From the World Social Forum to the Arab revolts

, by VIVAS Esther

Tunisia, cradle of the revolts in the Arab world, hosts from today [26
March] and until Saturday the World Social Forum (WSF), the most
important international meeting of social movements and organizations.
And this is not by chance. The promoters of the WSF chose this country
in reference to the Arab Spring. The latter has not only given rise
to new movements of opposition in North Africa and the Middle East,
but has also “contaminated” the south of Europe, in particular with
the movement of the indignant in the Spanish State, as well as the
Occupy movement in the United States.

It is a new cycle of protest which has emerged on an international
scale, determined by a systemic crisis and debt and austerity
policies, in particular in the countries of the periphery of the
European Union subjected to harsh measures of adjustment.

The “Arab Spring” brought a fresh wind in the long night of the
crisis. It made it possible to recover confidence in collective
action, in “us”. In January 2011, Tunisian president Ben Ali fled the
country under the pressure of the street. One month later, in February
2011, history was repeated; Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak threw in
the sponge and resigned, forced and constrained by social
mobilization. The Arab world, so long stigmatized in the West, offered
a lesson of democracy to us.

Today, two years later, the World Social Forum is being held in the
epicentre of these revolts, where it encounters political processes of
open, unstable and chaotic change. In Tunisia, last February, the
assassination of Chokri Belaïd marked a turning. A lawyer and militant
Marxist, he was one of the leaders of a Popular Front which brings
together various left organizations which assert in their programme
not only more democracy, but also social justice. The first political
assassination of the young Tunisian democracy represented a hard blow
for society and started new mobilizations against the rise of violence
in the country.

Both in Tunisia and in Egypt, the revolutionary processes which have
emerged are today still open, but their outcome remains dubious. The
democratic conquests are fragile and still limited and there have not
yet been significant economic changes. An open fight is going on
between those who consider that the revolution is finished and those
who want to deepen it and to carry it through until its ultimate
consequences. The youth and left activists show daily that they are
not going to let anyone confiscate their revolution, whether it is the
vestiges of the old regime or the Islamists who have come to power.

Beyond the debate on the situation of the “Arab Spring”, to which all
the seminars and the activities of the second day of the WSF are
devoted, other themes will have a particular centrality. The feminist
struggle, for example, with the assembly of women, right before the
beginning of the WSF, which will be devoted partly to the analysis and
the sharing of experiences on the important part played by women in
the Arab revolts, as depicted by Leil-Zahra in her documentary series
“Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution”. The international
movement for climatic justice will organize a “Climate Space” within
the WSF in order to discuss its future strategies, convergences and
prospects on a key question for the future of the planet and humanity.

Since the World Social Forum organized its first meeting in January
2001, at the same time as the celebration of the World Economic Forum
of Davos and as a counterpoint to the latter, much water has passed
under the bridge. The WSF was born from the movement against
capitalist globalisation, later converted into the anti-war movement,
and as a meeting point for a new total resistance against the
disasters of neoliberal globalisation. After having played an
important part in struggles during its early meetings, it lost its
political centrality in spite of a continuing high participation and
it gradually died out in parallel with the movement against capitalist
globalisation. The context had changed and, consequently, so had its
raison d’être.

Today, with the opening of a new cycle of protests born following the
“Arab Spring”, with the movements of the indignant and Occupy, the
World Social Forum is perceived to some extent much more as an
instrument of the past than of the present and the future. But its
existence highlights one of the main weaknesses of the new social
movements of protest which have appeared in the context of the
systemic crisis: their fragile international coordination. The
movements are faced with the challenge of creating new space of
articulation on the world scale allowing advance in the common
struggle and the exchange of experiences. The offensive of austerity
policies in all countries is truly intense and requires such an effort
of national mobilisation that external coordination is weakened.
Although these new movements feel themselves part of the same global
wave, coordination between the different actors of the movement has
remained rather weak, despite the organisation of global days of
action and some meetings.

Currently the axis of mobilisation is no longer in Latin America,
where the WSF was born. It is now in the Arab world and in an old
Europe boiling with protest and “third worldised” as it is struck by
crisis. the challenge now is to learn from these struggles which in
the not so distant past have emerged against debt, evictions and
privatisation in the countries of the South. And to advance towards
the indispensable coordination of resistance which can face up to the
implacable organisation of capital.

Esther Vivas