The youth has now been protesting for weeks in Tunisia, the North African country that historically speaking triggered the 2011 Arab Spring. The agitation of youth that is causing unrest in the country is a direct consequence of the accumulated frustration, the dying beacon of optimism in the future, and the economic hardships that exacerbated due to the COVID-19. As a measure to stop the spread of the virus, the government imposed a strict lockdown throughout the country. But on the 10th anniversary of overthrowing Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former President, the measure backfired. The nightly curfew in Tunisia since October for containing the spread of Coronavirus exacerbated the tensions between the government and the youth. Tourism is a key economic sector of Tunisia, which was intensely affected by the pandemic travel restrictions.
At the heart of discontent among the young people is the grim economic prospects of the country. One-third of Tunisian youth is unemployed, while many are resentful at their future which seems to be stagnant. The protestors are carrying the placards with slogans of “Employment is right, not a favor”. The incandescent emotions of the youth sparked the protests nationwide, followed by mass protests, sit-ins, and public demonstrations against the inefficacious policies of the government. The government of President Kais Saied, democratically elected, has been unable to turn around the condition of the country’s economy that is now at the verge of bankruptcy. Ten years later after Arab Spring, a revolution whose slogan was “employment, freedom, and dignity,” Tunisians believe they still have not achieved it.
Abderrahman Lahdhili, the President of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, stated that around 100,000 students drop out of school, out of which 12,000 choose to migrate illegally by taking a risky journey on the overcrowded boats of smugglers to reach Europe. He further said, many of the youngsters who are left in the country end up joining the terrorist organizations. According to the National Institute of Statistics, one-fifth of the country’s population is living below the poverty line. The young people only demand equal economic opportunities and have been expressing their anger and frustration in the system at the social media platforms, as did the Algerian young protestors in 2019.
The protests have spread from the capital of the country, Tunis to the other cities of Kasserine, Monastir, Gafsa, and Sousse. The Tunisian authorities have taken a muscular response against the protestors as the fear that history might repeat in ousting the government of Kais Saied. The government has deployed army at the four hotspots in the country that are using tear gas against the protestors, while the police has arrested hundreds of demonstrators. The Interior Ministry of Tunisia has justified the actions of police as a necessary response “to protect the physical integrity of citizens and public and private goods.” Regardless of the response of the government, the protests are growing in size day after day, and the protests occasionally turn violent. The protestors are clashing with the policies, pelting the municipal buildings and many have also been involved in looting and vandalizing. The unrest has intensified in the districts which are poor and densely populated, and especially where the citizens lack trust in the law enforcement entities.
After 10 years of revolution, it is a bitter reality that the so-called democratic process, which claimed to be inclusive has made the people feel marginalized and excluded from the people’s life. The young people who are today protesting against the government, as those who never experienced the life under a dictatorship, but even after overthrowing Ben Ali’s regime, they are still fighting against the same corrupt system and structure of the government which does not allow them to thrive, or provide the basic services to citizens, especially those who live in marginalized areas. Years later, the government has not brought any reform process, and repressive laws are still in place in many areas. Coming to the streets is the only way left for the youth who want their voices to be heard.