Photo: Rym kmita

More than twelve months ago, Thousands of Tunisians helped topple a dictatorship that ruled the country for 23 years. Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, former Tunisian president was forced into exile in Saudi Arabia on January 14th, 2011, after one month of popular protests that swiped the entire country.

The few weeks that followed the overthrow of Ben Ali were critical. The country witnessed several stages of political and security vacuums. Sit-ins and work strikes took over. Several companies, such as the national telecommunication company Tunisie Télécom, shut off its doors. Other small enterprises faced bankrupcy. Foreign investors were also tempted to leave the country after a wave of burglary and unsafely ruled the moment. Several warehouses including stores of Monoprix, Géant, Phillips, etc.

Tunisians had high expectations regarding the improvement of their financial situations. Trade unions played a big role to monitor the strikes, which claimed recruitments, increase of wage and social security. Strikes swept the country – disrupting sometimes the public order – to force the government’s hand to succumb to these demands. Frustration was around the corner as the government was not always so eloquent to meet everybody’s demands.

For many Tunisians the system in charge was not fit to implement new reforms up to their aspirations, simply because, Ben Ali did not only maintain a dictatorial regime in the country; he also created a complex economical-political system that succeeded in giving him a tight hold on power. Tunisians might have ousted the head of a dysfunctional regime, but they cannot topple the system overnight because they are the system themselves.

The IMF’s recent reports presumed a null growth rate for the Tunisian economy at best, while prices reached a high peak.

Sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations never stopped since January 14th, 2011. This was often a reminder that many Tunisians haven’t felt the change yet and The country’s sinking economy was far from alleviating the situation either. Thousands of Tunisians still rally in front of major companies asking for their rights to work. Partisan and non-partisan demonstrations are also often riddled with demonstrators asking for social justice and dignity. It seems that the high rates of unemployment that inflamed the uprisings of late 2010-early 2011 has still not declined leaving hundreds of thousands of Tunisians, jobless, hungry and with no shelter.

In the week that preceded the one year anniversary of January 14th, the village of Redeyf – Southwest of Tunisia – declared general strike. The village is home to one of the main 5 sources of phosphates worldwide, CPG – Companie de Phosphate de Gabes – which is also the main employer of the region. Yet, the region has one of the highest unemployment rates in Tunisia, despite its little population.

The youth of Redeyef were already subject to a brutal government crackdown that led to the arrest and murder of dozens of protesters and syndicalist – the exact number is still undocument yet – and a severe marginalization of the region.

Mohamed Sghayir, spokesman of the regional workers trade union, UGTT, in Gafsa, says that “despite efforts for domestic invest more in the region, the previous government could not fulfill the needs of the people.” CPG’s executives have even alarmed the public opinion that the company’s threatened by the unceasing strikes and the “unrealistic” demands in a press conference last December. Many of the company’s regional offices were already subjected to robbery and sabotage. The company’s executives do not, now, refute the fact that company could face bankruptcy in the near future. If the CPG would shut off its doors, this will lead to the layoff of more than 5000 breadwinners.

The road that leads to Redeyf, Gafsa, is dirty and has few road lights. No lights loom in the horizons when you approach it by car. The village sits literally in the middle of nowhere.

Redeyef. Photo: Ali Garboussi

A recurrent state of concern regarding the country’s falling economy is now common between Tunisians even when it comes to the size of the new cabinet to govern the country and how much should each member be paid. The inflation of prices is also a predominant concern for Tunisians who, with the devaluation and falling exchange rate of the Tunisian Dinar, are facing a decreasing buying power.

One month after taking oath, the new elected government hasn’t expressed any concrete actions to responds to the people’s social demands, despite the dispute that accompanied the budget plan of this year nearing the end of December. While the youth of Redeyef swore of “forcing the government’s hand” to make them respond to their demands and develop more growth strategies for the area, the government is still centralized toward other disruptions in the capital city, Tunis; Recent demonstrations broke out lately to denounce the government over interference in the public media sector and suppress of media. Another controversy arose lately about a sex-tape that allegedly shows the current minister of interior of interior Ali Larayedh engaging in homosexual activity. The youth of Redeyef and another regions of Tunisia such as Om Larayas or Mdh’ila have little knowledge of these controversies and have little concern about the. Yet, these little insignificant “he said, she said” seems to preoccupy the government’s activity and current plans.