Guest post: Regueb, A town in revolt
- May 27, 2011
High on a hill a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: ‘Welcome to Regueb, the land of free people’. Our busload of activists from the World Social Forum had reached the heartlands of Tunisia’s democratic revolution. Around the next corner we came to Regueb itself, a town of only 8,000 people and the most fully mobilised, creative political space I have ever experienced.
Its tiny hall was filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. You could imagine Chartists and Jacobins speaking like this, as the speakers launched poetic internationalist visions under the linked-hands red-crescent logo of the UGTT, the General Union of Tunisian Workers which had brought us here.
Two young women and three young men were killed by police bullets in these streets. The syndicalistes spoke beneath portraits of past labour heroes, while the ceiling and walls were dotted with CGI-inspired images of the Palestinian intifada and Tunisia’s own rebellion. When young people left the meeting it was only to go outside and sing ‘songs of the revolution’.
As we walked out through Regueb an elderly woman in traditional dress came up to me, embraced me personally and asked me to stay. She spoke in Arabic but we understood each other. It is my final memory of the unique political space in Regueb, ‘the land of free people’ where every single person seems to be finding a new voice.
Those of us who visited from Europe have an obligation to keep the gates of the fortress open. Leading trade unionist Alessandra Mecozzi from the radical Italian union, FIOM told our hosts in Regueb: ‘ We’ll push our governments to freeze bank accounts and repatriate the money stolen from you. We don’t want a closed Europe – we’re ashamed of our government saying it wants to deport young Tunisians. Europe must welcome all these people.’
It came as no surprise to hear that one week later Regueb’s citizens had come together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous hiatus between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and contested new elections due to take place in July. Nor to see pictures on Youtube of Regueb women from all ages and backgrounds filling their streets at the start of the Arab Spring, under banners spelling ‘Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte’. (I am a woman, don’t take away my freedom.’
This week we received the following message from Mohammed Saleh Abidi, a trade unionist from Regueb whose son was disabled by a police sniper’s bullet during the revolution:
On Tuesday morning a group of the representatives of the inhabitants of Regueb attended a meeting in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid. Several ministers supervised the meeting. Given the fact that not one developmental project has been initiated in Regueb, the town council called for a popular peaceful demonstration in the streets of the town followed by an information meeting.
The inhabitants decided that their town will be independent from the governorate of Sidi Bouzid till the government satisfies the urgent needs of the area:
– A regional hospital for the population of 7,3000;
– A local covered market square for the fruits and vegetables produced in Regueb;
– The removal from power of all the groups of people connected to the regime of Ben Ali.
The last demand is crucial. Many former officials and security personnel from the old regime will remain in place at least until the election. With waves of returning migrants from Libya adding to mass unemployment, Regueb and its sister towns are making heroic efforts to achieve a non-violent, democratic, popular transition. They need twinning, trade union solidarity actions, and communication with the wider world, at a time when powerful members of the displaced Ben Ali dictatorship have begun to regroup.
This month the prospect of a coup by the old dictator’s RCD party to take over the country after July’s elections led to renewed demonstrations, in which protesters were badly beaten by the security forces. Journalists have been singled out for attacks, and a censorship law has been secretly rushed through by the interim government which has led to the closure of some Internet sites.
This means that news from the Tunisian heartland is not getting through, even inside the country. One way for voices of the Tunisian revolution to reach us is to help them build their own community media, which is not subject to the mainstream globalising agenda. The unemployed graduate association Elkarama is asking for international support from journalists to set up a community radio station, and to donate computers and office equipment.