Hundreds Arrested in Tunisia After ‘Facade Democracy’ Protests

Tunisian police arrested hundreds of people at protests that have erupted in recent days over the government’s failure to redress economic and political grievances that ignited the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.

The army has deployed troops in several cities, including the capital, Tunis, to halt the looting of shops and banks and attacks on public buildings.

Defying a curfew imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus, protesters gathered in Tunis late Sunday while riots rocked cities including Kasserine, Bizerte, Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, state television reported. Police fired tear gas and water cannon against protesters.

Hundreds Arrested in Tunisia After ‘Facade Democracy’ Protests

Tunisia has had more than 10 governments in the decade since a wave of protests toppled President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and rippled across the region. The political instability has hampered efforts to reduce youth unemployment and corruption, key drivers of the 2011 revolution. Repeated terrorist attacks, meanwhile, had already hit the crucial tourism industry even before the Covid-19 pandemic depressed global travel last year.

The Tunisian Economic and Social Rights Forum denounced “silence by the official political circle” in the face of what it described as growing frustration among young Tunisians who feel they live in a “facade democracy.”

“The state is not carrying out its role, its duties,” the forum said in a statement. It accused authorities of abandoning “large groups of society” and stoking social tensions with political infighting and dysfunctionality.

Years of political crisis have deepened Tunisians’ “suffering and pushed them to the precipice,” the powerful Jobless Graduates Union said in a statement Monday.

That’s why Tunisians must reclaim the energy of the 2010 revolution, said Zied Al-Khalloufi, a 34-year-old history and geography teacher.

“Poverty, hunger and marginalization have deepened 10 years after the revolution,” he said. “The revolution needs to be reignited.”

Similar protests against the lack of opportunity broke out in Sidi Bouzid in late 2019 after a young man set himself on fire, echoing the act of suicidal despair by a street vendor there in December 2010 that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

Tunisia Premier Proposes Cabinet Shakeup Amid Political Feud (1)

The latest unrest comes amid a power struggle at the highest ranks for government. Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced a government reshuffle meant to address the deepening economic hardship, but he’s been at odds with President Kais Saied, who’s spent much of his first year in office warning of unspecified conspiracies while increasingy aligning himself with the opposition.

The divisions have exacerbated anger in a nation where democratic gains have given rise to lively politics, but failed to improve standards of living or create jobs.

Local broadcaster Mosaique FM quoted the Interior Ministry spokesman as saying 632 people had been arrested.

“This is no way to make legitimate demands heard,” said spokesman Khaled Al-Hayouni. “The right to protest is legally guaranteed, but sabotage and assaults on public and private property are not acceptable.”

The powerful UGTT trade union called for the demonstrations to end to avoid a violent escalation while acknowledging the “legitimacy of the anger simmering among Tunisian youths, worn out by unemployment, marginalization, poverty, discrimination and social inequality.”

“We have to understand and dissect the reasons for its anger after 10 years of political failure and confusion,” it said.

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