Ten years after revolution, Tunisians again take to the streets

The capital’s large, poor western Tadamon neighborhood has seen some of the most violent fighting.

Protesters stand in front of riot police during a demonstration outside the parliamentary building in Tunis, November 2011 (photo credit: REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISSI)
Protesters stand in front of riot police during a demonstration outside the parliamentary building in Tunis, November 2011
(photo credit: REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISSI)
In the wake of the 10th anniversary of the Tunisian Revolution, aka the Jasmine Revolution, the country saw a fourth consecutive night of street clashes between youthful demonstrators and riot police across the country, amid longstanding economic and social crises exacerbated by the novel coronavirus.
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Tunisian police said on Monday that about a thousand people were arrested in the four nights of demonstrations.
The capital’s large, poor western Tadamon neighborhood has seen some of the most violent fighting.
Ahmed Kadri, a media analyst and freelance writer for outlets including the Tunis-based Nawaat Magazine, told The Media Line the social crisis is the main cause of the protests, since the same political bloc that ruled the country before the revolution has continued to do so, with no positive changes in sight.
“The situation in Tunisia didn’t improve over the past 10 years but only got worse. The social and economic situation is very bad, which is clear to Tunisians and to non-Tunisians,” he said, adding that this is true especially now, as the coronavirus crisis is worsening and the country faces a second, aggressive wave of infections amid a health system collapse.
Therefore, Kadri said, young Tunisians have taken to the streets on a wide scale.
“Perhaps the way the protesters expressed their demands resulted in their being misunderstood. They are demanding social equality, jobs, dignity, development and more,” he said.
Most of the protesters came from very poor areas, just as they did during the demonstrations and events that toppled longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 by burning tires in the streets and breaking into the offices of state institutions, Kadri added.
“The message is that these protesters no longer want this leadership and system. Previously, they protested peacefully and made their demands through social media, but there was no response from the authorities,” he said.
The government and the political forces in Tunisia, as well as aggressive reactions by the demonstrators, had led to the current violence, Kadri said.
He added that the political parties are impotent in the face of the protests, because they know they neglected their obligations toward the Tunisian people and the principles of the decade-old revolution.
“Corruption and political infighting have increased, while the good of the nation is ignored. I believe these protests will continue. Even if they are suppressed by force, they will resume unless the demands are met,” Kadri said.
The real danger, he said, is that some political parties are trying to distort the protests, including through social media groups that were created for that purpose.
“A group that includes more than two million followers was established by the prime minister and his followers, to sugarcoat the image of the government and the security forces,” Kadri said, referring to Hichem Mechichi, a political independent who was named prime minister in September.
Special riot police and armored vehicles arrived in Tadamon Monday, using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters and chase them through the streets and alleys. Protesters threw stones at security personnel, blocked roads and burned rubber tires.
Many neighborhoods across Tunisia, including on the outskirts of the capital, have witnessed clashes between demonstrators and police until late at night, despite a curfew.
The 28-day Tunisian Revolution was triggered in December 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, set himself on fire in the central city of Sidi Bouzid after being mistreated by police. His self-immolation brought many out into the streets to demand social justice.
Protests have been escalating in Tunisian’s long-marginalized south and interior since December 2019, demanding the government provide jobs and keep its promises to finance development projects.
The economy has continued to suffer. According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate rose to 15.1% in the first quarter of 2020, and to 18% in the second quarter, with the coronavirus crisis playing a large role. Youth unemployment reached 36.5% in 2020, according to the International Labor Organization, causing many people to flee the country.
Sami Tahri, deputy secretary-general of the Tunisian General Labor Union, in an official statement provided to The Media Line, said that the union considers peaceful protest a legitimate right guaranteed by the constitution.
He called on the demonstrators to end the nightly protests, since they might lead to excesses, and to avoid being drawn into the violence, condemn the looting and the attacks on public and private property, reject chaos, and prevent sabotage.
“The Tunisian General Labor Union is surprised by the silence of the authorities regarding the events and asks for clarifications dispelling rumors, while reassuring all Tunisians and bearing in mind their responsibilities,” Tahri’s statement said.
The union recognizes the legitimacy of the anger simmering among the Tunisian youth, who are tired of unemployment, marginalization, poverty, discrimination and social inequality, he said.
“They no longer see anything on the horizon other than burning, expulsion or violence, which requires our understanding, knowing their reality and the causes of their anger after 10 years of political failure and confusion,” Tahri said.
Repressive measures and sending the security and military forces to confront the people is futile and will fail to solve the problem of hundreds of thousands of marginalized youth, he added.
“The excesses and the excessive use of force that can occur during these security interventions only inflame the [people’s] anger,” Tahri said.