After 2011, many things happened in Morocco, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, etc... “And our mission is to reproduce information; there are many changes in the region,” said Hamouda Soubhi, from Morocco, member of the Local Committee of WSF2013, in the first session of the Dialogues promoted by GRAP – Reflection and Support Group for the World Social Forum process. The topic this Tuesday, January 29th was the Arab Spring; today (Wednesday) there will be another on the indigenous movement, the Occupations and the recent Chilean student protests.
Everyone told us that the struggle of their people has been going on for a long time. Various activists who led the protests have been militant for decades. These revolutions did not arise suddenly, organized by the internet, as the media wanted us to believe. For Messaoud Romdhani, of the Tunisian Forum on Human Rights, it is not strange that the movement in the region started in his country. “Tunisia has a tradition of being modern,” recounts Messaoud and cited as example that “already in the 19th century it was the first Arab country to ban polygamy, giving status to women.” Since the 80s and 90s, the movement started to link the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for economic rights with the trade unions, the women’s movement and the struggle for human rights.
The active participation of women was highlighted throughout the Arab Spring, especially since the culture there and the Islamic religion restricts much of their rights. Halima Juini, from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, recounted the struggle of textile workers who occupied a factory in order to prevent it from being shut down. She said that the participation of women gave a new form to the struggle. “At the start of the revolution the union of the women’s movement with the students’ movement was fundamental,” said Halim. “The struggle also gave women the courage to denounce the specific acts of violence which affected them, as they were “often treated as prostitutes, morally judged by a conservatism that humiliates women.” It was an evolution in the process of recognizing that women’s rights are a fundamental part of human rights.
The weakness of local parties and the interference of the U.S. and allies are other characteristics cited by interviewees who reject the mix of religion and politics used for the repression of their people, and who fight for a secular democracy. “It is more difficult to win an election than to make a revolution, society is resistant,” ponders Messaoud. The activist criticizes Tunisia’s existing government which “does not have social priority because it is based in a religion that wants to take the country back to the Middle Ages.” In Syria, the revolution comes across as even more confusing to the world because of the seemingly progressive stance of its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been in power for the last 48 years. “The government has put our population at the mercy of the U.S.,” according to Sara Ajkyakin, activist exiled in Lebanon ten months ago (there are three of them visiting Brazil to speak for their cause). “Overthrowing the dictator and his military apparatus has become everyone’s objective,” Sara said, even though the social base of the Syrian revolution is composed of activists who support women, children, and students. The bourgeoisie had initially underestimated the protesters, saying that they represented nothing.
“We would like to internationalize the revolution from day one. We don’t expect anything from the PCs who are with Assad, who say they are socialist because they are pro-Palestine. Tell me, which socialist kills more than 60 thousand people in his country?” asks and indignant young representative from Syria. She recounts that 90% of the Syrian economy is private and of these, 70% of the companies are in the hands of the dictator’s family. “The struggle is against the imperialism of the U.S. and Russia; but Americans are more intelligent, supporting moderate Islamic groups who agree to submit to U.S. interests.” Sara was the protagonist in the polemic put forth by a militant in the plenary to defend the government of Syria with communist party rhetoric. “You have a right to your opinion, but you do not have a right to the facts. Assad contributed to the massacre of Palestininians in ’67, why not speak of this?” she fumed.
According to Sara, “Syria would not have started a revolution without the revolutions in Tunisia and in other Arab countries.” For the Palestinian representative at the table, Yousef K. Y. Habache, Palestinian independance will only come with the independance of other Arab countries. For over 65 years, Palestinians have been fighting for the self-determination of their people and for the right of return for their thousands and thousands of refugees worldwide. Himself a Palestinian exile, “I still have not met my four month old son,” Yousef spoke of the 75 thousand Palestinians who are prisoners in their own land, land that has been occupied by Israeli Zionists who “took all the arable land and will not stop there.” He also spoke of the hunger strike in which many prisoners find themselves at the moment. The activist considers the “chair won in the UN as important but ethereal” and denounced the dual stance taken by Brazil. “They support the right of the State of Palestine in the UN, but have a strong military economy that supports Israel.” We know that Brazil is one of the main consumers of advanced military technology developed in the State of Israel.
Communication and the World Social Forum: Visibility
Inequality, injustice, poverty, uemployment, in short, the precariousness of life, are common conditions for the majority of the Arab people (as well as Latin-Amercans and Africans), and true motives for the popular revolts. The control of communication by the oppressors is another common trait. Sara says that the it is our responsability to look for access to information that cannot be seen by normal means and gives an example. According to her, of the two major newspapers in Syria, one is named after the political party in power and the other is named after the month in which that same party took power in Syria. “After the revolutions,” said Hamouda “the newspapers began to talk about the ’awakening of the Arab world’ as if our people had been sleeping!” He quipped. “Really, it is very prejudiced and presumptuous of Western superiority.”
Ben Amor Romdhane, member of the WSF committee in Tunisia, also said that the revolution was not made on the internet, but the internet did provide a breakthrough in the right to communication. “The revolution was the fruit of the coalition of the movements of women, students, unions, and a mix of others including bloggers who broke social codes by criticizing the government on the internet, a few of them paying a high price for this.” There came a time in Tunisia in which the policing of the internet filtered and censured information: various sites were closed, leaving the country without means of getting information from the world or to the world. “In the first days of the revolution, we had united bloggers creating communication channels, using cell phones to send photos of what was happening,” said the activist. “The bloggers won the right to information, showing that it could not be the property of the few.”
“There are contradictions in our revolutions,” confirmed Sara in responding to questions in the plenary, “but it is only by participating in them, in conjunction with the working class of the world, that we will will attack imperialism not only with words.” She questioned the internationalism and socialism of Hugo Chavez, “who sent diesel to bomb our towns.” Even though the Arab people are uniting for justice, liberty and dignity, “the monetary strength coming from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is lending support to to the reactionaries,” said Halima. “They say that they want a moderate Islam, but money and oil are their main motivations.”
For all these reasons, the new edition of the World Social Forum taking place in this part of the world is very important for the continuity of social transformation processes and for international visibility in the struggle of the Arab people. “The WSF, with the idea of combining the struggles for all rights, was inspired by Tunisia,” said Messaoud. “The WSF will draw the world’s attention to Tunisia, showing an Islamic government that wants to go back to the Middle Ages. Poverty, inequality, and unemployment are worldwide problems.”
This is the original idea of the WSF, to provide contact and an exchange of experiences between those who yearn for a better world, thus strengthening the global fight. “The Palestinian cause is a human cause,” said Yousef Habache, “we want solidarity, but we want to be in solidarity with other people, globalizing the fight and the human rights.” This is another common feature in the reports on the Arab Spring, the certainty that the struggle continues. “The social movements will continue to grow and protest daily,” said Ben Amor. “I believe that the revolution will not end until fairness and social equality have been achieved.” Hopefully.
translation by Diane Garceau