Tunisia: 600 arrests deployed the army. 10 years ago the “jasmine revolution”.
The clashes and the situation in act caused and determined by the structured economic, financial and social crisis and alleged also at the contextual situation and in the particular case at the epidemy and at the pandemy of the CORONAVIRUS-SARS-COV2-COVID19 occured in this difficult period.
A revolt against the economic situation, the lack of work in a moment made even more dramatic by the pandemic.
Source from: Rai. Rainews24.
JANUARY 18, 2021 The authorities define them as “Looters”, on social networks they talk about the “Revolution of the Hungry”. It is a very high tension context that is being experienced in every city of Tunisia with the anti Covid lockdown. 632 people arrested during the clashes yesterday. They are all between 15 and 25 years old. Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said, adding that the demonstrators “burned tires and dumpsters to block the security forces”. The Defense Ministry announced the deployment of the army in several cities to block the protests. They contest the situation of socio-economic precariousness, which has not improved after the transition to democracy, a situation aggravated first by the severe blow inflicted on the key tourism sector by the terrorist attacks of 2015 and now from the coronavirus pandemic. 10 years ago the jasmine revolution that dismissed President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Since then, however, I say no, the demonstrators did not do anything. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy. Last night the same script of the previous days was repeated: stone throwing, explosions, fireworks thrown from the roofs of the houses by the young demonstrators to whom the police and the gendarmerie reacted with tear gas to push them to return to the own homes. The night unrest occurs in a context of serious worsening of the political, economic and social situation of the country. In the background are the heated tensions between the various political forces that sit in Parliament, very fragmented since the 2019 elections, while the increasingly weakened government was the subject of a reshuffle last Saturday and is awaiting the vote of confidence of the deputies. Tunis, Bizerte, Menzel Bourguiba, Sousse, Nabeul, Kasserine and Siliana were the areas most affected by the subversive actions of young people who set fire to tires, ransacked shops and attacked police officers. Meanwhile, anger towards a divided political class is mounting in the country and on social networks.
In these days of the tenth anniversary of the Arab revolutions, which began in Tunisia, in the country of the Jasmine revolution, everything seems not to have gone according to what was expected or what those who do not know the Arab world well hoped for.
Instead of remembering with jubilation and remembrance, Tunisians preferred violence and protests, which led to the arrest of more than 200 people. This is confirmed by the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior.
Protests broke out in at least three cities. Rather than protests, they were riots, fomented by the difficult economic situations that are occurring in Tunisia, especially in the latter period due to CoViD19. The people are strenuous while the politicians think about fixing a place for them in power of the country.
Ultimately, this is what Tunisians feel and experience on their own skin. And the protests are in that direction: looting of banks, shops and everything that many, especially young people, cannot afford. In fact, most of the 240 arrested are young Tunisians.
Clashes broke out in many cities, with police charges and tear gas, fired to disperse young people who attacked everything that had a window, set fire to cars and blocked roads.
Marginalization, poverty, lack of work and lockdown, have led to all this and the government seems to have no pulse on the situation and has completely forgotten its citizens, especially if, interviewed by the Arab foreign media, a good part of the speakers, 60 About%, swore he was better off and wanted to go back to the days of Ben Ali.
The economic and social crisis worsens. Tunisia in the balance.
The pandemic has dealt the final blow to a fragile economy, dependent on international aid, bringing the country the most serious economic crisis since the days of independence. Remembered and celebrated by the national and international press, the “tenth anniversary of the revolution” was a day like any other in Tunisia. In 2019 the president of the republic announced his desire to make December 17 a public holiday throughout the country to commemorate the sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi.
A year later, Kais Saied’s proposal was never made official. So on December 17, the Tunisians continued to go to work, school and coffee. And also to demonstrate, as has been happening for weeks in the hinterland of the country and in the capital, to ask for better living conditions, work and services. Ten years after the first protests in Sidi Bouzid, the president elected in 2019 with the vote of precarious young people who promised more work and development, canceled his visit to the city of Bouazizi at the last minute, officially due to “urgent commitments”.
The popularity of the “savior of the revolution” – as he was defined by the local press when he went from city to city in the poorest regions during the election campaign – has drastically reduced. The evening of celebration and singing that followed his victory with more than 70% of the votes is a bitter memory. Saied’s independence was first a strength, then a weakness when he found himself with a parliament in which the main political forces (Ennahda and Qalb Tounes) are rowing against him.
The parable of the outgoing president as a leader who will change the fate of Tunisia apart from the “system” corresponds to that of a country that has gone through one of the darkest years of the post-2011 period. The pandemic has dealt the coup de grace to an economy fragile, dependent on international aid, bringing the country the worst economic crisis since its independence in 1956.
The unemployment rate curve in a quarter underwent a sharp rise of three percentage points (from 15% to 18%) according to the National Statistics Institute (Ins), returning to the levels of 2011. But the official percentages remain outside thousands of people who, in the absence of an alternative, work illegally or by the day. According to a study by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (Ftdes), 44% of Tunisians work without a contract, while only 11% are entitled to a regular contract with social contributions.
The lockdown in April left thousands of workers without savings, earning an average of 20-25 dinars (6-7 euros) a day selling cigarettes, souvenirs or street food on the streets of the cities. If once 25 dinars a day were few but enough, today they are barely enough to eat.
Within a year, the prices of basic necessities have done nothing but increase: according to the Ins, in October the price of vegetables and fruit increased by 13%, meat by 7%, eggs and cheeses of 6%, of fish by 5%. In some supermarkets, product prices are arbitrarily raised to increase earnings, so a package of rice (the price of which is theoretically set by the state) can cost anywhere from 2.300 dinars (70 euro cents) to almost 6,000 dinars (1,82 euros).
In Tunis, as inequalities between affluent areas and suburbs increase, homeless citizens are increasing, as well as young people who stop passers-by to ask for two coins while showing a sheet certifying unemployment. On 11 November a man was sentenced to six months in prison for eating two cans of tuna in a supermarket in the capital, as required by a repressive penal code, inherited from the time of the French protectorate. “I hadn’t eaten for days”, the man said in court.
Young people are the most vulnerable: in Tunisia 35% of them do not have a job. A figure that also includes many graduates. More and more former students are destined to occupy underqualified positions with respect to their qualifications. One example among many, the “call centers” of Tunis, where those who know languages are hired for a few hundred euros a month.
The young unemployed graduates, gathered under the name of Jeunes diplômés chomeurs, we find them instead in the crowd of demonstrators who have been asking the government to intervene with new social measures since the beginning of December. A third of Tunisian graduates are now unemployed in a country where the average age of the population is close to 30 years. The precariousness of young people and the increase in departures for Europe go hand in hand.
This discouraging situation has led more than 12,500 young people to embark for Italy over the last year, most of whom have been repatriated under the bilateral agreement on migration between Italy and Tunisia. According to the Ftdes, more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors left the country in 2020 risking their lives at sea. Without prospects, every year between 50 thousand and 70 thousand young people, and especially young people, leave school permanently, in theory compulsory up to the age of 16.
If 73% of under 30s (Ftdes) say that the authorities “do not listen to the demands of young people” it is because in the face of an unprecedented crisis, the government is responding more and more often with the weapon of repression. In Kasserine, one of the most precarious regions of the country, clashes between demonstrators and police have been going on for days. In January, traditionally the “hottest” month of the year for the number of demonstrations, it is feared that the tension accumulated in recent months could explode.
In fact, in the last period, protest movements have increased: the Ftdes counted 1,025 scattered around the country only in November, concentrated especially in the areas of Gabes, Medenine, Tataouine, Kebili, Tozeur and Gafsa, all cities in the south of Tunisia. The main claim: the right to work and a dignified life. The prime minister’s recent statements have not helped to improve the situation.
In Paris, live on the national channel France 24, Hichem Mechichi said that “whoever says illegal migration, says terrorism”, provoking the anger of Tunisians on social media. His government is fighting today against another threat, namely “the bleeding of public finances”. According to the prime minister, “this has upset all the financial equilibrium of Tunisia and now represents a real danger to national sovereignty”.
Parliament passed a budget law in December considered by experts to be “unbalanced”: Tunisia spends more than the resources it possesses, and this will force the country to get into debt again. An increasingly risky vicious circle.
10 years after the “Jasmine Revolution. – Interview with the Tunisian sociologist Aziz Krichen. «The head of the regime has fallen. The body remained».
«At the time, we only witnessed the dress rehearsals that made it possible to achieve small goals, especially with regard to civil rights. But the social and economic issues have never been addressed and today’s situation is worse than yesterday, as evidenced by the new wave of protests. Europe must stop projecting the image it wants to see on Tunisia».
On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi sacrificed himself by fire in the streets of Sidi Bouzid, in the central western area of Tunisia, due to the lack of work, starting a season that changed the face of a part of North Africa. Aziz Krichen, Tunisian intellectual and scholar of democratic transition, economist and sociologist by training, returns to the root causes of the revolution that gave way to the so-called “Arab Springs”.
The author of the essays The Promise of Spring and The Other Way (Script Edition), which closely analyze this historical process, also experienced 2011 as a personal liberation. Political opponent in exile in Italy in the 1980s to escape the dictatorship, he was persecuted and arrested first under Bourguiba and then under Ben Ali. The Tunisian intellectual was appointed advisor to the presidency of the Republic in 2012, a position from which he resigned two years later.
Aziz Krichen, do you consider the Tunisian revolution as a season that has ended or as a historical process that has just begun?
Ten years ago, young people played a very important role in popular uprisings. And you know, sometimes young people are impatient. They believed that once Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fell, the problems would be solved, but that was not the case. They learned that once the head of the regime falls, the body remains. What I mean is that a historical process began ten years ago and, as you know, history needs to run its course.
A long-term phase has begun: we cannot yet, ten years later, take stock of the revolution because it is still ongoing. At the time, we only witnessed the dress rehearsals that made it possible to achieve small goals, especially regarding civil rights. But the social and economic questions have never been addressed and today’s situation is worse than yesterday, as evidenced by the new wave of demonstrations we are witnessing in the country.
How do you evaluate the narrative that is made of this revolution?
The narrative that has been made of this historical moment often serves the image that the West, and especially Europe, needs, namely that of a democratic success, of a stable and accomplished country. But the international community today is not interested in whether the claims of Tunisians are listened to or not, but rather whether a free trade zone for goods is created through the approval of Aleca (the comprehensive and in-depth free trade agreement with the EU ).
Why are we seeing new manifestations today?
The purchasing power of an average Tunisian has decreased by 50% compared to ten years ago. The economic conditions of the population are twice as bad. However, this is not mentioned: the narrative of the country’s problems is limited to migration and terrorism. On the one hand, Tunisia is narrated as the exception, the only democracy in a region where regimes have triumphed. On the other hand, the country is considered a den of migrants and terrorists. The deep problems go beyond all this, and to understand them Europe must stop projecting the image it wants to see on Tunisia.
What remains to be done, ten years later?
I remember that we have had a Constitution since 2014, but we continue to wait for a Constitutional Court. We still await the results of transitional justice, now almost forgotten by the Tunisian media itself. Then we have a political class that has lost its way. The issues to be addressed are clear to all and concern an unprecedented economic and social crisis. To face it, Tunisia urgently needs good politics, men and women capable of having a long-term vision and the courage to take decisions against the current.
The current leaders, on the other hand, have been trained to apply the ready-made recipes of neoliberalism: so the state slowly withdraws and takes over the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. The deep reasons for the change that the 2011 generation demanded are still here. I will quote Gramsci: while the new is slow to arrive and the old to disappear, we find ourselves wedged between two historical moments. And this is where monsters are born.
What is the country risking in this complex historical moment, further aggravated by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic?
As the situation becomes more and more serious, we undoubtedly risk a return to the past. What saves us from authoritarianism is that in Tunisia, ten years after the fall of the Ben Ali regime, there is no political force capable of doing this. The political scene is fragmented and the parties are weak, no one has the strength or legitimacy to impose themselves on others. There is also a second risk that comes from outside: Europe, which wants stable states at the border, is certainly comfortable with a country held with an iron fist such as Egypt for example.
But even the great international powers that have the habit of interfering in the affairs of the global South are in trouble (just think of the United States). This left the field open to regional forces such as the Gulf states or Turkey. The Tunisian miracle persists for all these reasons but is fragile, very fragile.
On the streets of the town, demonstrations continue. In recent weeks we have seen new protests in Tunisia. What has changed?
The social movements that shake the country ten years after the revolution no longer simply ask for the head of the dictator, but elaborate more articulated and complex requests: more social justice, less territorial inequalities, redistribution. They are somehow universal claims. Proof? The revolution began in Tunisia and then spread throughout the region.
It means that we have similar political and economic models rejected by a part of the population. I remember that in 2011 the Tunisian slogans and even our anthem went around the Arab world. Tunisian poems have been recited in many Middle Eastern capitals. The peoples claim their right to dignified living conditions, freedom and independence. Since then there have been small changes and only for this reason I am optimistic.
In 2019 we witnessed a new wave of riots in Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan. What do protest movements in Tunisia have in common with those in the rest of the Arab world?
With all their specificities, the states that have revolted are alike: they are all led by an oligarchy understood as a small minority group for social, economic or confessional reasons. This group of owners, we can almost call them equity, have evolved in a closed economic system, in a situation of total monopoly. They enriched themselves with the blessing of the international financial institutions, to the detriment of a majority condemned to precariousness.
This system cannot last long, it is doomed to failure. In Tunisia, this split translates into a territorial gap: on the one hand the capital and the wealthy cities of the coast, on the other the peripheries and inland and southern regions. They are two Tunisians in the mirror. The difference is so large that it can be considered almost ethnic! When a citizen of central Tunis travels inland, he has the feeling of being in another country. They are two humanity that collide with each other.
So do you consider the economic question central to understanding this historical phase?
Yes, I believe that the economic question is the lens through which to read these crises. As I write in my latest book The Other Way, let’s take a concrete example: in 2016 the parliament voted for a law banning the Tunisian central bank from lending money to the state. When the state needs money, it borrows it from abroad or from private banks. When the EU or the IMF grants a loan to Tunisia, it passes through Brussels or Washington and then arrives in the hands of the country’s central bank, which in turn lends it to private ones with an interest rate of around 4%.
These private banks then grant it to the state with a higher interest rate of 7-8%. There are 26 private banks in Tunisia, more than in Italy or France. It is precisely at the head of these institutes that we find the powerful Tunisian families today. This means that our oligarchy has an interest in seeing the country get into debt because that is how it makes money. We are held hostage by debt, while the International Monetary Fund grants us loans only in exchange for reforms that do not favor redistribution. It is a dog that bites its own tail, a predation system.
Tunisia, crisis at the top of the state. The institutional crisis is grafted into a context of profound economic and social depression caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption and the absence of relaunch policies.
Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned on the evening of July 15 at the end of a fierce institutional dispute involving the top of the state starting with President Kaïs Saïed, at the time of a profound economic and social crisis, caused by the pandemic, which superimposed on political instability.
Announcing his resignation, Prime Minister Fakhfakh, in office since February 27, announced that he had resigned and replaced the six ministers of the Ennahdha movement, the party with a relative majority in the government coalition. On the morning of the same day, the Ennahdha movement, of Islamist inspiration, had filed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister who had quickly reached over a hundred signatures.
Apparently, the origin of this clash is the accusation of a conflict of interest against Fakhfakh who allegedly had stakes in two companies benefiting from public contracts. Parliament had appointed a commission of inquiry and was preparing to convene the two companies by the end of this week.
In reality, the conflict is deeper and directly involves the president of parliament Rachid Gannouchi, leader of Ennahdha, and the president of the republic Kaïs Saïed. The legislative lessons of October 6 saw Ennahdha win, but only with a relative majority.
According to the Constitution, the president of the republic is obliged to give the task of forming the new government to a member of the winning party. Habib Jemli, indicated by Ennahdha, at the end of almost three months of negotiations does not obtain the confidence of the parliament.
At this point, again according to the Constitution, the ball passed into the hands of the president, who instructs Elyes Fakhfakh, former finance minister and exponent of the center-left Ettakatol party, which did not have elected to the legislative elections. For Fakhfakh too, the task is proving difficult and the president’s threat of new elections was required to induce the parties to compromise and vote for confidence. The almost five months of Fakhfakh’s government were characterized by difficult navigation not only due to the onset of the pandemic.
Ennahdha, although it had obtained the majority of government posts, has never resigned itself to the renunciation of one of its members as prime minister and to political hegemony. On the other hand, yesterday some political forces filed a motion of no confidence in the president of parliament Gannouchi.
The attempt to discourage Fakhfakh arose above all from the opportunity offered by the Constitution, in fact the mistrust would have placed the task of appointing the head of government in the hands of Ennahdha. With his resignation, however, the ball remains in the hands of President Kaïs Saïed. He had decisively rejected Gannouchi’s intention to negotiate the replacement of Fakhfakh, effectively stripping the president, who now has 10 days to appoint the new government, necessarily a coalition.
The institutional conflict is made even more delicate by the fact that the country still does not have a Constitutional Court, four years after the Constitution was launched (January 2014). On July 16, the parliamentary session to elect the four members of the Constitutional Court under his jurisdiction was postponed. Seven candidates in the running, each supported by one of the political forces in the field. In the previous legislature (2014-19) the parties had failed to agree, and a year ago with the premature death of the President of the Republic Béji Caïd Essebsi, the transition took place without the intervention of the Court as required by the Constitution.
The political crisis is now grafted onto the economic and social one aggravated by the pandemic. The virus has affected people in a relatively limited manner (50 deaths and 1,319 cases ascertained to date), while after the reopening of the borders on 27 June last, import infections are feared above all.
The virus has highlighted deficiencies and corruption (as reported by Transparency International already before Covid-19) in the distribution of food, aid, so much so as to cause demonstrations here and there. In Tunisia, as elsewhere, the informal sector is the most affected. New protests are inflaming the southern province of Tataouine in recent days, where young unemployed people are asking for economic development.
But the macroeconomic picture is the most worrying. The tourism sector is the most affected with a decrease in revenues of 51% in the first 6 months (it was already 21.8% during the first 4 months), compared to the significant increase recorded last year.
Three weeks ago Utica, the Union that brings together Tunisian industrialists, traders and artisans, appealed to the government for the urgency of an economic rescue plan. The instability of the political framework does not play in favor of overcoming the crisis.
On August 17, after the visit of the Italian delegation to Tunis, the media trumpeted the signing of an agreement that commits Rome to pay 11 million euros for anti-immigrant policies. Today the ministries, urged by Asgi, make it known that there is no agreement.
While on the other side of the Mediterranean, a table is provided where donations are reported without specifying the donor. A serious lack of transparency that characterizes the management of migratory flows between the two countries.
In recent months, the issue of the arrival of Tunisian citizens in Italy has returned to the center of public debate. The issues that have emerged since last spring are numerous: the blocking of repatriation due to the pandemic, the increase in arrivals, the lack of reception, the issue of terrorism. Observing how these issues have been addressed by governments can help us understand the complexity of the Tunisian migration phenomenon and its management in Europe.
Since July, representatives of the Italian government, supported by the European Commission, have repeatedly traveled to Tunisia to meet their counterparts. The media of the two countries reported detailed news about the agreements reached on August 17 following the visit of the Italian foreign and interior ministers accompanied by European commissioners Ylva Johansson and Oliver Varhelyi.
The Italian government has committed 11 million euros, saved from the reception chapter, to provide Tunisia with radar, maintenance of patrol boats, training programs for border guards and a sea control information system.
How many flights?
Minister Luciana Lamorgese stressed, also in institutional settings, the importance of the agreements reached for the increase of repatriation flights. In particular, you stated that you had obtained from the Tunisian government “additional flights that allowed us to proceed more quickly with the necessary repatriation operations for those who have no qualifications”.
The media hype aroused by the announced agreements prompted the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights and Avocats Sans Frontières Tunisie to send requests for access to the contents of the agreements to their respective administrations.
The answers received are incredibly little convergent. The Italian ministries of interior and foreign affairs reported that no agreement has been signed and that “the necessary assessments are still underway regarding possible initiatives to be financed”. On the contrary, the Tunisian interior ministry has sent the requesting organizations a table showing donations for a total of about 10 million euros for the purchase of radars, high-speed ships, boat maintenance, the purchase of cars and of engines, to which is added the gift of two 12-meter fast boats, without however specifying the donor and the period to which these donations refer.
The reasons for these responses will need to be analyzed in the light of further requests for information that organizations are making. However, it is possible to question the reasons of the two governments and cautiously propose some hypotheses. It is necessary to ask why, close to the meeting of 17 August, extremely detailed news on the content of the agreement was circulated in the press, so radically denied by the Italian ministries.
It would appear that the Italian government is extremely sparing in providing information, especially regarding important economic commitments. On the contrary, the Tunisian government seems to want to emphasize that it is acting in the face of substantial compensation. Mysterious remains the understanding, the existence of which has been confirmed by the minister in institutional settings, regarding the increase in repatriation flights.
This situation highlights the serious lack of transparency that characterizes the management of migratory flows between the two countries.
Italy and Tunisia have signed numerous agreements for joint migration management, border control and the repatriation of citizens of the two countries in conditions of irregularity: in 1998, in 2009, again in 2011 and 2017. Some of these agreements, however, were never published by the administration.
The content of the 2009 agreement remains unknown, while the 2017 agreement was obtained through civic access. The fundamental agreement of 2011, on the other hand, was deposited by the state during the Khlaifia trial, at the request of the European Court of Human Rights.
The repatriation agreement between Italy and Tunisia is among the few to be operational and the repatriation of Tunisians make up an important percentage of the total expulsion of foreign citizens considered illegally residing. Moreover, for several years immigration from Tunisia has been perceived as an “economic” type of immigration: it is generally believed that Tunisian citizens do not have the will or the need to seek international protection. This idea, despite the various reports attesting to human rights violations in the country, is deeply rooted and has strongly influenced migration management practices and policies from Tunisia, most recently the decision to include the country in the list of “safe countries of origin”.
Tunisia is also of strategic importance for the European Union, as confirmed by the presence of European Commission Vice President Schinas and Commissioner Johansson at the meeting on 17 August. Tunisia is, in fact, also fundamental in the management of sub-Saharan migrants who reach the country by land from Libya and who are feared to embark from there to Europe.
This interest is confirmed by the “Integrated support program in border management for the Maghreb” financed by the Commission through the EU Emergency Fund for Africa, in which more than 20 million are committed for the supply of equipment and the formation of the Tunisian coastal authorities.
Furthermore, in 2018, the Commission put forward the proposal for a regional landing platform in the North African country, a mechanism that would have allowed the disembarkation outside the EU territory of migrants rescued in international waters and the initiation on the spot of any procedures for the asylum. Although Tunisia has strictly rejected this proposal, the growing commitment of UN agencies (UNHCR and IOM) on its territory seems functional to the externalization of European borders and the right of asylum in the North African country.
In view of the events of recent months, it is reasonable to expect a relaunch of the proposals made over the past months by Italy and the European Union. In fact, in the coming weeks, Minister Lamorgese, accompanied by Commissioner Johansson, will visit Tunisia again.
Repatriation agreements and agreements for combating irregular migration have a profound impact on the lives of Tunisian citizens who cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
Since these are agreements that have consequences on fundamental rights, which include important economic commitments on the part of the administration and whose political nature is evident, it is necessary that they go through the process of parliamentary authorization and ratification by the head of state. These are fundamental steps to guarantee the democracy and transparency of the government’s actions. Furthermore, such agreements must be published so that civil society can understand their scope and assess their legitimacy.
Tunisia is preparing to face one of the most delicate moments for the outcome of the process of institutional transformation and democratization that began in 2011 with the fall of the regime of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben ’Ali. After more than eight years, the country is still in a transition phase which makes it potentially fragile and which means that all the uncertainties and unknowns related to the actual success or failure of the transition from an authoritarian regime still remain. to a fully democratic system. In the coming months there will be two fundamental events for the future of the country: the ballot for the presidential elections and the parliamentary consultations. After the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi on 25 July, a change in the electoral agenda was imposed, for which the presidential elections – which should have taken place after the parliamentary ones – were brought forward to 15 September. This upheaval has shifted media and political attention towards the presidential competition, giving it a centrality that otherwise, due to the new post-2011 institutional set-up, would have been due to a slightly greater extent to the parliamentary elections.
The country is therefore preparing to choose – for the second time after 2014 in a democratic manner and within the framework of a pluralist process – its own head of state, in a general climate of disillusionment with “traditional” politics. The electorate, as amply confirmed by the result of the first round of presidential elections, is disappointed by the action of the political protagonists of the post-revolutionary phase and this translates on the one hand into a low rate of turnout and direct participation in the electoral processes, and on the other hand in the emergence of independent actors who aim to present themselves as a real alternative to current political parties, often judged as an element of continuity with the old regime, rather than a real break with the past. To weigh on this perception, the factors that, in recent years, have negatively characterized the country’s performance continue to remain, above all a persistent economic crisis and, partly as a consequence, a decrease in security both at a social level and in terms of attempts to destabilize the current political-institutional system at the hands of fundamentalist elements of an Islamist nature. Whatever the result of the presidential elections, the new head of state will have the difficult task of reconciling the different souls of Tunisian society and reviving in them the trust in institutions that seems largely lost after eight years of political and economic stalemate.
On 25 July, at the age of 93, the President of the Republic Beji Caid Essebsi died. The latter was a prominent figure in the contemporary history of Tunisia, to the point that according to many Tunisians themselves and many analysts he could be defined as a sort of second “father of the homeland” after Habib Bourguiba, leader of the independence struggle from France over the years Fifties of the last century, founder and first president of independent Tunisia. Certainly, Essebsi was a central figure in Tunisian political life, as much as he was a controversial actor. Former Minister of the Interior under Bourguiba in the second half of the 1960’s and, subsequently, also under Bourguiba Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, he also held important institutional roles during the Ben ’Ali regime. This curriculum made Essebsi a character not entirely detached from the political dynamics of the country during the decades of authoritarianism that preceded the fall of the regime in 2011. However, Essebsi at the same time was partly the guarantor of the transition, covering the role of interim prime minister in the very delicate first phase from February to December 2011. Despite his ties with previous regimes, Essebsi proved to be a very popular leader, to the point that in 2014, in the first democratic and pluralist presidential elections in the history of country, was elected president of the republic after founding his party Nidaa Tounes, which aimed to be a platform of a secular nature in opposition to the contextual political rise of Ennahda, a conservative party of moderate Islamist tradition, which became following the 2011 elections the first Tunisian party. On the one hand, Essebsi’s victory in the presidential race and, at the same time, that of his party in the parliamentary elections of the same year, was due to the polarization of Tunisian society following the rise of Ennahda and the birth of an “anti -Islamist ”which set itself the goal of opposing Ghannouchi’s party. On the other hand, however, it is indisputable that the very nature of Nidaa Tounes was too heterogeneous to be able to propose an alternative and concrete political program, as well as the fact that the ideologization of Tunisian politics in the two so-called “Islamist” and “secular ”Has produced the effect of blocking government activity and producing a stalemate in terms of reforms, preventing the country from progressing economically and in terms of social and infrastructural development. The legacy that Essebsi leaves, therefore, is also that of a country in fact split in two and, within the so-called progressive front, further divided into a myriad of currents and movements. Also for this reason the presidential elections of 2019 have a historical significance and could mark a turning point in the democratization process of Tunisia. All the souls of the country clashed, from the most traditionalist representatives – if not even nostalgic for the old benalist regime, as in the case of the candidate of the Free Dexturian Party Abir Moussi – to those belonging to the establishment of the most important parties, up to the independent and to some new figures who propose themselves as elements of novelty and break with traditional politics, as in the case of the telecommunications magnate Nabil Karoui, defined by many as a sort of Tunisian “populist”, and the constitutionalist Kais Saied. These last two candidates, partly surprisingly, were the most voted and, therefore, will go to the ballot which will take place between the end of September and mid-October.
The anticipation of the presidential elections due to the disappearance of the former president Essebsi, has reversed the calendar of the two electoral appointments that would have awaited the Tunisians during the second half of 2019. This means that the election of the president will take on a very nature politics in the true sense of the term and, in part, will act as a thermometer for the choices of Tunisians in parliamentary elections, potentially having the ability to even influence the vote of voters for the choice of the renewal of the political forces that make up the parliament. In light of this novelty, even Ennahda, which traditionally had chosen not to nominate its own representatives for the presidential race, has fielded its own leading personality who competed for the highest office in the state, Abdelfattah Mourou. It seems evident, in fact, that whoever wins the presidential elections could enjoy an advantage – in terms of popularity – even in the political elections and, therefore, hope to capitalize on the result obtained. In this regard, it is useful to recall how, after the constitutional reform approved definitively in 2014, Tunisia passed from a purely presidential system (in which the head of state actually enjoyed full and almost unlimited powers) to a system more similar to the semi- French presidentialism. In the new institutional order, the president of the republic maintains important prerogatives especially in the defense, security and foreign policy sectors of the country, but his role is limited and balanced by that of the executive and the prime minister, an expression of majority of parliament. The president himself was at the center of the political debate that preceded the presidential elections, since some candidates (especially former defense minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, supported by Nidaa Tounes) feared a return to a pure presidential system. to counter the influence of some political forces, in particular Ennahda, possible thanks to the possible positive result in the parliamentary elections.
The head to head between Saied and Karoubi confirms the climate of disillusionment and aversion towards the “system” that reigns in the country. Both are outsiders to traditional political parties, which have seen their popularity severely diminish. On the one hand, Saied is an expression of a sort of ultra-conservatism that opposes some choices made by previous governments (for example, he spoke out against the law on equality between men and women and against the cancellation of the death penalty) and aims to conquer the most traditionalist sectors of Tunisian society.
On the other hand, Karoubi represents that anti-systemic and in some ways “populist” message that in other contexts has been used by other political leaders to obtain consensus by pointing the finger at the corruption of the existing apparatus and political immobility. The latter, among other things, was undoubtedly benefited by using his own media empire to gain greater visibility, to the point that many compare his political rise to that of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy in the 1990’s.
The vote was characterized by strong abstention (only 45% of those entitled to vote actually went to the polls) and seems to give Tunisia’s conservative and progressive tendencies two new points of reference, although the unknowns about the possibility that these two anti-system forces (especially Saied, which does not have a strong structure behind it) can provide the long-term answers that the country needs and the stability needed to form lasting governments. The vote in the parliamentary elections and the positioning that the parties will decide to take in the presidential race will define the new equilibrium, even if it is not excluded that the result of this first round of presidential elections may favor a rapprochement between the traditional political forces, even on paper. opposing each other.
At the root of the widespread discontent that manifests itself in the country, as well as the disillusionment that many citizens perceive about the process of democratization and political change underway, there are objective difficulties for Tunisia to get out of a serious economic crisis that affects large sections of society. This crisis is composed of structural factors, such as the high rate of unemployment and the evident regional disparities in terms of development and services, further aggravated by more strictly conjunctural factors, consisting of political instability, the resilience of some social and institutional sectors of in the face of attempts at reforms and the emergence of the threat to the security of the country represented by extremist forces of an Islamist nature. Tunisia is struggling to get out of an economic crisis which, while having its roots well before 2011, has worsened over the years and shows no signs of improvement. The Tunisian system seems unable to recover the shortcomings accumulated over time and, in the absence of clear policy lines and a structured program of reforms, the risk is that the stalemate will continue to persist. The high unemployment rate (on average 15% but with peaks up to 30% in some peripheral regions of the center and south and among some population groups, especially young graduates) represents one of the vectors of social discontent and economic stagnation. Alongside this structural scourge, a series of factors have contributed to worsening the perception that citizens have of their economic and social condition. Over the past two years, the Tunisian currency – the dinar – has depreciated by almost 35%, producing high inflation rates with immediate and evident repercussions on the daily life of Tunisians, especially for low-income groups.
Furthermore, Tunisia suffers from an ever higher public debt, which exceeded 75% of the GDP, the gross domestic product, (before the fall of Ben ’Ali it was around 35% of the GDP, the gross domestic product) and which makes it particularly exposed to international pressure. In this context, attempts to adjust to meet the conditions set by international organizations (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) for loans granted risk making the situation even more difficult for the weaker social classes. Never before in the past two years have there been so many demonstrations and strikes against austerity measures that governments have inevitably had to take to meet the demands of donors. The trade union forces themselves, historically very influential in the country, have often acted as a brake on some reforms that would also be necessary and this gives a sense of how difficult it is, in such conditions, to imagine incisive government action that could restart the major economic sectors and to give the Tunisian system the changes necessary to overcome the crisis.
Tunisia maintains good relations both with the countries of the region and, at an international level, with its major European and extra-European partners. From the point of view of regional relations, relations with Algeria, a key partner in the security and counter-terrorism sector, as well as in the fight against trafficking and cross-border crime, are of particular importance. The instability that has affected – and potentially still affects – this neighbor due to the protests that led to the resignation of former president Bouteflika last spring, is a cause for concern for the Tunisian authorities, since the country could be affected. directly of the Algerian political crisis in terms of security. On the other hand, the situation in the other regional neighbor, Libya, means that even on its eastern border, Tunisia is affected by the security problems deriving from the persistence of a conflict that has been going on for several months.
From the international point of view, Tunisia’s priority is to maintain good relations with the European Union and, in particular, with those who are the two main partners both from a political, economic and commercial point of view: France and Italy. With the latter there are several priority areas of cooperation, not least that of the joint fight against irregular immigration. Despite the drastic drop in irregular arrivals in Italy over the last two years, in fact, from 2018 to today, Tunisians represent the first nationality of origin of irregular migrants who land in Italy. To cope with this situation, the two governments have signed several agreements and Tunisia is one of the five countries with which the government of Rome has bilateral agreements on the repatriation of illegal immigrants on Italian territory.
On 27 February 2020, almost five months after the parliamentary elections of last October, the Tunisian parliament voted to trust a new government led by Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. This vote must be contextualized in the context of a complex negotiation: the attempt of the previous prime minister designate, Habib Jemli, was wrecked on 10 January. The government team presented by Jemli, independent but close to the party of moderate Islamist tradition Ennahda, had been rejected by the parliament with 134 votes against and only 72 votes in favor.
While Jemli had been in charge of forming a new government on the recommendation of Ennahda, the first party in parliament, Elyes Fakhfakh was directly chosen by President Kais Saied. During the negotiations, Fakhfakh has always stated that he wanted to include within his government structure only those political forces that could boast “revolutionary” credentials and that in the second round of presidential elections had supported Saied. Consistent with this approach, since his investiture Fakhfakh has declared that he does not want to include in his majority neither Qalb Tounes, the party of the magnate Nabil Karoui, Saied’s direct opponent in the second round of the presidential elections, nor the Free Desturian Party, a formation nostalgic for the pre-2011 regime, critical of the revolution, nationalist and strongly anti-Islamist. It is important to underline that these two parties represent the second and third most voted party in the last parliamentary elections. Due also to the decision to exclude these two political forces, Prime Minister Fakhfakh found himself forced to include a large number of parties in his majority, with political positions also very distant from each other.
At the end of the negotiations, the main parties that agreed to join the government majority were Ennahda, Attayar, the main force of the center-left, the Echaab Movement, a formation of the Tunisian left, and three centrist parties, Tahya Tounes, Nidaa Tounes and Al Badil Ettounsi. Of the thirty ministries that make up the government, fifteen have been entrusted to independent personalities, who will lead the vast majority of important departments, including Defense, Justice, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance. The remaining ministries were divided proportionally among the member parties of the ruling coalition. Ennahda was assigned six departments, including a major ministry such as that of Health; Attayar instead received three ministries, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Administration. The Echaab Movement and Tahya Tounes both received two ministries, while Nidaa Tounes and Al Badil Ettounsi each received one ministry.
The ideological heterogeneity of this government, born according to many to avoid a return to the polls that would have favored the most extremist parties excluded from the current coalition (Free Desturian Party and Al Karama Movement, a radical Islamist formation), risks being its largest weakness. As in the case of the previous government, the distance between the positions of the government partners, on both economic and social issues, risks greatly reducing the impact of legislative action.
The new government, the eleventh since the 2011 revolution, will face a series of long-standing social and economic challenges. Unemployment in the country continues to be high (15.35%), especially among the youngest (34.81%), while economic growth, which stood at 1.5% in 2019, has not kept pace with the inflation, calculated at 6.7% for last year. The gap between the development of coastal areas and the interior of the country also continues to be a cause for concern. The poverty rate in the country’s inland areas has now reached alarming levels. In cities such as Kasserine, Qairouan and Sidi Bouzid, the city from which the 2011 protests started, over 30% of the population lives in poverty.
To cope with the country’s weak economic growth, successive governments since 2011 have relied on higher public spending, which has contributed to the rise in public debt, from 40% of the GDP, the gross domestic product, in 2010 to 73% in 2019. This situation of prolonged socio-economic difficulty has led Tunisian citizens to manifest an increasingly widespread sense of disillusionment with the economic system of their country. In a survey carried out in Tunisia in 2019, 76% of respondents said they were convinced that they were in a negative context to find work in their area of residence, while 82% said they were sure of the high level of corruption in the area. within the business community of their country.
The failure of previous governments in solving socio-economic problems has gradually reduced the confidence of Tunisian citizens even in the work of central institutions. According to the same survey, in 2019 only 29% of Tunisian citizens said they had faith in the work of their government, compared to 35% the previous year. To this figure is then added the perception of rampant corruption within the government, as stated by eight out of 10 Tunisian citizens.
Driven by the difficult socio-economic situation and lack of trust in the country system, it is estimated that approximately 95,000 people have left Tunisia since the protests began, 84% of them with a high level of education.
In a context characterized by strong socio-economic problems and a decline in trust in the country’s democratic institutions, since the beginning of March Tunisia has found itself having to face the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in its territory.
In general, Tunisian institutions have been able to act proactively to minimize the effects of the pandemic, despite the scarcity of means. In early January, the Ministry of Health, in partnership with the National Observatory for New and Emerging Diseases (Onmne), set up a commission charged with monitoring the spread of the virus. On March 4, two days after the identification of the first case of Covid-19 in the country, the first restrictive measures were announced, which included the suspension of ferry services from the port of Genoa. Terminal 2 at Tunis International Airport was dedicated to passengers from Italy, who began to undergo health checks. On March 9, all sea connections and flights with Italy were suspended except for the Tunis-Rome route, which suffered a reduction in the number of flights. The number of flights with France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Egypt, countries that were experiencing a high number of infections, was also reduced. In addition, the start of school and university holidays has been brought forward. These first restrictions were progressively followed by a series of stricter restrictions, which culminated on March 18 in the closure of the country’s sea and air borders, accompanied by the imposition of a 12-hour daily lockdown, from 6 to 6 pm. that date, only 24 cases of Covid-19 had been recorded across the country. Four days later the lockdown was extended to the entire duration of the day.
On March 25, Prime Minister Fakhfakh announced the creation of the National Coronavirus Response Authority, with the aim of centralizing the management of preventive and control measures. The body is responsible for coordinating the monitoring and response actions of the various governorates, as well as the “Regional Committees for Disaster Prevention, Response and Organization of Rescue Operations”. This task is carried out in close coordination with the “National Standing Committee for Disaster Prevention, Response and Relief”, which is placed under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of Health and Onmne are instead directly involved in the choices related to the national health system. Thanks to the proactive approach adopted by the government, the country now seems to have averted a health crisis. With the start of Ramadan on April 24, travel restrictions were only reduced from 8 pm to 6 am, while on May 4 the country began the gradual reopening of its commercial activities. As of May 19, the number of official infections amounted to 1043 cases, with 46 deaths. However, it should be emphasized that the low number of tests carried out could at least partially mask a greater spread of the epidemic. To mitigate the negative effects of the restrictions imposed, the government has implemented a series of economic and fiscal measures aimed at supporting the income of Tunisian citizens and the country’s economy, for a total of 2.5 billion Tunisian dinars (TND), equal to approximately € 792 million.
Specifically, the government has allocated TND 300 million to support workers in the “chômage technique” (temporary suspension of work), 150 million for the benefit of poorer families with special needs, 500 million to increase the stocks of basic products for public companies in the pharmaceutical, food and oil sectors, as well as a credit line of another 500 million for private companies unable to obtain bank loans. In addition, three different investment funds, totaling 700 million Tunisian dinars, have been created to support strategic and large companies, and to finance the acquisition of equipment for hospitals and other public health facilities.
Other measures specifically aimed at managing the pandemic include the opening of a credit line to combat the spread of the virus, and the allocation of TND 2.5 million to research and test the efficacy of a specific drug in the coronavirus treatment. The Tunisian Central Bank then guaranteed TND 50 million in foreign currency to the Ministry of Health for the purchase of medical supplies from China.
The government has also announced the launch of a profound health reform, aimed at rebuilding the public health system. According to a study carried out, the country can count 331 beds in intensive care, which rise to approximately 500, between the public and private sectors, according to other estimates. However, these beds are unevenly distributed across the country, with 13 of the country’s 24 governorates having no ICU beds. Similarly, the vast majority of laboratories authorized and equipped to carry out tests on patients with the virus are concentrated in Tunis and in the governorate of Monastir.
The trade unions have also mobilized to reduce the impact of the crisis on workers. In mid-April, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (Ugtt), the Confederation of Tunisian Industry, Commerce and Craftsmen (Utica) and the government reached an important agreement to prevent some 1.5 million Tunisian workers in the sector private individuals belonging to certain sectors, including agriculture, construction, transport and hospitality, are fired. The agreement provides for the government to contribute approximately € 65 to the salary of these workers for the first month, while the remaining part of the first salary and all subsequent salaries will be paid by the employers. The Ugtt has also announced that it will create, in partnership with the Tunisian union of wood and construction workers, the Fgbb, a fund to help the workers most affected by the crisis. The fund will be set up using part of the membership fee of the union workers. Despite the interventions of the government and other social components, several studies indicate that the country’s economy will be hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the Tunisian economy will contract by 4.3% in 2020. According to a recent study by the Arab Institute of Business Executives (IACE), 81% of Tunisian companies will suffer the consequences of the coronavirus crisis. According to estimates, the volume of business will drop on average by 52.6% for industries, by 46.7% for construction, by 61.8% for commercial companies, by 47.6% for business services. and 70% for personal services.
In relation to the economic difficulties caused by the blocking of production activities, several protests have occurred in the country in recent weeks. On March 30, in the city of Mnihla, in the governorate of Ariana, a large group of citizens protested and burned tires in front of the local post office to ask for social and economic aid. The situation risks being even more problematic for the large population of sub-Saharan migrants present in the country, historically disadvantaged from a social and economic point of view. On 6 April, in Wardia, a suburb of Tunis, 56 migrants detained in one of the country’s reception centers began a hunger strike against the lack of measures to avoid a potential spread of the virus in the facility. The strike ended two weeks later, when some of the migrants’ requests were met.
UNHCR said it needed an additional $ 1.5 million to mitigate the effects of the crisis among refugees and asylum seekers in Tunisia. According to a report released by the same organization, the risk is that, by depleting their resources, they increasingly resort to negative response mechanisms, such as less food consumption, or the sale of their own goods.
The country’s prison population is also at risk of particularly painful exposure to the pandemic, due to the overcrowding of detention facilities. For this reason, on March 31, President Saied announced the release of 1,420 inmates and ordered additional sanitation measures for the country’s prison facilities.
Due to the pandemic, Tunisia closed its land border with Libya on 16 March. Following the closure, some 1300 Tunisians who were in Libya massed near the Ras Jedir gate. Only on the night of April 20 about 650 of them were allowed to return to Tunisia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that these individuals have in fact forced the blockade of Tunisian border guards to return to the country, a possibility denied by the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior. According to a Tunisian diplomatic source, about 20,000 Tunisians are currently present on Libyan soil. Recently, the Tunis government and the Libyan government of Prime Minister Serraj reached an agreement to allow again the transit of certain categories of goods, including food, through Ras Jedir.
The Tunisian government organized the first repatriation flights for Tunisian citizens abroad between March 16 and 20. On 10 April, the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the number of repatriation flights for his fellow citizens would increase in the following weeks. On repatriation flights, priority is granted to Tunisian citizens who are not resident abroad, citizens residing in countries where health and safety conditions are problematic, and Tunisian students who wish to return home.
To support the country in managing the coronavirus crisis, the European Union has guaranteed 250 million euros in aid to Tunisia. The Tunisian government and the International Monetary Fund have jointly agreed to suspend the ongoing review of the country’s guaranteed economic aid program in 2016, and to adopt a new program that reflects the new social and economic policies adopted by the government. In addition, the International Monetary Fund has approved the granting of an emergency loan to the country of around 690 million euros, with the aim of supporting the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis in the country.
For its part, Tunisia sent a military medical team to Italy on 11 April to support the efforts of Italian medical personnel. The delegation, made up of 7 volunteer doctors and nurses specializing in anesthesia, resuscitation and biosecurity, carried out its mission, which lasted two weeks, at the Hospital named “Asst Spedali Civili” in Lombardia in Italy in Brescia.
Tunisia, Sfax: tires burned and clashes for the fourth consecutive night. The Tunisian firefighters extinguish the flames and clear the road blocks resulting from the fires.
Firefighters intervened in the Tunisian city of Sfax, where the streets were blocked by burnt tires. The clashes, which occurred in many Tunisian cities for the fourth consecutive night, arose despite the national blockade for the coronavirus pandemic proclaimed last Thursday. Unrest that occurs on the day when hundreds of protesters forced the fall from power of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 10 years ago.
INTERNATIONAL. Youth Tunisia challenges curfew and rises. Infinite revolution. Night clashes with the police in different cities. Over 600 arrests, many minors. The pandemic has aggravated the worst crisis since independence. And the government is silent.
The lockdown decreed on January 14, the 10th anniversary of the revolution, was not enough to stop the protests in Tunisia. On the contrary, it led the young people of the margins to gather at night, after the curfew, to set fire to tires and set off firecrackers and fireworks in protest. From Siliana to Tunis, passing through Kasserine, Kairouan, Sousse, the procedure is the same, as is the response of the government. First the police were massively deployed in popular neighborhoods and inland regions, then the defense minister sent the army. The situation quickly got out of hand and the night clashes multiplied, as if by a domino effect, sometimes turning into real urban warfare between Molotov cocktails and tear gas. “By ignoring, sanctioning and suppressing peaceful protests, the government is pushing protesters to use more extreme methods”, warned the end-2020 report of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (Ftdes).
EVENTS IN THE COUNTRY are not in fact a new phenomenon: since the revolution, Tunisia has never stopped taking to the streets. In ten years, several waves of social protests have been observed, in 2016, 2018 and 2019. The pandemic has further degraded the already precarious living conditions of a large part of the population of a country where 1 million and 700 thousand inhabitants now live below the threshold of poverty according to data from the National Statistics Institute. In the areas of Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Tataouine – far from the spotlight of the capital – numerous sit-ins have tried since the beginning of December to draw the attention of the buildings of Tunis to unemployment and wages. 45% of Tunisians work in the informal sector, often day-to-day, without a regular contract.
IN THESE DAYS, however, it is not precarious workers and the unemployed who occupy the streets, but young people and adolescents, often still minors. This is confirmed by a press release from the Interior Ministry announcing 632 arrests between Saturday and Sunday nights. In fact, it is no coincidence that the amateur videos of the clashes with the police are circulating mainly on TikTok, collected by the hashtag “the country rises up”.
National TV, on the other hand, continues not to report news of the protests. A sign of the growing tension between those young people deprived of the few remaining meeting spaces and the police forces was already felt before the start of the lockdown. On January 9, hundreds of fans gathered in front of the headquarters of the Tunisian Football Federation, not far from the stadium in the Menzah 1 district, to ask for the dismissal of the managers of Club Africain. The police intervened to disperse the peaceful crowd and arrested more than 300 fans, all in their twenties or so.
A week later, on January 15, a group of young people violated the curfew in Siliana (north-west) after a video was posted on social media showing a policeman beating up a shepherd, thus starting the night protests. Those who take to the streets do not present explicit claims, but simply seem to want to affirm their existence in a country that is currently going through the worst economic crisis since its independence, a crisis that hits young people and women hard. “We have repeatedly emphasized the worsening of the phenomenon of early school leaving and the absence of the state when it comes to supporting the right to education, health and work for young people. This has caused that feeling of injustice and humiliation that unites those who take to the streets today”, wrote the Ftdes in a statement in support of the protests.
As the clashes with the police continue for the fourth day in a row, the silence of the authorities feeds the sense of frustration. President Kais Saied made no official statements either on the 10th anniversary of the revolution or during the first days of protests. Only yesterday he went to visit El-Mnihla, one of the districts of the capital theater of night demonstrations.
THE FACEBOOK PAGE of the Presidency of the Republic limited itself to spreading a video and some photos of the president surrounded by the crowd: «I am aware of your situation and I know who wants to take advantage of it. Don’t let them buy your misery. Young Tunisians have never been thieves, do not become one because they ask you to”, Saied said, referring to the looting of some grocery stores and indirectly attacking his political opponents. As for the government, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced a big reshuffle on Saturday and awaits the confidence of a fragmented parliament, withdrawn into itself, in the midst of the social crisis.
News. Protests. Tunisia deploys army to help quell days-long unrest. Security forces’ deployment comes after mass arrests and days of violent protests by youth in various cities across the country.
Tunisia has deployed military units to help quell days-long social unrest that saw violent protests by young people in various cities, as demonstrators took to the streets to demand the release of hundreds of people arrested by police.
The defence ministry said on Monday said the situation in the country was “calm” after soldiers were called in the previous night to protect public buildings and “seats of sovereignty”.
Tunisians are angry at the poor state of the economy and of public services. Many feel disappointed that on the 10th anniversary of the uprising that removed former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, little seems to have improved. There is also added frustration over coronavirus restrictions.
However, with no clear agenda, political leadership or backing from major parties, it is not clear whether the demonstrations will gain momentum or die down, as many previous rounds of protests have since 2011.
The defence ministry said the army will conduct joint patrols with security forces in the regions of Siliana, Kasserine, Sousse and Bizerte, where clashes with police broke out on Sunday evening for the second consecutive night.
Other cities that saw protests included Mahdia, Kairouan, Kebili, Nabeul, Manouba Gafsa and Monastir.
The interior ministry said authorities had made about 1,000 arrests since the start of the unrest.
In Tunis’s central Bourguiba Avenue, demonstrators on Monday said they wanted people arrested in recent days to be released.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International on Monday called for restraint, citing footage showing officers beating and dragging people they had detained and said authorities should immediately release Hamza Nassri Jeridi, a rights activist arrested on Monday.
“Security forces must immediately refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force to disperse protesters in the capital and several governorates, against marginalisation, police violence, poverty and lack of job opportunities”, it said.
Tunisia on Thursday commemorated the 10th anniversary since the flight into exile of iron-fisted Ben Ali, after a popular revolt that foreshadowed pro-democracy uprisings, strife and war in the region during what became known as the Arab Spring.
Long touted as the Arab Spring’s lone success story, Tunisians increasingly sense that the revolution has failed to deliver on its promises, including the development of the rural and less industrialised interior regions.
Despite numerous democratic elections, protests continue to break out, especially in the central and southern regions where youth joblessness reaches 30 percent and the poverty level is above 20 percent.
According to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, more than 1,000 demonstrations took place in November alone. Months of sit-ins paralysed production of oil and phosphate, a key resource, costing billions of dollars in lost state revenues.