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Tunisia Once Again the Site for the Next WSF in March 2015
The World Social Forum (WSF) space belongs to the entire alterglobalist movement, and it must take ownership of it
by Sergio Ferrari , Mimoun Rahmani
24 October 2014

The Arab Spring is now going through a frustrating period of setbacks. From this perspective, the fact that the next World Social Forum will again take place in Tunis, from 24 - 28 March 2015, proves particularly important. “This forum is a necessary one in order to, among other things, raise citizens’ level of consciousness in order to better mobilise to confront injustice and inequality, and support peoples’ liberty and dignity,” emphasises Mimoun Rahmani, researcher on economics, active member of the North African Social Forum. Rahmani is also an indispensable political and social analyst in the region, an ATTAC-Maroc activist and member of the coordinating group of CADTM Africa (Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt). Interview by Sergio Ferrari*

Q : The WSF will again be held in Tunis, in March 2015. Why keep the same location as in 2013? Was it requested by the North Africans?
MR : The WSF Tunis 2013 was, without a doubt, one of the most successful Social Forums since its creation in Porto Alegre, Brazil on 2001. It was certainly the best Forum organised up to now in Africa. The revolutionary process and the popular uprisings that took place almost everywhere in the Arab World were really something. It was also given a very positive evaluation (with some notable exceptions) by the WSF International Council (IC) when it met on 30, 31 March and 1 April 2013. This appreciation, together with that of the North African Social Forum follow-up committee at its meeting in Tunis in September 2013, encouraged the Tunisians, as well as the Maghreb in general, to reapply to host the WSF for the second time in a row. And so, in December 2013 in Casablanca, the IC decided that the next WSF would be held in Tunis, from 24 - 28 March 2015.
Q : Fourteen years after its creation, what is the definition and central idea of the World Social Forum according to North Africa’s vision?
MR : The WSF is a pluralist and diverse space, but it’s also a process that develops over time, with ups and downs. It’s not a simple event. Social movements are one of the essential components in this dynamic and, therefore, their active presence and participation are doubly important: on the one hand, it is the social movements by their diversity that are the backbone of the Forum and spread its influence. On the other hand, it is the Forum itself, in its capacity as a space, that allows social movements to merge their specific struggles and thereby break through the isolation of their actions. It allows for the creation of connections within the global goal of strengthening the common struggle against neoliberalism and, in general, against capitalist globalisation, in order to contribute towards reversing the balance of power on a worldwide level.

Q : Will the Forum always be an open space for world civil society ?

MR : It is important for the WSF not to be a simple “open space for reflection, debates on democratic ideas, formulation of propositions, exchange of experiences…,” as defined in its Charter of Principles. It is called upon to make social struggles visible, to be a catalyst for those struggles. If not, there is no reason for it to exist. That’s the capital importance of the next WSF, to further mobilise Tunisian, North African, African and international social movements. The Forum’s success will depend, again and more than ever, on the involvement of social movements, struggle movements, small farmers, labourers, students, the unemployed, youth, women, and those excluded and marginalised by this very unequal system.

 Q : The post-Arab Spring situation in North Africa has experienced some setbacks... What is your evaluation of the situation, in the political context of the region, with respect to holding the WSF 2015 in Tunis (compared with that of pre-WSF 2013)?

MR : Even though the popular uprisings in 2011 were able to cause the fall of the heads of the regimes in power in Tunisia and Egypt, they haven’t yet allowed a radical change in the system. If they allowed for a few small changes in other Arab countries (in Morocco, for ex.), they haven’t led to profound political and economic transformations. The revolutionary process is a long battle that requires time and energy, and the political force to drive it! As Ernesto “Che” Guevara said, “In a revolution, one must triumph or die.”

So the political force capable of carrying out this revolutionary process unfortunately does not exist anywhere in the region. The governments in power, be they elected or imposed, are not enacting policies that break with the past, not a one. In other words, they are intensifying the same neoliberal economic choices, the same public policies, the same approaches dictated by the international financial institutions (the IMF, the World Bank) that led to the revolution and the popular uprisings in the first place. This will only produce the same effects, particularly social ones. From this point of view, holding the World Social Forum in the region is more than important. This forum is a necessary one in order to, among other things, raise citizens’ level of consciousness so that they better mobilise to confront injustice and inequality, and support peoples’ liberty and dignity.

Q : From 30 October to 1 November, the WSF International Council, in its capacity as facilitator, will hold an important meeting on the preparation of the next Forum. What should be its main principles, from the point of view of the Maghreb organisers?
MR : As the WSF is a very diverse space, and activities are self-managed, there will certainly be many thematic categories up for discussion. However, at each new Forum, the regional and international context means that certain directions or themes will be prioritised over others.
On the regional level, there is first of all the ongoing revolutionary process, especially in Tunisia (as the process has been aborted in Egypt and elsewhere). The WSF will be the occasion for social movements to take stock. Other thematic categories will be on the agenda: political Islam, regional conflicts, war and militarisation, human rights and freedom of expression and opinion (in the face of the political arrests and imprisonments occurring in the region, notably in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia…), etc.
At the international level, the context is characterised by the ongoing global crisis and its consequences for populations in both the North and the South: austerity plans, indebtedness, free trade agreements (the transatlantic accord, signed and intensified free trade agreements between the EU and Southern Mediterranean countries, economic partnership agreements – EPAs – between the EU and certain West African countries, etc.). And then there is the problematic climate issue, which undoubtedly represents one of the most important directions and will mobilise many international movements, all the more as the WSF will be a decisive step in the preparation of mobilisations against the COP21 climate summit, planned for the end of 2015 in Paris.

Q : What can the international community do to strengthen social movements in your region ?
MR : International solidarity is imperative. It will have to be constantly present, especially by lending great support to the different local struggles of movements fighting injustice, racism, or the repression and criminalisation of social movements by the authorities. But also in the respect for fundamental human rights, for freedom of expression and opinion, etc. This form of North-South solidarity will be able to, on the one hand, encourage movements, support them, and also inspire them to coordinate their work and, on the other, involve them in the Social Forum process.
One could cite, for example, the solidarity with Moroccan women who’ve been victims of microcredit organisation scams in the south of the country. Or with the 595 Greek cleaning women working in public services who have been struggling against lay-offs for the past 11 months and fighting the austerity measures and downsizing that the Greek government is imposing under the supervision of the international financial institutions and the European Union. Also the solidarity with unemployed youth in Southern Tunisia, the ones who started the revolution and who are still suffering all the effects of the provisional government’s ultraliberal policies.… This is the kind of solidarity that social movements need, and it could eventually lead them all to converge at the WSF Tunis 2015. It just remains for the WSF International Council and its member organisations, along with the local organisation committee, to mobilise the necessary funding and earmark some of it to support social movements. Why not organise a caravan travelling show starting in Southern Tunisia that will stop in different towns and villages before reaching Tunis on the WSF’s opening day? Delegates from the organisations and North African and international social movements could participate.
The great challenge of the 2nd edition of the WSF in Tunisia in 2015 will certainly be its capacity to mobilise social movements from both Tunisia and the Maghreb, as well as African and international ones.
Q : Do you think the upcoming elections in Tunisia might threaten WSF 2015 organising?
MR : The Tunisian government has given its consent to hold the WSF in Tunis in 2015. The local organisation committee is in talks with the authorities, and the Forum will be held at the same site as in 2013, at Al Manar University.
It seems to me that it will not behoove the government coming into power after the 26 October legislative elections, whoever they may be, to reconsider the decision to host such a large event as the WSF, which will certainly bring significant economic benefits to the country!
Besides, I think the WSF must be considered an achievement by social movements. Any eventual attempt to prohibit it must also be condemned by the alterglobalist movement and rapidly followed by a large mobilisation. The WSF space belongs to the entire alterglobalist movement, and it must take ownership of it.

FSM 2013 Tunis. Photo Sergio Ferrari

FSM 2013 Tunis. Photo Sergio Ferrari


The WSF in Perspective

Started in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brasil, the World Social Forum was organised five times in that country successively (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005 in Porto Alegre, and 2009 in Belém in Pará). Then followed two times in Sub-Saharan Africa (Nairobi, 2007 and Dakar, 2011), once in Mumbai (India, 2005), and the latest edition in 2013 in Tunis. There, more than 60,000 representatives of 4,500 progressive organisations from 128 countries came together in support of the 14 January 2011 revolution, the uninterrupted struggle of the Tunisian people for their dignity and their rights, and for those of an entire region going through great change. The next Forum will again take place in the Tunisian capital, on the campus of El Manar University. The North African organisers’ initiative was validated by a joint Québec-Tunisia framework for the WSF 2015-2016 process. The proposal includes holding the next WSF in Montréal, Canada in August 2016. (Sergio Ferrari, English Translation by Danica Jorden)

Social Movements And Tunis 2015

The call for Social Movements launched in Casablanca in December 2013 towards realising the WSF 2015 in Tunisia, emphasises that “it must be noted that after having been a source of hope for itself and a source of inspiration for the rest of the world since 2011, thanks to the Revolutions and the democratic movements, the Region has since experienced deeply unsettling developments. The governments in power for the last three years have not been capable of formulating and putting alternatives into place to respond to the concerns of youth seeking freedom and employment, women in search of equality, and social movements in search of social justice. Very much to the contrary throughout the region, the proliferation of weapons and the violence of religious extremists have taken root, as neoliberal policies dictated by the World Bank and the IMF are presented as the only solution and social movements and democratic movements are criminalised. External, political and military interventions have become the rule, aimed each time at exploiting internal instability for the profit of the United States, Europe, Turkey and the Gulf countries.” They also note that, “besides the Maghreb-Mashriq, the African continent has become a principal source of raw materials and is presented as the ‘new (economic) frontier,’ and is also being hit full force by extremist violence, the pillaging of its resources, the devastating violence of adjustment programmes, and the generalised militarisation of its territories.
“Throughout the world, including in Europe, in Asia, in Latin and North America, social movements are finding themselves faced with aggravated economic, social and environmental crises, and rights are being systematically called into question. New tensions, directly linked to hegemonic strategies to appropriate resources and markets, make them fear for the worst in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa.” 
As for movements in the Maghreb, “the World Social Forum remains more than ever a vital space for social movements fighting to help struggling peoples safeguard their dignity, remain in control of their destinies, conquer new economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, and construct alternatives to neoliberalism, which are now more than ever necessary.”

English Translation by Danica Jorden, Coorditrad

*Press Officer for E-CHANGER/COMUNDO, organisation for mutual cooperation active in the WSF. Co-organiser of the Swiss delegations to the WSF.

Sergio Ferrari

Journaliste RP/periodista RP

Mimoun Rahmani

is a member of ATTAC / CADTM Morocco and representative of the International CADTM Network in the International Council of the World Social Forum.