The Tunisian political landscape cannot be analyzed and understood in its full complexity without putting it against the regional and global context shaped by what is known as "the Arab revolutions," these social and political turmoil that made it possible to decapitate two of the most despotic and corrupt regimes in the Arab region.
Beheaded they are, yet not uprooted, if indeed the heads in power had rolled on the evening of January, 14th in Tunisia and February 11th in Egypt, the dictatorship's founding principles as formerly known under Ben Ali or Mubarak, these forces that together represent "the State in its core," only changed in shape and color, as they are still around, intact, planning and operating in the dark, working for the same interest only with a new head, a new power, a new political elite and a new geopolitical agenda in utter disconnect with the December 17th rebelling youth's true expectations; these young people who carried the revolution's spirit with hope and blood before getting betrayed and stripped from it, before their dream was robbed from them.
And to better understand this revolutionary Soap opera which ultimately turned into a great confiscation, it is important to go back and review two situations, two case study that each have in their own way faced their own delusion. In this article, I will attempt to shed light on the traits characterizing the brotherhood in Tunisia and in Egypt, many parallels and analogies show a political yearning to expropriate the revolution for the brotherhood's self-interest and that of their foreign supporters and allies.
In the aftermath of the Arab revolutions, in the wake of decades of democratic and political void, it was only natural that the better-organized and long-standing parties would be fast tracked into power. The Egyptian Freedom and Justice party and the Tunisian Ennahdha Movement, here are two Islamic parties ideologically and strategically allied and both originating or at least drawing their ideology from the line of Muslim Brotherhood (Alikhwan Al-Muslimoun), a socio-political movement born in 1928 in Egypt which skillfully knew to transform with time, despite the crackdowns and witch hunts it had been subjected to, into a sprawling organization with a global base boasting to be Islam's political standard-bearer.
Evolving in two countries with very different cultures, political and geopolitical backgrounds, these parties, unquestionably popular in their respective countries, are today facing a strong crisis, which beyond common ideological and political origins are the testament of a number of traits that together characterize their governance and the idea they hold of the State, of Democracy and Politics in general.
Economic Policies against the revolution tide.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have by essence been freedom revolutions but above all, dignity and social justice ones. On Bourguiba Avenue as well as Tahrir Square, the people of both countries occupied the streets to claim back their economic social and political rights defining them as citizen in their own right. That couldn't happen without the fall of those in power and most importantly the uprooting of the whole controlling apparatus that ensured its longevity. That repressive apparatus relied on two pillars. The first one is the police and security state using violence, torture, assassination (I will discuss it further down)... The second pillar that I'd like to explain here is economic, it relies on what Beatrice Hibou describes as "Economic policies to subdue" in her excellent work "The Strength of Obedience, Political Economic Repression in Tunisia" (Paris, La Decouverte, 2006).
This political economic repression could be summarized in a sort of social and economic grid of the society whose weapons are households' excessive debts, pork-barreling in granting aid and social and economic benefits (public service, independent worker's certification, loans, low-income family benefits, scholarship...), subventions to organizations... Not to mention the dreaded tax audit for the hard-headed (political opponents, activist lawyers...) But this authoritarian control is also expressed in the violence of alliance between the power in place and the capital, here I am talking about the most powerful businessmen, whose allegiance would be bought as part of a strategy laid by the RCD (Ben Ali's party dissolved after January 14) to finance the party in power and as a trade-off ensure fiscal impunity, guarantee neoliberal and anti labor policies.
Very sadly, the Islamic governances have not brought any changes to this. In Tunisia Ennahdha voluntarily blocked the transitional justice to engage in Ben Ali's justice, a justice under command whose laws are archaic. This strategy aims at muffling the public voice of discontent and to satisfy the claims for truth and justice by sacrificing a few corrupted businessmen held as scapegoats all the while intimidating others in order to get them to declare their allegiance and commit to pay their impunity tax just like it was in Ben Ali's golden days. This is how some corrupted businessmen like Chafik Jarraya, Arbi Nasra or Neji Mhiri, who stacked dubious fortunes thanks to their relations with Ben Ali's clan, are now protected by the new power in place.
After my resignation from Carthagena Palace and during my various travels in Tunisia's regions, I was able to witness this economic grid of the society: it's going strong under the troika era, using the same tools. This is how public service job positions, the outsourcing work (with thousands of precarious job positions destined to the young unemployed), the social and economic benefits and welfare (independent worker's certification, loans...) are doled out based on partisanship, any young person suspected of having taken part in a sit-in or a demonstration is strictly denied.
This is how my friend Kais Bouazizi, this Sidi Bouzi dweller proud and in revolt, was rushed to pay back his loan soon after coming out of jail after taking part in demonstrations.
Aymen and Atef, two young people of Sekiet Sidi Youssef, were handed 6 months in jail before seeing their names taken off the list of contracting workers for reason of "disturbing public order" and "criminal conspiracy," following the social unrest of May 2012. This economic repression coupled with the police repression which touched the very symbol of the revolution (the revolution's wounded), has a double objective of buying the youth's allegiance and to stifle any figment of thought towards going back to the streets to finalize the revolutionary process.
The Troika-Capital alliance also resulted in anti-social economic policies, with a record budget deficit of 6.6 percent, a 6.4 percent inflation rate that raises concern, causing households to suffer, the government in place chose to make the underprivileged pay by resorting to excessive debt and destroying the subventions system in favor of price hikes. To ensure it goes down smoothly, Ennahdha chose the shock strategy. In the midst of provoked crises (arson at the American Embassy, mugging of union representatives, Chokri Belaid's assassination, attacks in Chaambi...) Gas prices have increased twice, Sonede (Water Supplier) recently raised their rates 7 percent... Such policy, imposed by IMF, in exchange for the grant of a 2.8 billion dinars ($1.8 billion), is by and large part of a structural adjustment plan that reminds us of the destructive program implemented under Rachid Sfar's government during Bourguiba's Presidency which failed to pull Tunisia out of the crisis.
The Egyptian economic situation isn't any more flourishing, social injustice and the gap between the rich and the poor is considerably bigger in Egypt with a poverty rate neighboring 40 percent. This reality didn't prevent the ikhwans to betray their historical electoral base mostly made up of the poor and to a lesser extent the middle class, as Ibrahim El Houdaiby, an Egyptian research fellow explains in his excellent critic essay titled: "From Prison to Palace: The Muslim Brotherhood's Challenges and Responses in Post-Revolution Egypt » (Fride Working Papers, February 2013). In this paper, El Houdaiby denounces the brotherhood's resorting to alliances with corrupt businessmen who were close to Mubarak. As for the economic and social choices, the Egyptian brotherhood's policies do not differ from those implemented by Ennahdha in Tunisia.