Protests mark Tunisian revolution’s sixth anniversary
Presidential convoy stoned by demonstrators, while protests grip cities and towns across Tunisia.
Several protests over jobs have been staged in several Tunisian towns and the presidential convoy was stoned by demonstrators, on the sixth anniversary of the north African country’s revolution.
Protests erupted in Sidi Bouzid, Meknassy and Gafsa, where President Beji Caid Essebsi visited to mark the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
In Gafsa, angry youths protested against Essebsi’s visit, throwing stones and blocking the road. Local media and residents said the president’s convoy was forced to change its route before he left by air.
In Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the Tunisian revolution sparked by the death of a street vendor protesting against official corruption and abuses, hundreds demonstrated in front of the local governorate, making the same demands as six years ago.
Six years ago, protests in Tunisia led to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s ruler for 23 years. Today the country marks the anniversary with little fanfare, after official recognition of failure on the economic and social fronts.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed acknowledged on national television on Friday night that authorities had so far failed to address the grievances of the Tunisian people that had fuelled the 2011 revolution.
“Today, we are not achieving this [democracy] because unemployment and social inequalities have increased,” Chahed said.
There’s a huge gap between the government and youth in the country, Malek Tazdaghli, a computer scientist, told Al Jazeera.
“The government doesn’t understand the number of unemployed and the widespread depression caused by lack of jobs,” Tazdaghli said.
“For instance, in 2008 there was zero unemployment in the tech sector; now there isn’t a field where people can easily find jobs.”
Six years after that revolt, Tunisia is hailed as a model of democratic transition, but rural central and southern regions remain flashpoints for rioting in marginalised towns where many young Tunisians see little economic opportunity or progress.
“The revolution in itself is a big win, we can’t ever ignore that, but people can’t even afford food,” Imen Dridi, who lives in the capital Tunis, told Al Jazeera.
Taoufik Selmi, a resident of Sidi Bouzid, told Al Jazeera that food was unaffordable, and the recent cold weather had led to several deaths in the city.
“We haven’t seen any change here since the revolution,” Selmi said. “We might be free of oppression now, but we’re hungry and cold.”
In Meknassy, close to Sidi Bouzid, a general strike has been declared in protest at a lack of development.
President Essebsi on Saturday announced a package of new projects during a visit to the central province of Gafsa.
According to Nessma, a private television channel, however, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters hurling stones at Essebsi’s convoy.
Tunisian authorities have struggled to restore the economy and reduce youth unemployment – particularly among new graduates – over the past six years.
In January 2016, the government imposed a nationwide night-time curfew after Tunisia witnessed some of its worst social unrest since the revolution.
READ MORE: Revealing Tunisia’s corruption under Ben Ali
Anger erupted after the death of a 28-year-old unemployed man who was electrocuted when he climbed a power pole while protesting in the central town of Kasserine.
That unrest had echoes of the public anger after the death of a young fruit seller who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid in December 2010 in protest at unemployment and police harassment.
“If it continues down this path, with people not finding the money to buy food, then the country could erupt again,” said Dridi.
Mohammed Dhifallah, a university professor and analyst, described the situation as normal given the transitional period which the country is undergoing.
“One could say the economic fallout is what happens when a new system tries to take over and eradicate the old corrupt system. The cleanup takes time, but it will hopefully get better and things will pick up.”