After another day of protests and looting in several cities in Tunisia, the Interior Minister announced yesterday a national curfew, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. This comes on top of the state of emergency in force since November when a National Guard bus was attacked by terrorists. The situation is indeed serious if President Beji Caid Essebsi felt compelled last night to deliver a nationwide address.
The protests of unemployed youth, supported by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), will not cease without concrete answers. The UGTT has expressed solidarity, saying the demands of the unemployed are “legitimate,” namely that the government has marginalized the inner regions of the country and failed to put forward any solutions to the lack of jobs for young, educated Tunisians. Once again, like five years ago, the protests began inland among the most disadvantaged. Little has changed since the fall of dictatorship, and Arab Spring participants are disillusioned.
Prime Minister Habib Essid, in his speech at the Davos summit, admitted the failure of the government’s policies and announced a new model of development based on social justice. Too little, too late: While the prime minister spoke, the country was already in flames, and he had to return early in Tunis.
Even the spokesman for the new government, which was formed on Jan. 6, said at the end of a meeting Wednesday between ministers and representatives from Kasserine Province that the measures Essid announced did not correspond to the decisions they made. The concessions include a plan to hire 5,000 people in Kasserine, the city where the uprising began last Saturday after a young man died climbing an electrical pole in frustration at losing a job. The news of the 5,000 jobs sparked protests in every major city demanding economic measures there, too.
Although the demonstrations are founded on legitimate grievances, they’re being infiltrated by elements interested in radicalizing the clashes. The peaceful demonstrations were followed by assaults and the looting of public offices by youths (some as young as 10), many of their faces concealed with ski masks. A UGTT secretary, Sami Tahri, reported allegations of money being distributed to young people in Kasserine, Thala and Hydra to commit acts of vandalism. In addition, the army discovered two donkeys laden with landmines, an explosive belt, 50 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and various articles of clothing in a mountainous area near Kasserine.
Popular defense committees are now springing up, similar to the ones created during the 2011 revolution, to avoid the risk of the protests being hijacked by violence.