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Assembly meets Arab Spring in Tunisia

quarta-feira 8 de maio de 2013, por Deborah Moreira, Deborah Moreira Deborah Moreira

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They were all there. Youth, black, white, Asian, religious, and non-religious men and women. Many women. The Assembly of Social Movements, one of the sessions that traditionally closes the World Social Forum (WSF), gathered together organizations from more than 100 countries, on Friday, March 29th, in Tunisia. (Translation: Diane Garceau)

Even those who were against the event were also there, claiming their space. That is how democracy works in the Forum. There is something for everyone.

The WSF of Tunisia, which took place between the 26th and the 30th of March in the capital of Tunisia, had one of its peaks in the Assembly. In the Amphitheatre of the Faculty of Rights, at El Manar University, buzzwords dominated the entire encounter. They were echoed all the time between the groups present, in a healhy dispute for space. Among the voices, the names of the leaders of the left, Chokri Belaid and Hugo Chávez, who died more recently, were constantly present - martyrs of ongoing revolutions. And almost always, there was a chorus, rising from the back of the audience, demanding an end to capitalism.

Meanwhile the Arabic women emitted ululations called “zaghrouta” or “salgouta”, war cries which come from the time of the Pharoahs in Egypt, when women were greeting or taking leave of their husbands who were returning from, or leaving for war. Today, the sound is used to transmit joy and excitement, and is widely used in celebrations and dances.

Arab folk music and the most recent ones that have marked the so-called Arab Spring also gave rhythm to the event, and even a rap song was sung a cappella by an artist from the region.

An estimated 2000 people were present inside the auditorium. And several hundred remained outside due to the large concentration of people. With French as the predominant language, a few speeches were translated into English, Spanish and Arabic.


The assembly began with the mention of immigrants and those who had been prevented from entering the country to participate in the Forum, like Yilmaz Orkan, member of the International Council of the WSF and part of the Kurdish Network and the World Network for the Collective Rights of Peoples. Yilmaz, who is known internationally for his fight against the oppression of Kurdish people, was detained at the International Airport of Brussels on Sunday , March 24th, when he was en route to the WSF.

“We, the participants of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunisia 2013, condemn the emprisonment of Yilmaz Orkan”, reads an excerpt of the letter signed by more than 30 leaders and activists, disclosed during the WSF. According to the document, the detention of the activist had been solicited by the Spanish government and by Europol, under the pretext of his being a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP), accused of terrorism – they are in the European Union’s list of “terrorist organizations.” The letter ends with the statement: “We denounce this practice as a tool for the criminalization of the fight of the Kurdish peoples for their basic rights in the Republic of Turkey and the Middle East.”

The majority of the Kurds are Muslims, Sunnis, and have their own language and culture. Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, after the First World War, when they had their traditional nomadic life, surrounded by frontiers created in the post-war era, they were living scattered about in five countries: Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey - home to most of the Kurdish population, whose leftist forces exert a strong influence. Amid the bloody conflicts that ravage Kurdish communities, caught in the highlands of Southeast Asia, they demand political recognition and respect for their culture.

The anticapitalist struggle and feminism

Many feminist leaders present reinforced the fight against male chauvenism, patriarchy, and the Islamic fundamentalism of some regions of Muslim countries that directly affect the autonomy of women.
“We have to move forward with the fight against capitalism which will not succeed without feminism,” emphasized Ahlem Belhard, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, who was one of the leaders invited to talk during the assembly and who, early on, at the start of the WSF, led the Assembly of Women.

In the speeches that followed, there was a request for a minute of silence for the martyr, Chokri Belaid, leader of the Tunisian left, assassinated in February of this year. Even in the face of threats, the Popular Front created in September 2012 by 12 parties, amongst which was Belaid’s Unified Democratic Patriots Party (PPDU), continues as an opposing force against the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), formed by Salafists (ultraconservative Muslims) and sympathizers of Tunisia’s current governing party, Ennahdha, of a religious orientation. Belaid accused them of uncleared crimes. His death destabilized the new government, sparking new elections.

Western Sahara

Other fights in the region were mentioned, like that of Palestine. Already the banner of Western Sahara’s independence, in Morocco, it caused instability in the assembly, bringing participants to heated discussions. Many Morrocans, who do not accept the Saharawi people’s struggle, disputed a portion of the final document of the assembly which states: “We uphold the right of the people and their self-determination and sovereignty, as in Palestine, Western Sahara and Kurdistan.”

Since 1960, when the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) approved of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which provoked the decolonization of territories that until that time had been maintained by European nations, Western Sahara remains as the final colonial dispute in Africa – not to be confused with the recent colonialist onslaughts in the region, as in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

The end of the meeting was marked by the departure of a small group of Saharawi people who, under applause, needed to be escorted from the Forum by volunteers.

The unity of the people was present in many discussions, as was the maintenance of cultural diversity in the region of Maghreb-Machrek. The Arab world is not homogenous and its specific struggles need to be respected. It is necessary to take an unwesternized look at these people, who have their own way of self-organizing and of fighting for their rights. Thus, the springs continue.