The protests have been spreading across southern Tunisia, where unemployment levels are high and infrastructure is poor. In Tataouine, the heart of Tunisia’s petroleum wealth, no one considers themselves properly employed unless they are in the lucrative oil & gas sector. But those jobs are scarce and the wealth from these proceeds are not being equitably distributed for the benefit of the region. The infrastructure is crumbling, the government is unresponsive and the private sector is weak.
But most troublingly, unemployment here is the highest in the country at 30%, according to official estimates; it’s higher among the youth. The birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the only country that was able to transition into a democracy but successive governments have failed to resolve chronic problems of inequality, inflation, corruption and, importantly, unemployment.
For weeks, youth in Tataouine have been protesting the lack of jobs by blocking roads and preventing supplies from being delivered to the remote El-Kamour petroleum pumping station. In the city of Gafsa, university graduates chanted slogans in front of the state headquarters. Protests also broke out in Hajeb El Ayoun, Sidi Bouzid, Beja, Kasserine, Tozeur and Sfax.
The demand was to implement the 2017 El-Kamour Agreement which promised investment in the region’s development and thousands of jobs. Initially, the protests were peaceful but under the heavy-handedness of the police which forcibly tried to clear sit-ins and arrest leaders of the movement, they turned violent.
It brought out more demonstrators who clashed with security forces. Police responded with tear gas that left the streets of Tataouine in a grey fog. Police also reportedly shelled homes, hospitals and schools in the process. Peace returned after the government promised to set up a ministerial commission to help resolve the region’s problems. Tunisian President Kaid Saied asked demonstrators to not simply demand jobs but also “overcome” their situation. His election plank during the 2019 campaign was disenfranchised youth.
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