Saturday, 8 June 2013

Tunisian & Egyptian unions in the front line against Islamism

With eyes rightly focused on the struggle taking place in Turkey where students workers, football fans and countless others are fighting the rise of clerical fascism under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, its' easy to forget that others remain on the front line for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.

Tunisia is a case in point, which whilst not having been in the mainstream news for a while remains in a volatile state. The Salafists have turned their attentions from attacking the trade unions to confronting the Ennadha (Muslim Brotherhood) led Government and violent clashes took place in Kairouan, a town historically linked as a centre of Islamic learning and other towns including the District of Ettadaren in Tunis.

The breach between Ennadha and the Salafists of the Ansar al-sharia organisation could also have wider ramifications across the area, especially as tensions have increased in next door Algeria following the defeat of the rebels in Mali. Only last week two Tunisian soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion near the Algerian border whilst hunting Islamist terrorists.

The Salafists have also been attacking alcohol outlets with secularists accusing them of acting like religious police and undermining the democratic and secular nature of the Tunisian state. This action should come as no surprise as the supporters of Ansar al-sharia were seen symbolically burning Tunisian flags on their demonstrations to signify that they do not recognise the state,

Tensions have been growing in Tunisia since the fall of the previous dictatorship under President Zine al-abidine Ben Ali back in 2011. Unemployment remains high and the Salafists are believed to have around 20,000 activists (in a population of 11 million) and are recruiting mainly young men who have developed a sense of alienation despite the introduction of democracy.

The trade unions remain the key to fighting the growth of clerical fascism in Tunisia and British unions along with their other international counterparts must maintain full solidarity with the General Tunisian Workers Union (UGTT) in the coming year.

Meanwhile all is not well in Egypt following the election of Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi. The number of strikes has been increasing, mainly over labour rights involving rail workers, doctors, public transport workers and even the police.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has now placed Egypt on a "short term blacklist" because the Government has been violating workers rights and violating the freedoms of trade unions.

Meanwhile workers in the Suez ship yards continue to strike for equal rights ranging from their inability to use the same buses or clubs as Managers to poorer health care. The dispute could get nasty as disputes in this sensitive area are monitored not by the police but the army.

The struggle for workers rights goes hand in hand with the struggle against clerical fascism or Islamism whatever you choose to call it. Trade unionists around the world must stand by their colleagues fighting for their rights which can only be won if democracy prevails.

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