Thousands of people in Tunisia have defied a state crackdown to protest against unemployment and poverty.
Demonstrators marched on the capital city Tunis last Saturday, while young people clashed with police for the fifth night running in Tunisia’s poorest neighbourhoods and towns.
Protesters chanted, “The people want the downfall of the regime.” It was the slogan of the Tunisian revolution, which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ten years ago this month.
They also called for an end to police violence and the release of young people arrested on the night time protests.
More than 1,000 people—many between the ages of 14 and 15—have been arrested in battles with riot cops.
Protesters are angry at high unemployment—an issue at the heart of the revolution that began in 2010. Unemployment is at 15 percent in Tunisia—though that figure rises to 36 percent for 15-24 year olds.
Protester Oussama Mrasi told the Al Jazeera news network, “All the young men who marched the past few days must be released.
“This is our demand and we will not give up.
“They can say that they can suppress us with the police. But we are not afraid of the police or of the public prosecutor.”
Police and national guard soldiers have attacked protesters with tear gas, water cannon and armoured vehicles. Footage also shows cops dragging and beating people on the street.
Chabib, a 34 year old protester in the poor neighbourhood Ettadhamen, has been unemployed for years despite holding a computer network technician diploma.
“We are out on the streets because we want social justice and work,” he said. “Ten years after the fall of Ben Ali, we are sick and tired of having to ask for the same basic things.”
In a speech last week prime minister Hashem Al-Mashishi said he was “well aware that there is anger and frustration”.
“Your voice is heard and your anger is legitimate,” he said.
Yet the government also banned protests under the guise of coronavirus restrictions.
But as protesters point out, many of the poorest people in Tunisia have paid the price for restrictions and loss of work without any support.
“If you lock us up at home, we can’t work and if we can’t work we can’t eat,” Chabib said. “The government said it would help us, but it was just empty promises. I can’t see a single glimmer of hope any more.
“The government doesn’t care about us. To them, it’s like we don’t exist. But I am warning them, the starving citizens are rising up, and they should fear hungry people.”