Tunisia accuses ‘dirty hands’ of fuelling unrest

President Essebsi expresses understanding for anger over unemployment, but warns against ISIL exploiting grievances.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has warned that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in neighbouring Libya may use the unrest in Tunisia to sneak into the country.

Protests over unemployment in Tunisia, which started in the western Kasserine province, intensified and spread to other parts of the country on Thursday.

On Friday, Essebsi said in a televised address that the government will put in place a programme to try to ease the jobless rate that spurred protests in impoverished regions.

Such protests were “natural”, Essebsi said the address. “There is no dignity without work… You can’t tell someone who has nothing to eat to stay patient.”

“After the start of these demonstrations, ill-intentioned hands have intervened and inflamed the situation,” the president said in his first public remarks since the troubles broke out.

Essebsi said that there were “dirty hands” involved in the unrest after Tunis declared a nationwide curfew  over the protests.

“We have more than 700,000 unemployed, among them 300,000 youth who have qualifications and cannot find a job. And they are being targeted by outside forces, ISIL and others,” he said.

Protests and clashes in Kasserine started on Saturday after the death of an unemployed man who was electrocuted on top of a power pole near the governor’s office.

Solidarity rallies were held in cities including Tunis, Sidi Bouzid and Gafsa, with several reports of suicide attempts as frustration over the lack of jobs boiled over.

My Arab Spring – Tunisia’s revolution was a dream 

Economic conditions have worsened since autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011 and the country, still being transformed into a democracy, is now facing its worst unrest since then.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbara, reporting from Tunis, said that Essebsi’s statements displayed two main messages: “One is that the government is committed to answering their demands for job opportunities, but he also said the government is not going to tolerate situations getting out of control, warning that groups like ISIL could take advantage of the situation.”

 Tensions high in Tunisia protests

Roxanne Farmanfarmaian, a lecturer at Cambridge University, told Al Jazeera that it Essebsi’s move of blaming “outside forces” for the protests was typical of the “authoritarian type of leadership in the Middle East”.

“This is not a good sign, because it implies he is not addressing the real cause. he is blaming outside forces,” she said.

“This uprising is perhaps helping to focus the mind of those who have supported Tunisia as being that beacon of Arab Democracy…I think we are coming to see that for a democracy to be established, it is not quite as easy as everyone thought.

“And a very important part of that is to ensure that the youth in particular who are on the streets and helped put Essibsi into the job he has today, that they are given some answers and some jobs.”

France has said it will provide $1.1bn over five years to help Tunisia deal with its transition to democracy, President Francois Hollande said on Friday.

“One of the main objectives of the plan is to help disadvantaged regions and youth, by acting strongly on jobs,” the French president said in a statement after a meeting with the Tunisian prime minister.

Source: Al Jazeera