A few days before the seventh anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution, street protests are again roiling Tunisia, with one dead, barricades of burning tires, looting, and widespread clashes between demonstrators and police in at least a dozen cities. They tell the story of a country where little has changed since the fall of the Ben Ali regime, at least on the societal level.
The usual demands for jobs and social justice are now joined by an outrage over the price hikes coming in the wake of the last budget bill, which have hit gasoline, phones and internet prices, among other “necessities.” Also fueling the exasperation against the Youssef Chahed government is the fact that, after the jihadist attacks of 2015, not only has revenue from tourism collapsed but fundamental rights were also curtailed, including the right to protest, as there has been a continuous state of emergency in Tunisia since the attacks.
The way that the protests in recent days have spread—from the capital to Gafsa, through Thala, Feriana, Sbeitla, Kasserine and other urban centers of the Kasserine Governorate, areas that are always hotbeds of social discontent—is thus taking on an even greater importance. There was also a march in Sidi Bouzid, the place where the 2011 uprising broke out which ended up sweeping away Ben Ali and opened the floodgates for the Arab Spring. This time, dozens of injured were recorded, as well as dozens of arrests.
In Sousse, Bizerte and Tunis, the police arrested several members of the #FechNestanou collective (“What are we waiting for?” in Arabic), which are fueling the protests with flyers, social media campaigns and wall tags. Tuesday, the group brought out hundreds of people in front of the Tunis Municipal Theater, and they announced a national event for the next few days, in which the Menich Msamah movement (“I will not forgive”) will also participate. They’re fighting against the law which facilitates the return of assets that were hidden abroad after 2011.
The leader of the “radical” left and the Popular Front, Hamma Hammami, has also been active. He proposed holding a demonstration on Jan. 14, the anniversary of the “Jasmine Revolution,” against “measures that would destroy the citizen’s purchasing power.” Speaking about the anarchy into which some protests have degenerated, Hammami called on everyone not to generalize: “We will block anyone who wants to discredit this social movement,” he said.
The clashes, which in some cases are happening at night, have also featured assaults on shops and banks. This happened, for instance, in the municipality of Hay Ettadhamene, a suburb of Grand Tunis that was established informally in the ‘70s, and in Tebourba, where a 43-year-old man died due to tear gas inhalation, according to state security forces.
Beside the turmoil on the streets and the opposition parties which are raising their voices, the government is faced with having to manage a number of potentially explosive political issues. There are the criticisms coming from the main trade union confederation, the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), which had supported Chahed until now. And a break has occurred between the two main parties of the governing majority: Nidaa Tounes and the Islamists of Ennahda.