Tunisia riots

Civil unrest collapses into conflict in Tunisia as youths clash with police forces

Photo by Reuters.

— 3 minute read — by Camilla Foster

Protests have erupted in predominantly working class areas across Tunisia. These riots physically portray the ongoing anger and frustration many Tunisians feel towards their current government. Presently, there are over 177,000 registered coronavirus cases in the North African region, and over 5,600 deaths from the disease. Despite the banning of gatherings and an 8pm curfew, protestors have taken to the streets at night. Many shops and banks have been looted and vandalised primarily by youths, many of which have been arrested and taken into custody.

There have been incidences of protestors blocking roads by burning tyres and throwing stones at police and other important businesses. Havoc on streets has led to an aggressive defence from the Tunisian police force, who have used tear gas to disperse protestors in cities such as Kassereine, Siliana and Tunis. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have pleaded the police for restraint of violent tactics after footage of senior officers beating protestors went viral last month.

These protests coincide with the 10th anniversary of Arab Spring revolts where dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled from power. Tunisia’s unique status as the only nation to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts as a democracy has been celebrated, but the North African region is still in a state of fragility, facing significant economic and political challenges that have been exacerbated in the current pandemic climate. 

Tunisia’s GDP dwindled by an abysmal 9% last year and consumer prices have spiralled out of control. The country’s key contributing economic sector, tourism, has significantly suffered due to the pandemic. Tension and frustration have arisen out of the subsequent high unemployment rates, falling living standards, poor state services and public spending cuts. The bleak future prospects and continuing health crisis have forced many Tunisians to leave the country in search of a better life. 

The present political ruling class in the North African region have been condemned as inefficient and corrupt by a growing number of Tunisians. Within this context, youths belonging to a working class background have been most significantly affected, sentenced to an unescapable cycle of unemployment and poverty – hence why they are at the forefront of these protests. The police’s violent tactics and responses have further increased these grievances. The desire for another revolution has been bubbling under the surface for some time and the accumulating lockdown restrictions have led to action. Many Tunisians feel there is a prevalent need to change the existing system that doesn’t allow it’s citizens to thrive. 

Prime Minister Michem Mechichi produced a statement acknowledging the present struggles and hardships the country is facing: “Your voices are heard, your anger is legitimate, and my role and the government’s role is to work on realising your demands.” Whether positive change will materialise from this is questionable. The Prime Minister firmly stated that he rejects “chaos and will confront that with the power of the law”, alluding to the police’s violent tactics and hundreds of arrests that have already taken place.

These riots are a reaction to the current turmoil unravelling in the country and the consequences of the lack of action and empty promises provided by the previous nine leaders of Tunisia since the revolution. There’s a sense of growing anger among citizens at the slow place of development in the last decade. Demonstrators now call for the government to successfully establish a more democratic and thriving economic system that would benefit all of Tunisian society, especially those in the working class sector who have been neglected for so long.