A Tunisian appeals court ordered the release of jailed activist Rania Amdouni on March 17, following an outcry from civil society and human rights groups. Amdouni had been charged with "insulting police and abuse of morals," which sparked concerns from rights groups over suppression of free speech. Amdouni is the president of Chouf Minorities and a member of the Tunisian Association for Justice & Equality (DAMJ), both organizations concerned with rights for women and the LGBT. She has faced abuse from law enforcement over of her involvement in recent protests against austerity policies and police brutality. Police and politicians have shared her photo on social media with disparaging comments about her appearance and presumed sexual orientation and gender identity.
The army was ordered into the streets in Tunisia Jan. 18 following four days of angry protests by disaffected youth that have led to hundreds of arrests. Enraged over widespread unemployment, youth have erected roadblocks of burning tires, clashed with police, ransacked shops and banks, and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at government buildings. The protests began in poor districts of Tunis, but quickly spread to other cities, including Kasserine, Gafsa, Sousse, Siliana and Monastir. At the more organized demonstrations, marchers carry placards reading "Employment is a right."
As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)
Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt Sept. 20, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting "Rise up, fear not, Sisi must go" and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, "the people demand the downfall of the regime." Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police.
Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)
At least one is reported dead as angry protests have spread across Tunisia in response to an austerity package imposed by the government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The protester died due to tear-gas inhalation Jan. 8 in Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of Tunis, with demonstrations reported from several other cities and towns, including Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's 2011 revolution. Under the new budget, which took effect Jan. 1, fuel prices are hiked, and new taxes imposed on housing, cars, phone calls, Internet services, and several other items. Hamma Hammami, leader of the opposition Popular Front, pledged to keep up the pressure, telling reporters: "We will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law is dropped."
Tunisia's parliament, the Assembly of People's Representatives, voted Sept. 14 to overturn a 1973 Ministry of Justice directive prohibiting marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man—a victory for the country's transition to secular rule. But one day earlier, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a controversial amnesty law pardoning thousands implicated in corruption and embezzlement of public funds under the former regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The opposition bloc (led by the Popular Front) boycotted the vote in protest against the insistence of the ruling coalition (made up of Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda) on passing the law in an extraordinary session. Hundreds protested outside the parliament building as the vote was held. Amnesty will only be granted to those who did not personally profut off of the corruption, or to those who pay back the money with penalties. Nonetheless, protesters condemned the law as a betrayal of country's 2011 revolution. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the amnesty law coiuld be a "final blow" in Tunisia's democratic transition, and called the back-to-back votes a case of "one step forward, one step back." (HRW, Jurist, Jurist, Sept. 15; Middle East Online, Sept. 14; HRW, May 23)