Agitations in Tunisia intensify after death of a protester

Thousands marched to the Tunisian parliament in Tunis on Tuesday, January 26, demanding change in the political system and opposing state violence

January 27, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: TAP

Thousands marched to the Tunisian parliament in Tunis on Tuesday, January 26, demanding change in the political system and opposing state violence. The Tunisian police used heavy violence to prevent the protesters from reaching the parliament leading to several getting injured. 

Hundreds of Tunisians started their march from Ettadhamen in Tunis, the hotspot of the current protests, to the parliament building in Bardo calling for the “overthrow of the system” and “development, jobs, freedom and dignity.” More people joined in the march in various other locations on its route making it the largest protests so far this year. Several members of parliament also joined the people. The police used barricades and violence to stop them from reaching the parliament.   

Tuesday’s protest was called after the death of a protester in Sbeitla on Monday. The protester was identified as Haykal Al-Rachdi. He was injured by a tear gas canister fired by the police during an earlier protest. The call for the protests was given by several parties including the Workers Party, the Democratic Current (Attayar), The United Democratic Patriotic Party and Echaab movement, the Tunisian news agency TAP reported. 

Meanwhile, a group of left-wing protesters, The National Campaign to Support the (on-going) Social Struggles, also issued a statement on Tuesday demanding an end to state repression of the protest and the release of all prisoners. The statement which has 10 major demands includes right to health, increase in minimum wages and a fixed unemployment allowance for every unemployed person. It also demands debt relief for all working class people in the face of the pandemic. 

Tunisians have been protesting since the middle of this month — the 10th anniversary of the great 2011 uprising which overthrew decades old rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — against their rising economic woes and the failure of successive governments to deal with them. They are also opposing the increasing state violence against the common Tunisians.

Hosni al-Hamoudi, the national coordinator of the Tunisian Communist Youth Union, justified the anger of the youth against the government in a Facebook post saying that “over ten years, the successive governments have offered youth nothing but injustice and cowardice.” 

Tunisia is undergoing an unprecedented economic crisis. Amidst COVID-19 outbreak last year its economy contracted almost 9 percent. Unemployment rates and poverty in the country is rising. Among the youth, who are at the center of the current protest, the unemployment rate is as high as 36 percent. 

Prime minister Hichem Mechichi had proposed a new cabinet as a way out of the popular unrest. However, president Kais Saied rejected the proposal on Monday. The Parliament was debating on the issue on Tuesday at the time of the march. During the discussion in the parliament, prime minister Mechichi said that protests outside the parliament are legitimate and “the government will listen to the angry youth,” Reuters reported.

The parliament later approved 11 new members in the Tunisian cabinet as proposed by Mechichi.