Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Tunisia
The Crisis of The State, The Economy, and The Capitalist Ruling Class
Interview conducted,transcribed & translated from Arabic by Azza Rojbi
Hamma Hammami is a long-time Tunisian revolutionary socialist activist and leader. Hammami began his militant journey as a student activist in 1970 within the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET). He was imprisoned and tortured for his political activism, spent ten years in prison, and more than ten years in hiding. Hammami was a strong vocal opposition to the government of former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and played a key leadership role in the 2011 Tunisian revolution. Hammami is the Secretary General of the Tunisian Workers’ Party and author of several books on politics and economy.
The below interview was conducted with Hamma Hammami in June 2022 ahead of the constitutional referendum in Tunisia announced for July 25, 2022. We believe this is a very important and educational interview that highlights an example of the struggle that many colonial and semi-colonial countries are going through in a time of capitalist-imperialist decay, rapid polarization of world politics and financial system, and an unfolding
new cold war.
Azza Rojbi: On June 1, Tunisian President Kais Saied fired 57 judges, accusing them of corruption, and further consolidated his control over the country’s judiciary. What do you think about this, and what is the response of the Tunisian civil society to this latest move by Saied?
Hamma Hammami: The dismissal of 57 judges by Kais Saied is a continuation of the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council and the changing of its composition with a new one loyal to Kais Saied. Kais Saied took advantage of the existence of real corruption and other issues within the judiciary system, and he also took advantage of the presence of some names involved in corruption cases. He took advantage of all this to get rid of the judges who bothered him and who refused his instructions. For your information, out of the 57 judges who were dismissed, there are 55 judicial judges and two judges affiliated with the administrative judiciary.
Kais Saied, after taking over the judiciary, wants to seize the keys to the prison and eventually turn himself into the public prosecution office. We are facing a terrible attack, a massacre as it was called, a massacre of the Tunisian judiciary system. What I personally consider the degeneration of a state, are the accusations levelled against some female judges of adultery and so on. The president of the Republic accuses judges of affairs on live TV! It is a degeneration of a state, an assault and violation of the sanctity of female judges, and a violation and assault on the sanctity of Tunisian women. For your knowledge, assuming that there is serious evidence indicating the existence of ethical issues, it is customary, according to the law, that they are discussed in closed sessions inside the court. Without the presence of the public, some judges will even ask the court clerk to withdraw because the court clerk is not required to keep the deliberations secret. Faced with this, we find a head of state accusing female judges on air of adultery, showing his bad faith and lack of respect for the most basic moral principles.
AR: On June 4, you and other protesters were attacked and pepper-sprayed by police at a protest against the planned July referendum announced by President Saied. Could you explain this referendum and the opposition campaign against it?
HH: Kais Saied overturned the revolutionary path; he overturned the constitution and, as I said, took control of all branches of government in Tunisia. On December 13, 2021, he announced his road map. So instead of putting an end to the “period of exception,” he extended it by a full year and announced the road map. This map contains three stages: the first stage is a consultation, the second stage is a referendum on a constitution, and the third stage is elections next December.
The consultation was failed in the most total sense of the word. Of the 12 million Tunisians and 9 million eligible voters, only 530,000 Tunisians participated in this consultation. Nevertheless, Kais Saied announced that it was successful and that 86% of those that participated wanted a presidential system. Therefore, he decided to hold a national dialogue and then a referendum based on the results of this failed consultation. What we have witnessed in the last few days is a farce. He gathered some politicians, including the last Minister of Interior under Ben Ali. The latter was responsible for killings, four ministers from the past government he criticized, and some insignificant elements within society formed a committee. He put on the presidency of this committee Sadok Belaid, who, although a legal scholar, has nothing to do with the democratic struggle in Tunisia or with the Tunisian revolution. Kais Saied created this committee and asked the participants to submit to him within 72 hours a document with a vision of the country over the next forty years. Does the Prime Minister of Canada ask his advisors to prepare for him a report about the future of Canada this way? I know very well that in some countries, hundreds, if not thousands of advisors and experts spend months, even years, envisioning the future of a country over four decades. Kais asked his committee, in 72 hours, to decide on the constitution and a vision of Tunisia on the economic, social, cultural, security and diplomatic fronts and all other aspects of the country.
This shows that this dialogue process is a false dialogue. The constitution is there. The body is in the hands of Kais Saied, but he wanted to conduct this farce dialogue, which the main political forces boycotted, such as the Tunisian General Labor Union. He wanted this dialogue to be a decoration, nothing more, nothing less, to pass a ready-made constitution. It is important also to know that he didn’t put the Electoral Law up for discussion within this dialogue but left it to himself to decide by decree.
So, the upcoming referendum will be a referendum based: First, on the results of a failed consultation. Secondly, on ready-made topics prepared by Kais Saied, including the constitution, without having been seriously discussed, not even by the fake committee he summoned to his presidential guesthouse. We consider that replacing the members of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE) and the appointment of new ones by Kais Saied is another proof that Saied aims to pass this referendum by all means. Another point I want to add, which is important, is that this new constitution will be presented on June 30 at midnight. All political and social forces in Tunisia that want to participate in this referendum will only have 24 hours to read and discuss the constitution and decide whether they will support it.
So, we started our campaign; five political parties launched the “National Campaign Against the Referendum.” We started with a press conference and then marched to protest outside the ISIE headquarters. We informed the police before the protest, but when we arrived, we found that the street was closed, and the police attacked us. The police were kicking and beating us, which is their usual behaviour; this time, they pepper-sprayed us. These are methods of bandits and criminals. It shows the authoritarian approach that Kais Saied is taking.
AR: We are close to one year after Saied’s taking over the absolute presidency by dismantling democratic institutions in Tunisia. How do you assess his work in the last year, and how sincere has he been in his claim toward a healthy democracy?
HH: No, he is not honest. There is no honest dictator and no honest tyrant. I have said that more than once, he is a fraudulent person, he is a person who is deceiving the intelligence of Tunisians, he is a liar who says one thing and does the opposite. As I said, this is the case with all tyrants. First, he said that he will use Article 80 of the Tunisian constitution for a month, then he extended it for another month, and now we are close to 11 months, and he is exploiting all this time to seize power.
If we go back to his electoral program or what he said before the elections, we will understand that he is hostile to liberties, the freedom to organize, and freedom of expression. He is also a conservative figure. He is to the right of the Ennahda movement on some issues, such as freedom of conscience or equality. He is closer to Hizb ut-Tahrir and other religious extremists than the Ennahda movement. He took advantage of the corrupt and failed decade of the Ennahda government; he exploited and took advantage of Tunisians' resentment against Ennahda's rule. For context, we were also calling for the downfall of the regime led by Ennahda. He took advantage of the situation in the country, not to replace the corrupt system with a new one, that is, a real democracy with an economic and social system that meets the needs of all Tunisians. Instead, he took advantage of the political circumstances to establish an authoritarian regime and we see the results today.
From the socio-economic point of view, Kais Saied has not changed anything in terms of method. He is still using the same brutal neoliberal policies based on foreign dependency, based on destroying peoples’ purchasing power, based on starving Tunisian women and men. According to all the indicators, the situation did not improve from what it was in the era of the Ennahda but worsened. The indebtedness has increased, prices are skyrocketing, unemployment has increased, and the trade balance deficit has increased, which means that, in general, we find that the conditions of Tunisians have worsened. And in all of this, his government continues with the program started by Youssef Chahed [Former Tunisian Prime Minster] in 2016 to satisfy the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) demands. In other words, the current economic and social conditions will become even more difficult for Tunisians in the next stage. So, we see how during this period, Kais Saied did not bring anything to improve the living conditions of the Tunisian people. Instead, he walks on the path of tyranny while preserving the same unpatriotic and unpopular economic policies.