Tunisia’s president sacked the country’s government after protests over poverty, unemployment and a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Protesters gathered in cities across Tunisia over the weekend demanding that the government step down.
Many celebrated after president Kais Saied announced he would sack the prime minister and suspend parliament.
Yet Saied—elected as president as an independent—has made moves to grab more political power for himself.
Protesters fought police in several Tunisian cities over the weekend. They also stormed or tried to storm several offices of the ruling Ennahda party.
Many are angry at high unemployment, rising Covid‑19 cases and a shortage of vaccines.
The protests come after Tunisians in poor neighbourhoods rioted over poverty earlier this year, and after earlier demonstrations against police brutality.One protester, unemployed Nourredine Selmi, told the Reuters news agency, “Our patience has run out. There are no solutions for the unemployed.
“They cannot control the epidemic. They can’t give us vaccines.”
Poverty and unemployment were at the heart of the Tunisian Revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2010.
Tunisia’s current ruling party, the Islamist Ennahda, gained support as it had been banned under the Ben Ali regime. Many people saw it as on the side of the revolution.
Yet governments led by Ennahda implemented free market reforms in return for loans from the International Monetary Fund. These included fuel subsidy cuts, price rises and ending public sector hiring.
Now, ten years after the revolution, the rate of unemployment in Tunisia is nearly 18 percent.
Saied was elected president in 2019 as an independent, claiming to be on the side of ordinary people and against corruption.
Yet since his election he has tried to concentrate power in his own hands—including insisting he was “supreme commander of the military and civilian armed forces.”
He also blocked the formation of a constitutional court in April. And in May, the Middle East Eye news website revealed a letter from Saied’s advisors urging him to seize control.
It said he should arrest government leaders and declare a “constitutional dictatorship,” using the coronavirus “national emergency” as an excuse.
To make the coup popular, the letter said says that all payments of bills or electricity, water, telephone, internet, bank loans and taxes should be suspended for 30 days. The price of basic commodities and fuel would be cut by 20 percent.
Ten years after overthrowing Ben Ali, many ordinary people feel betrayed by their new rulers’ failure to match the revolution’s demands.
Now some at the top want to use that anger to turn back some of the revolution’s democratic gains.
But every government since the revolution has faced protests and crises. That crisis won’t go away, whoever is in charge—and neither should the anger among ordinary Tunisians.