Saturday, December 25, 2010

Outburst of social unrest in Tunisian region Sidi Bouzid

 A Tunisian teenager died on Friday and ten others were injured when protestors attacked a national guard post in a region gripped by tensions over youth joblessness, AFP reports based upon what was said by students and the government.
Mohamed Ammari, who was 18, died when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with security forces in the town of Menzel Bouzaiene, in the central Sidi Bouzid region, said student representative Mohamed Fadhel. Several thousand people took part in the protest, which quickly turned violent, said Fadhel.
Protesters set fire to three police cars, a train locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party and a national guard post, whose guards had to seek shelter in a mosque, Fadhel said.
Police had surrounded the town and were not letting people travel in or out, and many arrests had been made, he said.
The government confirmed the incident, and said two members of the national guard were in a serious condition with burns.

 The blog The Moor next Door put things in perspective:
  An unemployed 26-year old man committed suicide sparking mass demonstrations by young people and other residents over unemployment and their quality of life. Police have attempted to block media coverage of the riots (and that the rioting is isolated and being exaggerated by the opposition), but bloggers and activists have posted pictures and video of the disturbances on the Internet. A mathematics teacher died (shot by police) today and others have been severely beaten and tortured. Lina Ben M’henni summarizes the background of Mohamed Bouazizi who had graduated with Mahdia University a few years ago, but could not find a job. Being the only breadwinner in his family, he decided to earn a living and with his family’s help, he started selling fruit and vegetable from a street stall. His venture gave him very little, enough to guarantee the dignity of his family. But city hall officials were on the look out, and have seized his goods several times. He tried to explain to them that what he was doing was not his choice that he was just trying to survive. Each time, his goods were confiscated, he was also insulted and asked to leave the city hall premises. The last time this happened, Mohamed lost all hope in this life and decided to leave it forever. He poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire.
AFP again: Bouazizi was transferred to a hospital in capital Tunis with severe burns.
The incident prompted violent demonstrations in which protestors burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs.
The government said the violence was isolated and had been exploited by the opposition.
Tensions heightened on December 22 when another young man, Sidi Bouzid, climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.
The government would not confirm the suicide, but ordered a judicial investigation into the circumstances of his death.
Development Minister Mohamed Nouri Jouini travelled to Sidi Bouzid on Thursday and announced a new 15-million-dinar (7.5 million euros/10 million dollars) employment programme.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which does not have a seat in parliament, called on the government to stop arresting young people and instead focus on dialogue and job creation.

The Moor:
It deserves mention that Tunisia, often cited as one of the most prosperous and “open” economies and societies in Africa and the Arab world, is also one of the most efficiently run police states on the Mediterranean basin (Issandr el-Amrani once described it as a country run by the police and for the police, or something like that). But Tunisians are generally well educated, industrious if relatively mild mannered; they suffer the same stereotype that is often applied to Egyptians in regard to political passivity. Tunisia’s government mixes clientelism with swift repression and the finest Euro-American public relations consultancies (and they have Christopher Hitchens and many in the French media on their side, too) to keep tight control over political life and to project an image of pacific moderation overseas. (And their friends on the Internet are expert at lashing out at critics, as noted regarding the comments this recent Economist piece.) While the country has achieved remarkable success in the economic and social spheres, Ben Ali’s family has tight control over key sectors in the domestic economy and in recent years many progressive social policies (particularly with regard to gender) have been scaled to account for religious trends. While economic growth has been strong, social tensions brought on by unemployment have grown more intense in recent years. Many young people, as in the rest of the Arab world, suffer chronic unemployment and humiliation from often predatory state authorities.
It's an excellent description. I cannot think of much that I'd like to add. Except that what happens in Sidi Bouzid is important. It could spread to other areas. We'll see.

(The picture is taken from the Tunisian blog Nawaat)

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