BOSTON — Tunisia garnered international attention for sparking the Arab spring back in 2011. That year, the government was led by now-imprisoned and exiled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Protests began after Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire in front of a government building as a form of protest after receiving harassment from a police officer. After his death, protests began all over the country over a wide range of policy issues: women’s rights, police harassment, economic failure and, particularly, the massive unemployment rate.
Six years later, Tunisians are again taking to the streets to protest the government over the severe unemployment which has actually increased since the Arab Spring. Here are the three things you need to know about the crippling unemployment in Tunisia.
- Youth unemployment is double the national average.
The Tunisian unemployment rate is currently 15.3 percent, up from 13 percent in 2010. Unfortunately, youth unemployment is more than double the national rate at 37.6 percent.
The youth in Tunisia are the most educated in the nation, able to take advantage of the most recent changes in the education system, which has become more readily available for both men and women. The severe unemployment in Tunisia currently affects 629,600 people and counting — 236,800 of which are graduates from higher education institutes. That rate also differs for men and women, with 40 percent of female youth unemployed and 19 percent of male youth males unemployed.
In January of 2017, protests led by the unemployed youth began springing up in different cities, beginning in a town west of Kasserine, and having since spread nationwide.
- Suicide as a sign of protest has resurfaced.
In Kasserine, one of the cities hit the worst by the economic hardships, the unemployment rate is 30 percent. The restlessness of citizens has become increasingly violent with protestors killing a policeman by overturning a police car while the officer was inside.
Mirroring the protest of Mohamed Bouazizi, many protestors have used suicide as a form of symbolic protest to the severe unemployment in Tunisia. According to Al Jazeera, “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.”
Shortly after, protests in solidarity with the deaths were held in Tunis, the nation’s capital, along with Sidi Bouzida and Gafa, another city where the unemployment rates have reached 30 percent.
- The new president and economic reform bill could have a big impact.
In December 2014, Tunisia welcomed a new president, Beji Caid Essebsi, the third person to rule since the country’s independence after the 23-year reign of Ben Ali.
In December of 2016, the parliament approved a new $14 billion budget for a new economic reform plan that went into action January 1, 2017. The reform plan will revise income tax to help the lower class, place a halt on all public sector hiring aside from security forces and increase transparency within banking so that banks are held more accountable.
Although the new budget is aimed at stimulating the economy in the interest of citizens, unrest remains because of the severe unemployment in Tunisia.
With the help of its more progressive president, Tunisia’s economic reform presents difficulties within its transitional period but holds bigger hopes for the future.
– Maria Rodriguez