AFP / Anis MILI
Protesters shout anti-government slogans outside the Tunisian General Labor union headquarters on the seventh anniversary of the 2011 uprising
Tunisians on Sunday marked seven years since the beginning of the Arab Spring, with fresh protests and some people. The North African country has had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
But seven years later, anger has risen over austerity measures after a year of rising prices, with protesters again chanting the 2011 slogans of “Work, Freedom, Dignity”. On Sunday, several hundred people took part in the capital Tunis, responding to calls to demonstrate from a powerful labor union and several political parties. Security was tight as protesters were checked out at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicenter of the 2011 demonstrations, but no incidents were reported. Demonstrators chanted against “poverty and hunger” as they marched up the avenue, accusing “thieves” of having stolen the country.
AFP / FETHI BELAID
Tunisians wave their national flag and the flag of the Ennahda Islamist party as they gather on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis on January 14, 2018 to mark the seventh anniversary of the uprising that launched the Arab Spring
Outside the offices of the powerful UGTT trade union, Foued el-Arbi demonstrator waved an empty basket marked “2018”. “This empty basket up sums up our situation seven years after the revolution,” said the philosophy professor.
But others expressed their pride over the uprising that unseated Ben Ali. The revolution “is the best thing that could have happened, despite the hardships …” There is hope, “said Mohamed Wajdi. A wave of peaceful protests and night-time. The interior ministry says it has arrested more than 800 people suspected of taking part in violence, theft and looting since the unrest. Protesters’ demands have included a review of the 2018 austerity budget and more efficient measures to fight enduring corruption. – ‘Fall of the budget’ – More than 1,000 people took part in Sunday’s protest outside the UGTT offices. “The people want the fall of the 2018 budget,” some chanted, echoing 2011 calls for the fall of the regime.
AFP / Vincent LEFAI
Unemployment figures and inflation rate in Tunisia. Political parties and a union called for fresh protests against austerity after a week of unrest.
Hundreds more gathered after Ennahda, an Islamist party that is part of the ruling coalition, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed ‘s Popular Front party also called for demonstrations. President Beji Caid Essebsi marked the anniversary by the opening of a youth center in the working-class Tunis suburb of Ettadhamen, which saw the clash between young protesters and police this week.
“This year we will start to take care of the young,” he said. “The revolution for freedom and dignity … was in effect led by the young.” Several local residents turned their frustration on. “He says he will help us, and then he goes back to his palace,” said Mouna, a high school student. Tunisia’s 2011 revolt was sparked by the self-immolation of a fruit seller in desperation at police harassment and unemployment. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, inspiring similar revolts across the region in the Arab Spring. Tunisia has been praised for its steps towards democracy in the years since, compared to countries of Syria or Yemen. A new constitution was adopted in 2014 and presidential polls held in 2014. But authorities have struggled to revitalize Tunisia’s economy, especially after deadly jihadist attacks in 2015 dealt with major blow to the key tourism sector.
AFP / Anis MILI
Tunisian workers hold up a basket with text reading in Arabic: “the basket is empty” while shouting slogans against the government in front of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) headquarters in Tunis
Seven years on, youth unemployment is more than 35 percent, according to the International Labor Organization, while inflation was more than six percent at the end of last year. On Saturday, Essebsi announced an increase in aid to the needy and improved health care as part of social reforms.
The action plan, costing more than 70 million dinars ($ 28.5 million), will benefit more than 120,000 Tunisians, according to the authorities. Tunisia has secured a 2.4-billion-euro ($ 2.9-billion) in the budget deficit and financial reforms.