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Tunisia: Protests return to the cradle of the Arab Spring

Tunisian Politics
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Tunisians take part in a demonstration against the Economic Reconciliation bill in Tunis, Tunisia.
SOFIENNE HAMDAOUI/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisians take part in a demonstration against the Economic Reconciliation bill in Tunis, Tunisia.
I n December 2010, when 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, few could have predicted the wave of region-wide protests that would follow. Over six years later, however, protests still hit the cradle of the uprisings as was on display this week, when many expressed their anger at a proposed corruption amnesty law and a lack of economic opportunities.
On Saturday, 5,000 protesters marched down Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the central thoroughfare of the capital Tunis and the site of previous mass protests against former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with anti-corruption slogans and with faces painted in patriotic red and white, activists held banners that read "No to forgiveness" and "Join the revolution".
Accompanied by opposition party leaders, the crowds were unanimous in their rejection of the proposed Economic Reconciliation bill that would see businessmen, who are accused of having illicitly accrued wealth during the Ben Ali regime, walk free if they revealed and returned their ill-gotten cash. The government claims that a potential $3 billion could be regained and injected back into the economy should the bill pass.
Whereas Tunisia has avoided the turmoil other countries in the region have experienced as a result of the Arab uprisings, its economy is struggling. In Tatatouine, a region in the south of the country, around 1,000 people have held a week-long protest against high unemployment rates and rising poverty. The demonstrators, many of whom live in makeshift camps, threatened to blockade vital roads used by foreign companies to access nearby gas and oilfields.
In response, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi ordered the army to protect some of the south’s strategic mineral assets, a first under his reign. Human rights groups have warned that the deployment could lead to clashes between the two factions. The threat of violence is palpable in a region where many feel abandoned by the government.
Tunisia has a national unemployment rate of around 15%, with youth unemployment estimated at 30%.
Clearly for many the euphoria after the ousting of ex-dictator Ben Ali is over. Despite the political success of the Tunisian revolution, successive governments have struggled to deliver economic progress. As patience is seemingly running low in the country, will we see a revolution 2.0?
Kaspar Loftin
The World Weekly
18 May 2017 - last edited 5 days ago