On Tunis

Being that it’s Gramsci’s birthday and all, here’s a little exercise in pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will:

1) To those who said the fire was extinguished, we see today that even in the birthplace of the Arab uprisings where it was said to have succeeded the most (“it is relatively stable and has transitioned to liberal democracy”) that the original grievances that led to the Tunisian uprising of 2011 have yet to be resolved. Political change has not translated into economic and social justice, and political change has not placated the population, particularly those on the periphery who started the protests. This may be an obvious point, but…

2) Given the outcomes of the uprisings in other countries (civil wars, failed states, resurgent authoritarianism) many thought that Tunisians were at least happy to have the aforementioned relative stability and to have avoided chaos. But this Fear of the Alternative was not enough to justify mass unemployment and circumvent protest. The government is trying its hardest to use the specter of ISIS at the Libyan border to discourage dissent, claiming that only ISIS will benefit from any ‘chaos’ that results from protests. But the protests have continued unabated despite the state’s attempts to scare people with the ISIS boogeyman trope.

3) The latest uprising started because of a man being denied a government job and electrocuting himself in protest, and one of the main demands of the protesters is more government jobs, which the government has already promised it will work on. It’s very interesting that public sector jobs are the only work people living in peripheral cities and towns in Tunisia can fathom. It’s as if Capital has rendered all these people totally useless and irrelevant, and their only hope of socially reproducing themselves is through the safety and security of a job in the government bureaucracy. I’m not quite sure what this means, perhaps others will be able to analyze this development better than I could, but it’s definitely noteworthy.

4) For the post-uprising countries that are going through civil wars, these events are instructive. After years of bloodshed and corpses, most people will certainly be content with a return to normalcy, even if that normalcy entails mass unemployment and a lack of economic and social justice. But Tunisia shows that, even in the best-case scenario, the original contradictions are still present, the legitimate grievances have yet to be addressed, and the people can only be placated with normalcy for so long if that normalcy entails the status quo of economic degradation and alienation. Even if the wars end and historic compromises are struck that seem unfathomable today, even if we return to a pre-uprising order with a little more liberal democratic flavor, it seems the region will be in it for the long haul until economic and social justice is achieved. And that’s a positive development. Once again, Tunisia leads the way.

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