Although up to 50,000 participants from at least 125 countries are expected to arrive in Tunis next week for the World Social Forum, the success of this international event is threatened by a potential strike that could shut down the country’s airports.
Unionized airport workers have demanded a pay hike and say they will go on strike starting March 25, one day before the forum’s opening, if their conditions are not met. WSF organizers have been in discussions with Tunisian unions in hopes of postponing the strike.
The WSF, a biannual gathering of NGOs and civil society organizations, is planned to run from March 26 to March 30 on the campus of El Manar University. With a focus on building the capacity of civil society organizations in Tunisia and elsewhere, it will address subjects including transitional justice, women’s rights, and the environment.
Tunisa was chosen as this year’s venue because of its role in sparking revolutions throughout the Arab world, and because of the strong participation of Tunisian civil society groups, such as the League of Human Rights, in previous WSF meetings, according to Aymen Talbi, one of the organizers.
The first WSF was held in 2001 in Brazil and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will participate in the forum and conduct a workshop. He heads a significant Brazilian delegation, including two cabinet ministers. Musician Gilberto Gil, former Brazilian minister of culture, will perform a concert at 7p.m. on March 26 outside the Menzah sports complex.
Other prominent participants include Fadwa Barjhouthi and Alba Sa’adet, both wives of well-known Palestinian activists confined in Israeli jails. The forum has a strong focus on the Palestinian issue and endorses Palestinian statehood, Talbi said.
Around 4,000 organizations are expected to participate, and a quarter of those are Tunisian, he added. Prominent international groups include Abong, a Brazilian civil society organization, and ACRI, an Italian social activist association. International labor unions will also be represented. Forums for national legislators and municipal authorities will include officials from at least 25 countries.
Resource shortfalls have also affected the forum. It is currently 500,000 dinars short of its 1,200,000 dinar budget, and is seeking to add 400 volunteers to the 600 it currently has, Talbi said.
The impending influx of participants has booked Tunis hotels to capacity during the forum. To provide extra space, El Manar University has offered a free month’s rent to dormitory residents willing to give up their rooms to event participants during the week of the forum.
The opening march of the forum will take place on March 26. For more information, visit: http://www.fsm2013.org
Salma Bouzid contributed reporting
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