Featured Middle East

Tunisia: what is driving the Tunisian youth into outrageous protest?

Tunisia, one of the most politically stabilised countries amongst the rest of the Middle-Eastern countries, is in unrest for days. Protestors especially, the youth are taking to the streets in protest against the government. Hundreds are being arrested, and security forces are being deployed in different parts of the country to control the unrest.

But what is leading the youth Tunisian again to the streets after 2010’s Tunisian revolution? How is the protest related to the Arab Spring? And how the protest could change the country’s politics?

Arab Spring: rehash the past

Arab Spring, a massive protest started from Tunisia 10 years ago that reshaped the Arab world. The protest brought down autocrats and started civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Tunisia managed to avoid all that and remained in quite a stable condition out of all the Arab Spring countries. But is Tunisia a success story?

It all begins with Mohammed Bouazizi, a young 26-years old fruit vendor who was the only earning member of his family and hardly made any money. Police officers in his region tried to confiscate his cart because he didn’t have permitted. But according to Bouazizi, they wanted a bribe. The local police station turned a deaf ear when he attempted to complain about the injustice.

Infuriate by police’s ruthless behaviour, and the young man blazed himself in front of a government building. A few weeks the later, Mohammed passed away. The death sparked rage across Tunisia, which soon spread throughout the middle east. Inspired by the plight of Mohammed, people were demanding for change.

Protestors wanted the government to be accountable for the widespread social injustice people were suffering for decades. Presidents of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was thrown out after just one month of protest. But unlike most Arab Spring countries, which were pushed into some of the worst humanitarian crises (Libya, Syria and Yemen); Tunisia got a few things right.

How Tunisia stood out?

Tunisia arose as a young democracy, with a new constitution and a comparatively free media, the country went into a relatively peaceful political transition. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet even won the prestigious Noble Peace Prize in 2015.

Tunisian government set up a Truth and Dignity Commission to investigate right abuses and corruption under the former regime. More than 62,000 cases were registered. Noah Aboueldahab of Brookings Doha Centre says, “It (the commission) seeks accountability in some cases, it seeks reparations, it seeks national reconciliation. It is an inherently controversial and political process because it really digs deep into the roots of the ugliness of authoritarian rule and oppression”.

Things didn’t go very well for the commission; there were talks that previous leaders were back in power and were endeavouring to cease the work of the commission. Security was also an issue all this time, fighters from the surrounding countries drenched in the civil war were crossing the border and attacking civilians.

The un-resting protest in Tunisia

The country’s economic condition was also witnessing a steep downfall; leaders can hardly hold the economy already on the verge of bankruptcy. People were not able to buy basics; joblessness has increased exponentially, especially since the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has raised to 15% in the country, and amongst the 14-24 years age group, the figure is 36%; most of whom are out of work for significant periods. One-third of the country’s youth are unemployed.

Over the past few days, protests have been flared out amongst the working-middle class from 15 different location within Tunisia. More than 600 protesters have been arrested by now, mostly between 15 and 25 years of age. For containing the protest security forces have been deployed across most of the government buildings.

Amnesty International has called for the police to be peaceful with the protestors after a few footages of officers beating the people went viral. Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi and President Kais Saied attempted to offer olive’s branch to the protestors, but people are far too frustrated to accept it.

Tunisia is also witnessing mass exodus driven by the coronavirus pandemic due to lack of earnings and basic needs. Italian authorities have reported more than 12,800 unofficial arrivals from Tunisia. The protest is growing strong with more people joining every day, mostly with placards in hand saying “Employment is a right, not a favour”.

What does the future hold?

Regions like Sudan, Algeria and Lebanon are breaking into more protest in the past couple of years. Experts believe that people are emboldened to continue to call out their government for change after the fear barrier broke. The Arab spring in many ways is not over, but have just started.

Therefore it is tough to label Tunisia as a success story, but it is better than the others. It is a very young democracy and ten years is a brief period of time to do significant changes, let alone a whole region.