The Tunisian political class views the groups who call themselves Revolution Protection Leagues (RPLs), which were founded in mid-2012 after the Islamic Ennahda Movement came to power, as a threat to the democratic process in Tunisia, which has prompted opposition leaders to threaten to boycott the upcoming elections, unless RPLs are dissolved.

The Tunisian political class views the groups who call themselves Revolution Protection Leagues (RPLs), which were founded in mid-2012 after the Islamic Ennahda Movement came to power, as a threat to the democratic process in Tunisia, which has prompted opposition leaders to threaten to boycott the upcoming elections, unless RPLs are dissolved.

Member of the National Constituent Assembly and a leading figure of the oppositional Democratic Alliance, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, is one of those demanding the dissolution of RPLs. “They are an arm of a political party, namely, Ennahda, and it is unreasonable to meet around the same negotiation table then when we go out, we are attacked by their militias.”

Respecting law

“With their presence, we will not be able to hold elections,” Ben Gharbia wrote in a press statement. “The Democratic Alliance will not agree to hold elections under militias’ threats and it will only participate when RPLs are dissolved,” he said.

Ben Gharbia’s statement, which was the first to mention the possibility of boycotting the elections, coincided with a journey made by Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) – the largest trade union in Tunisia – Houcine Abassi, to Geneva, where he informed the International Labor Organization (ILO) about the attacks made by RPLs and Ennahda’s members against UGTT after the October 23, 2011 elections up to the assaults from last December.

UGTT condemns

The support expressed by the ILO Secretary General,Rider to UGTT, strengthens the latter’s position in its expected confrontation with the Tunisian government, which has shown reluctance in deciding on the issue of the RPLs’ violence, which is in particular manifested in the government’s refusal to sign a joint report with UGTT regarding the events of 4 December despite complete agreement on these events and their perpetrators since the government has refused to condemn RPLs though their involvement has been proven.

UGTT Assistant Secretary General Mouldi Jendoubi said UGTT carried out all necessary attempts to compile a report that would provide the public opinion with a clear and real information about what had happened and the actors involved. “UGTT has sufficient documents that prove who the aggressors are, which is rejected by the government negotiation team which refrains from condemning the RPLs,” Jendoubi explained.

In a press conference he held on Saturday, 6 April, in the presence of leaders of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LTDH), the National Order of Advocates, the Employers Organization and the Tunisian General Union for Industry and Commerce, a video was displayed, proving the involvement of members of RPLs and a member of Ennahda’s regional office in Tunis in the assault taken place on 4 December when UGTT was marking the anniversary of the assassination of national struggler and unionist Farhat Hached in 1952.

The final report of the investigation committee, said Ahmad Swab, head of the Department of Cassation at the Administrative Tribunal, “presented the most eloquent and significant document proving the involvement of RPLs and Ennahda.” This was also confirmed by Shawqi Tbib, Head of the Bar Association, who talked about “compelling evidence.”

Ministry of Interior’s reports

Mukhtar Trifi, LTDH Honorary President and a member of the investigation committee established under the agreement of December 12, 2012 between the government and UGTT, talked about two reports presented by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) to the committee, saying they mentioned names, such as Hisham Kenno, Ayman Ben Ammar and others, who boasted through social networking websites about their assaults against the UGTT headquarters.

“MoI, however, has not sent the important part of the video on the pretext that the photographer ran away when violence broke out, while in fact he was on the roof of a building, away from violence,” Trifi said.

Judge Swab commented on several scenes, including a scene when a police officer, Major Mohammed Ali Laroui, ordered policemen not to arrest RPL members. It is worth mentioning that following the last reshuffle, Laroui was appointed a spokesman for MoI.

RPLs rejected the work of the investigation committee and considered it biased because one of its members was a UGTT representative, stressing that they were about to announce the formation of a national front to fortify the revolution and demanding the dissolution of the UGTT Executive Bureau, which they accused of leading the counterrevolution.

Head of the Tunisian General Labour Union Path Correction Front, Muhammad Assaad Obeid – also accused of being involved in the assault of December 4th – denied any involvement of himself or his party in the assault, blaming the UGTT members for the confrontation.

He pledged to continue working to topple the UGTT current leadership which he accused of contributing to the confusion of the general situation, disrupting the interests of the country and the people, engaging in the counter-revolution and destroying the country.

At the end of the UGTT press conference, Abassi explained that the presented documents, photos and data, which were confirmed by the MoI reports, clearly proved that RPLs were guilty. He said each step towards dialogue with the government would be subject to the recognition of RPLs responsibility and the punishment of the culprits. He added that it was the UGTT Governing Body – the highest authority – that would determine the form of the UGTT’s next move.

General strike

Under the current circumstances, observers expect that the UGTT Governing Body will stage a general strike if their demands are not met since it cannot tolerate any attack against UGTT, the ancient union that participated in the country’s liberation from occupation, building the state and defending workers.

Professor of Public Law at the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Tunis Shafiq Sarsar said the RPLs’ statute violated the Association Act, especially since it had an article that obliged the members to “maintain the RPLs confidentiality and confront the revolution enemies.” He stressed that the government and the militant rulers had no choice but to resort to law to find a way out of their crisis.

Faced with threats to boycott the upcoming elections, Ali Laarayedh’s government and Ennahda’s actors are in an unenviable situation: either to dissolve the RPLs’ militias or to have a large-scale confrontation with UGTT, the opposition forces and civil society, amid public discontent regarding the deteriorated living conditions and the government’s poor performance, which may put the country on the threshold of a new revolution.