In post-revolutionary Tunisia, 'it's (still) the economy, stupid.'
Violent protests in the countryside echo the economic protest that touched off the Arab Spring here as the new government struggles to improve on the jobs situation.
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After that, police apparently stopped using birdshot. The tactic has angered many and prompted the UN’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, to condemn what she called excessive use of force. Authorities say dozens of security force members have also been injured in the clashes.Skip to next paragraph
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On Thursday Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, from the Ennahda party, rejected calls from protestors and some left-leaning politicians to step down, accusing opposition parties of stirring up trouble in Siliana, Reuters reported.
Having swept elections last year, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party is increasingly being challenged over both its religious inclinations and managerial competence from broadly secularist opposition parties ahead of fresh elections slated for some time next year.
Anger and politics could ultimately intersect in towns like Siliana. While Ennahda won Siliana’s voting district in last year’s elections, at least some here now say they won’t be voting for the party again.
“We hoped they would solve our problems, but they’ve done nothing,” said Saber Amar, a young plumber who voted for Ennahda last year, cruising at the head of Friday’s protest march on a silver Yamaha scooter.
For many in Siliana, Tunisia’s government appears to be prolonging a decades-old pattern of neglect. Memories remain of protests in Siliana in 1990 over economic issues that ended with Ben Ali’s regime jailing protestors.
“My father was in jail for seven years,” said Ramy Jlasi, laid off last June from his job cleaning car parts at a Tunis plant, as he marched down the road. “He was in the same movement that I’m in now – for employment,” Mr. Jlasi says.
Today, much anger targets Mr. Mahoubi, Siliana’s regional governor. According to Najib Sebti, who heads the local chapter of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, Tunisia’s main trade union, Mahoubi has refused to discuss development with union leaders since his appointment last spring.
Local authorities could not be reached for comment. On Saturday the governor’s office, its gate festooned with barbed wire, appeared deserted and bore signs of violence including debris of stones. Tunisian Army soldiers standing guard by the door said no officials were present.
Violence scaring off investors?
Some protestors in Siliana liken the past week’s clashes to a revolution of sorts. On Friday afternoon, skirmishing broke out again by the police compound.
“Siliana is our city and we must defend it,” said Hamza, a 17 year-old student, taking a breather down a side-street with a purloined riot policeman’s shield. Like many, he says police involved in clashes were reinforcements brought from out of town.
“We don’t have employment here, but at least now I can work with this,” Hamza said, motioning with the shield as he darted back to the fray. Nearby, three young men were crouched behind a wall with Molotov cocktails they said were for use “only if the police fire birdshot again.”
An older generation, however, looks on the violence with deep concern.
“Who will ever want to invest in Siliana when they see chaos like this?” said Abdelouahad Saddik, a day laborer and father of four, watching Friday’s clashes from a rooftop. “I want peace and a job, not this.”
Fighting ceased as Tunisian Army soldiers secured government offices and police withdrew. Townspeople poured into the streets in jubilation - abruptly cut short when several dozen protestors resumed lobbing stones at the police compound.
Yesterday, as clashes continued, the government said it was transferring administration of the Siliana region to its deputy governor pending a final decision on resolving trouble there, said Tunisia’s state news agency, TAP.
For some in Siliana, even that may not inspire hope.
“Working in Tunisia is very hard,” said Radhi, an unemployed graduate. It was Friday night and security forces were patrolling outside his house in armored vehicles, firing machine-gun bursts into the air.
In the street, he had joined in throwing stones. But at home he keeps an acceptance letter from a Ukrainian university.
“Maybe I can find a job in Europe,” he says.
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