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Unrest in Tunisia, Five Years After ‘Arab Spring’ | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Unrest in Tunisia, Five Years After ‘Arab Spring’

Unrest in Tunisia, Five Years After 'Arab Spring'

Unrest in Tunisia, Five Years After ‘Arab Spring’

KASSERINE – On Dec. 17, 2010, a young, desperate Tunisian vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in a suicide protest over unemployment and police abuse that spread revolt across the Arab world.

Five years on, Ridha Yahyaoui, another young Tunisian, has killed himself in frustration after being refused a job, inflaming protests through the same impoverished towns that once brought down the regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

If Tunisia was hailed as the success story of the Arab Spring revolts for its democratic progress, it has also become an example of the dangers in failing to tackle economic malaise, alienation and frustrations of North African youth.

In Kasserine, the impoverished central city where this week’s protests began, more disaffected young men have threatened to kill themselves. Two were injured after trying to throw themselves off the roof of the local government building in fits of anger over the lack of jobs.

The unrest has quickly spread to other towns in the north and south of the country and shows no signs of weakening — protesters have stormed police stations and local government offices and killed one policeman. Tunis has been mostly calm, but sporadic rioting hit two poor districts on Thursday night.

On Friday, the government declared a nationwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to cope with the unrest. At least 19 people were arrested in the capital overnight, a security official said.

Chanting “Work, Freedom, Dignity”, protesters have been quick to evoke the 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” and echo demands over its promises of political freedom and the economic opportunities they say have failed to materialise.

Many protesters are already blaming the nonchalance of former Ben Ali regime officials like President Beji Caid Essebsi, who have returned to power even after the revolution that forced the autocrat himself to flee the country into exile.

“I thought the revolution would give us hope to find work with dignity,” said Haamza Hizi, 28, an unemployed man in Kasserine. “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”

Tunisia managed mostly to escape the kind of violent after-shocks seen in other “Arab Spring” countries that toppled long-standing leaders in Egypt, Yemen and Libya, which are still struggling to find stability.

Its young democracy brought a new constitution, a political compromise between secular and Islamist parties and free elections praised as a model for transition in a region where the gun has often beats out the ballot box.

But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stood at 15.3 percent in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and lower investment.
University graduates comprise one-third of jobless Tunisians after student numbers increased.