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News > World

Global Empire: How Tunisia's Left Failed the Revolution

Published 25 March 2016

French-Tunisian professor Hela Yousfi talks about the simplification of the Tunisian uprising by Western media and the challenges facing the country today.

The challenges faced by Tunisia today, some five years after the Arab Spring-inspired revolution that ousted Dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have been caused by the failure of the Left, Hela Yousfi, a professor at Dauphine University in Paris, told Tariq Ali in his latest episode of the Global Empire.

"For me … the difficulties we face now in Tunisia is the failure of the Left to lead the revolution. They were not confident in the capability of Tunisians to say no to the older regime and no to the Islamists as well,” Yousfi said last week.

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The priority for leftist parties in Tunisia quickly centred on the apparent need “to save the modern project of... Tunisian society and they were willing to form an alliance after that with the former regime in order to face and challenge the Islamist government,” she further explained.

The so-called "Islamist threat" was at the center of Tunisian politics due to Egypt's post-coup crackdown on the region’s biggest Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which saw the return of the military elite.

According to the French-Tunisian professor, during the aftermath of the popular revolution in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, such an approach “confiscated the social struggle and the social and economic question behind the popular uprising.”

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Yousfi also touched on how the conditions of the uprising in Tunisia were simplified in Western media and did not address the true struggle on the ground. The mainstream media's coverage in 2011 consisted of two narratives. One was based on “a Facebook revolution” by a few computer and Internet savvy Tunisians.

“And the second narrative, which is the usual and the classic one that we find in the Western media... was the polarization of the debate between the Islamists and the so-called modernizers,” Yousif said. “These two narratives actually overshadowed years of collective struggle for social rights and individual liberties.”

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The government, which is a combination of the old regime, neo-liberal Islamists and conservatives with very few influential leftists in power, is cracking down on social movements and calling for further economic and political reforms.

Yousfi said the government has capitalized on a series of terror attacks in the country to impose a state-of-emergency and ban protests, with the claim that social movements and protests are being infiltrated by terror groups such as the Islamic State group.

Despite the bleak picture, Yousfi believes all is not lost because the Tunisian people, according to the French-Tunisian professor, “still have the energy for striving and fighting for their dignity and their economic and social demands.”

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