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Tunisia: Yezzi Fock (It’s Enough!)

January 11, 2011

photo credit: Djeja Moslia. Young demonstrator in Tunis. As the `Tunisian Economic Miracle' unravels. The young man is holding up Oswaldo de Rivero classic critique of World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Programs: The Myth of Development

Note: just after posting this, the Tunisian army has taken control of the city of Tunis. It is not clear at this time, whether or not this is a military coup. That said, strange as it might seem, there is the sense that at the least, the army is there not only to restore order, but to protect the populace, much of which is protesting, from the security police. More tomorrow morning when, perhaps, some of the fog over the situation will clear.

rjp – 1/11/11 at 10:15 pm mountain time.


Yezzi Fock!

This has become the theme of the nationwide protests in Tunisia which continue unabated. `Enough’ refers to the high levels of unemployment in the country, the pervasive corruption, especially of the two ruling families and  the decades of seething repression which has kept Zine Ben Ali in power now for 23 years.

And with that, protestors in different parts of the country are tearing down President Zine Ben Ali’s portrait, a harbinger of things to come perhaps.

Triggered originally on December 17, 2010 by the suicide of a 26 year old university graduate who had had his unauthorized fruit and vegetable stand confiscated in Sidi Bouzid – and who soaked himself with gasoline and lit a match – the protests have only intensified, despite government attempts to suppress them continue.

Latest Developments

If anything, the situation is deteriorating as the opposition is only intensifying in the face of growing, if not massive repression. As `Kerym’, my unknown but insightful Tunisian correspondent (see comments in `Tunisian Intifada’ below), comments: The demonstrations will continue because:

“The people know very well that he’s (Ben Ali) trying to cool things down, and once the situation returns to normal, he will betray them again….just like he did before . In other words , this people happen to distrust this weird man and his mobster gangs . Therefore quitting the protests now, means more repression and more arrests to be expected, and unemployment will remain an unsolved issue in tunisian society .
So far, the situation is snafu, but not without hope . “

Among the confirmed reports:

  • Joining Tunisia’s lawyers, the countries artists have taken to the streets and joined the calls for an end to repression, corruption along with calls for the government to deal with the unemployment crisis. A number of the country’s leading cultural figures – artists, rappers, and leading intellectuals have been arrested.
  • The trade union confederation in Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city after Tunis, have joined the protests, called for a strike in the city
  • The Tunisian government has closed all the high schools and universities in the country `until further notice’ in an attempt cool what started as a `youth rebellion’, but which has long extended to broad sectors of the population
  • That at least some of the weapons being used against demonstrators are `made in the USA’, including tear gas

Unconfirmed but worrisome

  • That in Kasserine where a number of people were killed by security forces over the weekend, the government employed snipers on building tops who shot into the demonstrations, killing people at random. There are reports that the snipers are not from the Tunisian military who are actually trying to protect the demonstrators but from a special unit of Ben Ali’s security police called the Brigaude de l”Ordre Publique (BOP). Formed in the 1980s, the B.O.P. is based upon a French model
  • That demonstrations have now erupted in the interior agricultural center of Beja, in Djendouba and the northern coastal city of Bizerte. According to one source, in Beja, the police station, the local offices of the ruling party (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique) and a bank in which the Ben Ali/Trabelsi families are part owners were burnt to the ground today.
  • That some members of the Ben Ali/Trabelsi familes are leaving the country, in one case for Canada
  • That Tunisians living outside the country, all over the world, including in the United States are mobilizing, overwhelming in opposition to the current government.

Economic Considerations

Although the protests in Tunisia began in opposition to the country’s economic policy, they have more and more become political in nature, with growing calls for Zine Ben Ali, the country’s dictator-president, to step down. To date, Ben Ali refuses, hoping to crush the opposition with the country’s 180,000 strong security police. He combines fierce repression with promises of economic reform and a government jobs program.

Tunisians have heard these promises before. Three years ago, when a six month long protest over unemployment and social decay in the country’s mining district around Gafsa erupted, Ben Ali pursued a similar approach – repression and the promise of jobs, except virtually no economic development followed.

The country’s official unemployment rate stands at 14%. However youth unemployment for people between the ages of 15-24 is at least double that, and in some parts of the interior, as high as 50%. Furthermore the main areas of job creation – the tourism industry, textile manufacturing targeting the European market in `free trade zones’ and what is left of Tunisia’s agricultural sector – are producing low wage jobs. And as in response to IMF/World Bank pressures, government subsidies continue to be reduced or eliminated from food and gasoline; even those with jobs find themselves having difficulty making ends meet.

Tunisian textiles - well made but produced with cheap labor for the most part

None of the current economic problems weighing on Tunisia are new. Low wage jobs and growing unemployment for the country’s university graduates, high unemployment has been plaguing the country for some time as has Ben Ali’s long standing policies of repressing dissent of any kind, in the name of course, of countering Islamic radicalism; this despite the fact that Islamic radicalism, while it exists, has less of a base in Tunisia than virtually any other Arab state.

Tunisia: Stuck in the Semi-Periphery of the Global Economy

The economic rut in which Tunisia finds itself is a result what has long been its strategic role in the global economy as primarily a peripheral or semi-peripheral country whose mission has been to provide cheap manufactured products – and now cheap vacations – to core countries, especially in Europe. Can the Tunisian economy evolve, break the role that it has played in the global economy since its reality was reshaped by French colonialism to meet the needs of Europeans for cheap Thibar wine?  I think it can. It has the human capital to do so.


Can the Tunisian economy evolve, break the role that it has played in the global economy since its reality was reshaped by French colonialism to meet the needs of Europeans for cheap Thibar wine?


Other countries – among them China, S. Korea, even the Nordic countries if we spread the historical time line a little, have reconstructed themselves. Perhaps out of the ashes and pain of the current moment, fresh ideas, directions for the country’s future will emerge and the suffering the country is now enduring will not be in vein. Indeed, if Tunisians at present are appalled and saddened by the repression, people would be missing the point not to realize that this is also a moment of great hope, of transition, of the possibility of the success of reform.

Tunisia: Gets Half of the Korean Model: Authoritarianism With Developmental Stagnation

This combination – authoritarian political system that `supposedly’ delivers economic growth is often referred to as `the Korean Model’ based on the dramatic development of the South Korean economy since the 1950s from an economic backward to one of the most dynamic economies of modern times – albeit not a miracle either, but still very impressive.

At the heart of the Korean model is the need to keep wages low and labor union activity in check through a repressive government in order that the accumulation of capital thus resulted can be re-invested into moderning the economy. The logic continues that once the economy is modernized, authoritarianism can be eased and democratic processes encouraged. I would argue that it `sort of’ happened in South Korea.

But the Tunisian economic comparison with South Korea fails on a number of key counts

  • In Korea, there was something of a transition to democracy after 3 decades of repressive rule
  • The South Korean economy was a highly protectionist economy that did not open itself up to foreign capital until very late in the game and even then, not that much. Its industries were protected as was its currency. Foreign investment had to follow strict criteria. Perhaps most importantly, the role of the state in the S. Korean economy, as in Japan, has always been central to the country’s economic development
  • South Korea benefitted from its status as a front-line state in the Cold War. As with the competition between East and West Germany, there was always a political dimension to the economic competition between North and South Korea, with the former being something of a basket case, the latter one of the `Asian Tigers’. The point here is that South Korea could break the IMF-World Bank structural adjustment rules and get away with it in a way that Tunisia couldn’t and didn’t. And a large measure of its economic success comes from the fact that S. Korea did not have to follow the rules that were imposed upon Argentina, Mexico or Russia.
  • Tunisia on the other hand began opening up its economy, privatizing elements of it, opening the country to foreign investment with fewer and fewer strings already in the early 1980s and has, as a result I would argue, paid the price. The economic sectors which were modernized – textiles, mining did not produce enough domestic capital to invest in new technologies and take the country in new directions, despite its highly educated work force. Foreign investment, let loose with fewer and fewer regulations, as in Thailand, concentrated in real estate,  the financial sector and tourism, none of which help development that much.
  • So Tunisia has gotten `the authoritarian’ aspect of the S. Korean model without producing the development revolution.

If one looks closely at Tunisian society on the eve of independence in 1956, it is rather striking – there was most definitely what is referred to today as a highly developed `civil society’ with participation of most sectors of society in the political movement that led to independence. But that civil society was first seriously weakened by the country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba who saw it as a threat to his personal power. Then it was smothered by Ben Ali — or more accurately, Ben Ali tried to snuff it out. And yet despite everything, under the surface it has continued – until it erupted once again full force after the death of Mohammed Bouazizi.

Why the uprising (for that is what it appears to be) now?

So why is it now that the country as a whole has been pushed over the edge if these trends have been in play for so long?

In the end one never knows why it is that objective social conditions erupt into revolt. More often than not they do not. But still, there are a number of factors which might explain the current unprecedented protests.

  • Income distribution has sharply polarized in the past few years. As Basel Saleh points out, the top 10% of Tunisia’s economic ladder control 32% of the national income. The top 20% control nearly half. Tunisia’s income inequality is so severe that the bottom 60% of the population control only 30% of the country’s wealth, again with 40% of the population taking home 70% of the national income. At the same time, two families at the top, the Ben Ali’s and Trabelsi’s have come to dominate the country’s economy. One WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Tunis suggests that the two families have their hands in and on 50% of the country’s economy. As the disparity between wealth and poverty increases, the corruption of the two ruling families has come more into focus.
  • There are regional disparities too, well known in the economic literature, with the northern and coastal cities benefitting much more from Ben Ali’s economic policies than the interior and the south which have long suffered. It should not be surprising to anyone who has followed Tunisian events over the past 30 years that social unrest, protest and rebellion tend to originate in the interior and the south
  • 2009 was not a good year and Tunisia’s economy suffered despite World Bank/IMF claims that the country has weathered the global financial crises better than many places. Tourism was down as were textile exports to Europe only aggravating the already existing socio-economic crisis
  • But the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in this case is the growing distrust and distaste among the broader population for president Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Trabelsi and her siblings who have been scrambling to dominate whatever sectors of Tunisia’s economy they could, dominating the IMF pressured privatizations which have marked the country’s economic transition. It appears rather likely that Ben Ali was positioning his wife to `take over’ the country in four years when he supposedly would retire. The thought that Zine Ben Ali would turn over power to Leila Trabelsi – and that the corruption at the top would thus be blessed and institutionalized that much more only added to the seething anger about to explode.

Mohammed Bouazizi, whose death by immolation, started an uprising

However else the situation in Tunisia plays out, the likelihood that the Trabelsi family will replace Ben Ali has all but gone up in smoke. Mohammed Bouazizi, the young unemployed man whose suicide by fire started this protest movement, has inadvertently taken one of Tunisia’s richest families, the Trabelsi’s along with him. The first result of the Tunisian intifada is to de-legitimize that clan so that politically speaking they are dead. It was not just Mohammed Bouazizi that went up in a ball of flames but the Trabelsi family’s political future in Tunisia. Let us see what other lessons unfold

14 Comments leave one →
  1. amira permalink
    January 12, 2011 4:33 am

    Nice article.
    the main thing is for the goverment to step down.
    The criminals to stand trial
    and the prisoners to be freed
    Tunisian people want fairness, transparency, and accountability.

  2. kerym permalink
    January 13, 2011 3:17 am

    As for the developments in tunisia, it seems right now that the president is being cornered, it’s do or die . Desperate “counter attacks” , although expected, won’t do him no good .
    He’s tried every possible way to divert the situation, calling the uprising the work of external parties and calling the protesters a bunch of masked thugs . Then shuffled and reshuffled for no comprehensible reasons, delivers another speech with the same repressive tone and with no single word whatsoever on the heart of the matter, which is concrete plans to tackle the huge social and economical problems that had made tunisian youth revolt against it . Rightly so, when corruption becomes a generally accepted social phenomenon, whereby two families are in control of fifty percent of the country’s wealth .

    However, the army seems to have chosen the People’s side, which is only natural .
    Yet, the regime will not give up finding all means to buy time and to grab for dear life, because the rope is loosening up and is about to snap .

  3. January 13, 2011 9:10 pm

    this one sent to me:

    to robert prince:

    a thanks for a start,for the generosity and the time that you deducated to this issue,we have made you already an honorary tunisian last time round.

    the karma of you being tunisian last life drove you this one to seek it and reaffirm your sense of care to it even when born somewhere else like usa.

    that may be another belief system but what we call now is that you’ve caught that tunisian bug and made it as a mean to earn a crust or satisfy an intellectual drive or need.

    the flavour being used in your ouput got the essense from what’s been airing here or similar outlets.

    you have caught the essense and done a grand job and for that lots of gratitudes from us.

    a short term pain is expected in all renewal but an optimism and hope if we play our cards right by putting the right system in place.

    there also a glimmer that will unleash a tunisian creativity,an entrepreneurial spirit that carthage once had and being stymed for centries awaiting to burst into spring.

    we will open the market properly not to just few but to all,not half heartidly either and use our advantage of geographie. a place that is a central position and an enviable one.

    as for a system the korean model doesn’t work we are not disciplined mob,we are nationalistic enough,the japanese could be one as they had a calculated national goals like sending a key number of student to the west 2 centries ago to absorb the management technique.we do that already by default or escaping prevailing misery.

    the usa system is alright but with compassion and safe guard,which is a contradiction in a way as what’s behind that system is the drive of unsecurity that makes yank compete harder and be more resourceful like the wild in nature. do or die.

    for now is to put the wagan on the right rail and another day we will check where we are heading.
    wipe the slate clean from zibla,we had enough,work just begun.

    when there is life there is hope,thanks robert,thanks tunisian youths,old and wise minds,caring ones let’s celabrate the unschackling first.

  4. kerym permalink
    January 14, 2011 4:04 am

    Twenty more fatalities last night, in Tunis and there were fatal shots heard in LeKram, less than ten miles away from the presidential residence .
    It explains the magnitude of this wave of protests which are advancing at an alarming rate . This revolution doesn’t seem to stop despite 58 deaths. It doesn’t intend to do so neither, and if live bullits doesn’t stop them, what will stop them ?
    Instead of taking responsibility, this president keeps on reshuffeling left and right, fired a handful of his most loyal advisors as well as the army general who refused to give the order to his soldiers to shoot at civilians .
    The Police State of ben ali is in decay, no doubt about that .
    Eyewitnesses from several places throughout the country declared having seen groups of hooligans, belonging to the ruling party’s syndicates, jumping out of black cars in front of unguarded buildings, looting, pillaging and setting the places on fire . It makes sense sinds we already know what this regime is capable of, even as far as sending snipers to shoot at people who were actually never face to face with police forces, but the shots must have come from somewhere else . Peculiar that the shots were mostly aimed at the head area and the chest .
    So the idea that ruling party’s syndicates could have organized such counter tactics, to bring deliberately this peaceful protests into discredit, because the easiest thing would be just to blame it on them, and distort their pure motive which had driven them to uprise, in the first place, can be considered possible but not unthinkable .

    And then, out of the blue came ben ali for his 3d speech . It was astonishing to see a bad loser becoming suddenly a flip-flop genius, by making a perfect 180 degree u-turn and by promising an immediate right on free speech, for persons and media alike . He expressed his sorrow to what happened and ordered another immediate stop of firing bullits at demonstrators . He also emphasized the need to bring to justice those who opened fire . He said he “got our message ” and repeated it at least 3 times, which sounded like he was begging for forgiveness and maybe just to say : “Look, don’t be too hard on mee…I had to do what I did…it was in vain…daddy has got loads of cotton candy for you in store ! “. In fact he talked about involving everyone from civil society committees to lawyers and human right organizations, including the opposition, inviting them to prepare themselves for an immediate democratic society . Again, he fails to give concrete guarantees, and he didn’t say a word about the fate of political prisonners, which are by the ten thousands . By the way, he wants to appoint an “independant” committee to investigate the incidents . He could be either joking, or playing mr innocent when he said that he found out he was “misinformed…by some ( didn’t say by whom ) and that he wasn’t the one who would ever order the shooting… ” . He did not say where he has been all this time .
    We saw a mentally broken man, struggling to pronounce the words correctly and seemed shaken by fear, the fear of losing his kingdom that he had the illusion he could keep forever, oblivious to his flagrant breach of the Constitution which led to all this misery .
    But whatever his real intentions might be, he could never make it up to us . Needless to say that he must pack up and hit the road . People do not want to see that face as a head of their state anymore . The slogan today is = BEN ALI……EXIT…IT’S OVER AND OUT .

  5. kerym permalink
    January 14, 2011 9:19 am

    Running out of ideas, mr Flip-Flop dissolves the parliament and barely 24 hours later decides to send the gvt home, leaving the country to its fate , while a new gvt is in the making .
    As I speak, a state of emergency has been declared all over tunisia , from 5 pm to 7 am .

  6. kerym permalink
    January 14, 2011 12:59 pm

    Ben Ali fled to Europe…probably to France !!!!!!!

    This is great news, believe me .

  7. Robert V Gallant permalink
    January 18, 2011 5:29 am

    Thanks for your work on this

  8. January 27, 2011 12:00 am

    I love this article about Tunisia: Yezzi Fock (It’s Enough!) Rob Prince's Blog

  9. February 8, 2011 10:57 pm

    An attention-grabbing dialogue is price comment. I think that you must write more on this matter, it won’t be a taboo subject however typically people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  10. January 8, 2013 1:52 am

    Hey there! I simply wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the excellent information you have got here on this post. I will be coming back to your web site for more soon.

  11. January 8, 2013 7:25 am

    Excellent post. I definitely love this website. Continue the good work!


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