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'Angry, tired and disappointed' Tunisian youth return to streets

Tunisian protestors hold banners and chant slogans during protests in support of Kasserine demonstration [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 24 January, 2016

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In-depth: Five years since the revolution, young Tunisians once again take to the streets to voice their anger at unemployment and poverty.
Protesters have once again taken to the streets of Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring movement and the only democracy to rise from the turbulent wave of demonstrations which started five years ago.

Unemployed youth stormed streets across the country on Saturday with protests reaching the capital to say that the current government was failing them.

The speed of the public's return to the streets led a panicked government to issue a nationwide curfew.

But with five years having passed since the start of the revolution that inspired others across the Arab world, many of the nation's young people have again take to the streets to say they are tired of what they see as empty promises.

In January 2011, protesters hit Tunisian streets following the death of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire after police confiscated his fruit cart, his sole source of income.

Bouazizi's act of desperation ignited public outrage at the state of unemployment and economic hardships faced by many. The resulting uprising brought down a long-reigning dictator.

Similarly, this week's protests have been triggered by youth who say they seek nothing but a fair income.

Ridha Yahyaoui, a 26-year-old from Kasserine died on 16 January, after electrocuting himself having climbed up a transmission pole in protest at being removed from a list for government jobs.

On Saturday, crowds at a government building in Kasserine reasserted their demands for employment, while in Tunis the prime minister said the situation was under control.

"We want to send a message to the president in my name and the name of everyone," said Maher Nasri, an unemployed graduate. "We are demanding work. We're not destroying. We're not burning. We're not causing chaos - but just demanding jobs."

We are demanding work. We're not destroying. We're not burning. We're not causing chaos but just demanding jobs.

-Maher Nasri, an unemployed graduate


Unemployment rates in Tunisia had risen to 15.3 percent by the end of 2015, compared with 12 percent in 2010, driven by poor economic growth and a decline in investment in both public and private sectors - coupled with a rise in the number of university graduates, who now comprise one third of jobless Tunisians.

"I graduated eight years ago from the Faculty of Fine Arts," 35-year-old Hatim al-Sharif told The New Arab. "I am tired of working in construction to make sure I have a daily income."

Tunisian leaders have said that they understand the protesters' frustration - but maintain that economic change needs time.

Emerging from an emergency government meeting to address the unrest, Prime Minister Habib Essid emphasised his optimism for the country's future.

"There has been huge political progress, but we acknowledge that there are lots of economic difficulties," Essid said on Saturday. "We will respond to young people's economic demands but we need a bit of time for that."

We will respond to young people's economic demands but we need a bit of time for that.

-Prime Minister Habib Essid


"The democratic process in Tunisia is an irreversible choice, despite the attempts of some to put in in doubt," he added.

After the revolution in 2011, the youth in Tunisia had aspirations and hopes towards a better future, the director of the National Observatory for Youth, Mohammed al-Jowaily told The New Arab.

"They soon discovered that a real change remains out of reach due to political and economic difficulties," Jowaily said.

There is something the government can do, Salem Ayari, the secretary-general of the Union of Unemployed Graduates, told The New Arab.

"[The government] needs to establish a national fund to give grants to the unemployed so people can support themselves," Ayari said.

[The government] needs to establish a national fund to give grants to the unemployed so people can support themselves.
- Union of Unemployed Graduates


"The Union has called upon the government to give grants to those who are seeking employment as part of an unemployment fund programme," he explained.

But Minister of Employment and Training Ziad al-Azraie said such a thing was "difficult" and would discourage young people from trying to get jobs.

Meanwhile, in Kasserine, protesters said the government needed to do far more to win their trust.

"We want solutions that can be implemented," said Ahlam Gharsalli. "We need urgent solutions because we're fed up with waiting."

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