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WSF 2013: A Meeting Between The Alter-Globalization Movement And The Arab Spring

Tuesday 18 September 2012, by Ronald Cameron

The meeting between the Prime Minister of Tunisia, a leader of the Islamist Party Ennahda, and a delegation from the International Council (IC) of the World Social Forum (WSF) has confirmed the interest of the Tunisian Government to facilitate the holding of the WSF 2013 scheduled for March 23 to 28, in Tunis. Hamadi Jebali sees with positive eyes the venue of the WSF in Tunis, especially to strengthen its position with European authorities. While he has guaranteed not to intervene politically in the event and to support the logistic, he asked the WSF not to be the lever of the political opposition. This is one of the issues that will challenge the next WSF.

Roughly, three thousand people participated in the preparatory assembly for World Social Forum (WSF) 2013, held over six days in July in Monastir, Tunisia. Various workshops and meetings were held during the first three days of the assembly, and the IC activities followed during the last three days. Not only were the main international guidelines put in place, but participants took the opportunity to strengthen the dynamics of mobilization in the Maghreb, as well as throughout the rest of Africa.

A Preparatory Assembly Focused On Local And Regional Social Movements

The African Council launched the assembly and met on July 12. In the following days, the Tunisian Committee on Economic and Social Rights worked, in an autonomous way but also within the context of a day largely dedicated to mobilization in the Maghreb-Mashreq region. The arrival of the “Boats 4 People” flotilla concluded a day of activities and debates about the topics of free circulation, migrants’ rights, and asylum seekers in Europe from Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

More than 500 people were present during the first day of the International Council (IC). The IC meeting was set to begin with a political debate on the concerns and challenges of social movements in the context of the capitalist crisis.

The last two days of the assembly were dedicated to workshops, which aimed to establish the foundations of the international commissions for 2013’s WSF.

However, the IC was pretty open and gave space to addresses from the leaders of the social movements which have emerged in the past two years. For instance, lectures were given by an American woman of New York’s Occupy Wall Street, a Tunisian feminist, a member of the Senegalese Y’en A Marre movement, a representative from the Tunisian Association des chômeurs (advocates for Tunisia’s unemployed people which have played a major role in the

Tunisian Spring

The political aspect was introduced by Gustave Massiah, from the French network Initiative pour un autre monde, who tried to answer the question “What changes does the current international situation demand from the global social justice movement?” In particular, he argued that we are witnessing a new cycle of revolutions and upheaval.

Three international commissions were created in order to develop the financing, communication, and mobilization aspects of the movement, in concert with related committees from Tunisia and the Maghreb.

When The Alter-Globalization Movement Meets The Arab Spring

Globally, the next WSF challenges concern whether the alter-globalization movement will succeed in its meeting with social movements in this region, which have initiated a genuine democratic revolution.

But to do so, the issue remains whether the inclusive approach of the WSF will convince those who are active in social movements, especially from Islamist currents, to attend the event. Skepticism persists about the scope of the WSF or on the Arab spring. Some people consider the social forum formula bears little consequence. Some also believe that the Arab Spring is stillborn and is limited to changing the guard in the state and a greater openness to

Political Islam And The Only Change Of Guard In The State

However, this meeting is the most ambitious attempt at present to link up the global anti-systemic movements and a regional social movement where there has been a major impact.

The dynamics post Rio +20 and the political Islam

The conclusions of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, held last June in Rio de Janeiro, were dismissed without surprise by social movements. The idea that the market, as green as it is, can solve both the ecological and economic crisis, without questioning the method of production and consumption, is not credible for the movements that consider "that growth based on production in a capitalist system, even if it is regulated, does not escape the limits of the planetary ecosystem"1.

The People’s Summit Final Declaration represents an important turning point in the attitude of global social movement networks. This constitutes a clear opposition based on the purposes of a Global Climate Justice approach.

The document "Another future is possible"2, developed by the thematic groups created for the Thematic Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in January 2012, was presented at the People’s Summit in Rio + 20. This document is an important contribution from those thematic groups coordinated by GRAP (Grupo de Reflexao e Apoio ao Processo) network in the development of a true alternative vision to the current global crisis of capitalism.

However, the social movements from Maghreb and North Africa, if they act in the same global context, they are particularly questioned by the content of the democratic project under construction in their region, where there is an

active presence of Islamic movements. Not only do the electoral results in North Africa reflect the growing support of Islamic movements, but they also appear now in the public debate, as creators of the democratic political project in this region.

How to reconcile the concerns of the global anti-systemic movement for social justice and the desire to develop a secular and inclusive social movement in North Africa? The environmental issue was essentially dealt with from the food sovereignty perspective at the preparatory meeting. This is still a crucial issue, challenging the wealth distribution as well as the industrial production methods of the capitalist food industry. The Ecological issue related to the extractive industry, remains equally important, including those related to oil production in this strategic region.

Attitude Towards The Islamic Movement

The question is concrete. First, will Islamic activists participate in the WSF? It depends much on the left, in each country in North Africa, to ensure the conditions for this, without challenging the secular nature of the WSF. The most important contribution of the WSF to social movements in North Africa and the Arab world is based on this culture of pluralism and diversity, on the one hand, and on consensus and rallying, on the other hand.

Second, there has been criticism on the logistics of the Preparatory Meeting. In order to understand this we have to consider the WSF’s unifying and inclusive framework, on one hand, and the decentralized nature of its deliberations, on the other hand. Nevertheless, the organizational issue remains a major political challenge in a country that is gaining a higher level of freedom. Tunisian Social Movements must demonstrate, all of a sudden, an enormous organizational capacity, given the high level of participation expected.

Third, in view of the political challenges discussed above, including those related to faith, a greater capacity to host and also to respect the principles of the WSF will be required, in a context of increased polarization in the political and social arenas, as we have seen through the events taking place in Egypt, Libya and Syria! The presence of Islamic activists will surely raise debates.

What Can The WSF Contribute To The Social Movements In North Africa?

The support of key member organizations and supporters of the WSF is crucial to help the Tunisian and Maghreb social movements meet the political and logistic challenges. WSF’s contribution to North African social movements will not be limited to the political level. It must ensure the success of the meeting, in the context of the current capitalist crisis, between the global justice movement, post-Rio + 20, and a society in North Africa. Concerning logistics, the contribution of the WSF has to be translated in terms of its inclusive and unifying principles which will certainly be a challenge for the political meeting.


1. Massiah, Gustave, Pensar la situación mundial para una renovación del movimiento altermundialista, WSF

International Council, Monastir, July 2012. Rtrieved from (Available also in Spanish and English).

2. Grupo de Reflexao e Apoio ao Processo FSM (GRAP), Another future is possible, 2012 People’s Summit, Rio de

Janeiro, 2012 June. Retrieved from (Available also in French, Spanish: and Portuguese: ).

See the French version: