace [with Palestinians], even if that wasn’t true. Whether or not Netanyahu really meant what he said, now we see that there is a majority willing to say “Our leaders won’t work for peace.”»

We still have a lot of work to do, both to defend the human rights of the weak, and to provide moral leadership. It is certain that, in the Middle East, a Palestinian State is out sight with such an Israeli political leadership, and that this matter of fact will feed further the anger of Arab masses and justify Jihadism against a subjugated West to the narrative of the so-called «only democracy of the Middle East». It is also most probable that social inequalities will deepen within Israel, giving further arguments to the youth who protested in 2011 against the ties between political and economic élites, and who have in the meantime lost the pulse of class struggle[8].

Definitely, March 18, 2015, was a bad day for the region. And if we keep focusing to the security risks of Islamic terrorism and possible military responses only, we will miss the point, which is : we are locked in a cursed circle, where the lack of a vision and of a proactive policy for democracy and social justice between the two shores of the Mediterranean makes everything worst, and does not help in uprooting the rage from youth, nor in quenching the seduction power of terror organisations. Sorry to be so grim.

The good news is that the World Social Forum will convene its international gathering in Tunis from March 24 to 28, 2015, despite Bardo’s attacks. That is the best response international civil society could deliver these days. A response up to the great protagonism played by the Tunisian civil society during the democratic transition, holding the society together, nurturing national dialogue and keeping vigilant. Progressive citizens’ mobilisation seems one of the few good news in front of the dark times of terror, institutional repression and growing social inequalities we can still hear.

 

Notes

[1] After the double claim of responsibility by the brigade, before and after the attack, an audio produced by ISIS celebrating the attack was circulated, but several analysts question the truthfulness of the latter claim.

[2] «There has been a recrudescence in resorting to harassment during interrogations and to torture in detention centres under the cover of the  so-called “anti-terrorism” law. Between 2005 and 2007 only, that phenomenon affected more than two thousands persons under trial or condemned for opinion crimes» (source: ALTT, CLHDR, La torture en Tunisie et la loi «antiterroriste» du 10 décembre 2003. Faits et témoignages afin que cesse l’impunité, 2008).

[3] Source: David Blair, «Oil middleman between Syria and Isil is new target for EU sanctions», in The Telegraph, 7 March 2015.

[4] Sources: www.dropegyptsdebt.org; zelzel.net; Patrizia Mancini, «Bardo: al di là del dolore, i pericoli per la Tunisia», tunisiainred.org, 19 March 2015.

[5] Source: « March 18th 2015: Transnational actions against the European Central Bank’s opening gala – Let’s Take Over The Party!», blockupy.org.

[6] Italian oil company ENI has signed last March 14, 2015, a framework agreement with Egypt to develop oil resources exploitation and increase ENI’s investments in the country.

[7] Moshe Kahlon is the founder of a new party, Kulanu (All of Us), which is focusing on egalitarian economics and middle class cost-of-living issues.

[8] According to economist Shir Hever, eighteen families control 60% of the value of all Israeli companies; this value is concentrated in four sectors: banking and insurances, chemistry, high technology, and military apparatus and security. If in the ’60s Israel was considered one of the most equitable countries of the World in terms of wealth distribution, today it spends 75% less with respect to OECD countries’ average in redistributive policies such as health assistance, unemployment benefits or job creation, and between ¼ and ⅓ of Israelis live below the poverty threshold («The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation», interview by Paul Jay to Shir Hever, in TheRealNews.com, 6 July 2012. The value of the wealth belonging to these eighteen families adds up  to 77% of Israel’s public budget (O. Coren, L. Weissman, «18 wealthiest families earn 32% of Israel’s revenues», in Haaretz.com, 13 February 2006).

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