Tunisia: authorities face anger against privileges and disparities

Since 2011, Tunisia’s social movements have not only held their place in public life, but have adapted forms and strategies even as authorities and the mainstream media have remained intolerant of dissent. On May 10, President Beji Caid Essebsi made a speech in which he reprimanded protesters for blocking oil production and reiterated the imperative of foreign investment for development. He further affirmed that demonstrators’ demands « are impossible to meet » and that the State is unable to provide employment and development.

Citizens from south to north have turned out in the weeks that have followed, voicing frustration at unfulfilled promises and desperate socio-economic situations—high unemployment (15.3% so far in 2017, according to the INS) and weakened purchasing power as the value of the dinar has plummeted. Whether Manich Msamah demonstrators denouncing corruption or El Kamour sit-inners demanding jobs and regional development, citizens from Tunis to Tataouine are still hopeful that peaceful movements carried out in the streets will have an impact on decisions made in government.

Manech Msamah: Round 3

On May 13, citizens in the capital poured onto Avenue Bourguiba where six years earlier thousands gathered calling for an end to the Ben Ali regime. Under the slogan « Manich Msameh » [ I will not pardon ], protesters condemn a measure that would enable businessmen and officials implicated in past economic crimes to be exempted from prosecution and to continue taking part in economic activities. This is the third year in the making of the movement which started as a Facebook campaign before taking over the streets in a dozen cities, in response to the initial draft law submitted to parliament by President Caid Essebsi in July 2015. Critics of the draft law argue that it enables those implicated in corruption to circumvent the country’s transitional justice process which investigates and prosecutes in crimes committed under the Ben Ali regime.

The recent surge in Manich Msamah protests began in April when parliament’s General Legislation Commission was set to examine the measure. Just days before their meeting, Nawaat published a leaked plan of action detailing the Presidency’s lobby for a third version of the draft law, suscitating authorities’ inflammatory reaction. Following the Commission’s meeting on April 26, activists planned a demonstration to pressure deputies to reject the measure. On Saturday April 29, marchers in Tunis set out from Tunisian General Labor Union headquarters towards the Avenue. Manich Msamah organizers announced that this marks « round three » of the movement in Tunis and other cities.

Tensions peak in El Kamour

On Monday, May 22, Anouar Essekrafi, a protester in the El Kamour sit-in, died when, some eyewitnesses have said, he was inadvertently run over by a police car. Several others were gravely injured. Tensions have peaked in the governorate of Tataouine, where thousands have participated in a sit-in at El Kamour since the end of April. The government has become increasingly uneasy as protesters continue to occupy the southern region’s oil hub, and succeeded in blocking roads and shutting down pumping stations.

On 5 April 2017, employees of Canadian oil company Winstar held a strike after the company laid off 24 workers. When the company refused to rehire the workers, a small protest was held in Tataouine, followed by some 1200 sit-inners at El Kamour, where protesters aimed to block the roads connecting to oil wells. Sit-inners were not satisfied with the Ministry of Employment’s proposition, a 60-point proposal including 150 immediate jobs, 350 additional jobs in oil companies over a period of three months and an increase in civil liability funds. But the protest’s organizational committee explained that the propositions did not fulfill their demands for 3000 jobs, 20% of the region’s oil production revenues and a development fund for Tataouine.

On May 10, the President had reprimanded sit-inners and warned that there may be repercussions for their actions. « Even if El Kamour sit-inners have the right to assemble, we cannot commend their action: it is unacceptable to block roads and production », Caid Essebsi affirmed, adding that « the army will protect sensitive production sites…the army will be firm in its mission ». This is the first time since the country’s revolution in 2011 that the army has been put in charge of monitoring social movements.

With negotiations at an impasse, protesters broke into and shut down a pumping station on May 20. The army responded by firing two warning shots into the air. The following day, the Ministry of Defense issued a public statement cautioning protesters against confronting the military with force, or attempting to break into oil sites. Following the death of protester Anouar Essekrafi on May 22, citizens turned out Tataouine as well as Tunis and other cities in solidarity with the El Kamour sit-inners. On May 23, the region’s newly-appointed governor Mohamed Ali Barhoumi resigned for « strictly personal reasons ».



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  1. 1

    add discrimination … a stupid discrimination ……
    found at US Department of State:
    U.S. citizens born in the Middle East or with Arabic names have experienced delays in clearing immigration upon arrival.
    U.S. citizens of Tunisian origin and dual American-Tunisian citizens are expected to enter and exit Tunisia on their Tunisian passports. If a Tunisian-American succeeds in entering using a U.S. passport, he or she will still have to present a valid Tunisian passport to exit the country.
    could someone explain me why ??
    same goes with canadian passport. Pierre TRUDEAU may enter and exit Tunsia with his canadian passport. No visa required. Foulen ETTOUNSI may not. he needs 2 passports: the canadian AND the tunisian one !!!!
    Now, suppose the airplane deverted to another country. they may suspect one of the 2 passports is fake. that needs months to verify. meanwhile you remain in jail in that country !!!

    one should travel with one passport, not 2. Tunisian passport is worthless ( visa, terrorism … ).
    could someone reach the authorities in Tunsia, and ask them why this discrimination ??

  2. 2

    les autorités sont des agents de l’étranger, des TRAITRES.
    exemple récent: la dernière attaque terroriste à Paris: un tunisien … les autorités tunisiennes, l’ont signalé à la police française !!!!!
    sans que se soit demandé par la France. en clair le policier traitre, lache sans esprit civique, prend son téléphone et dénonce son propre compatriote, à une puissance étrangère, la France.
    la police d’israel ne fera jamais çà, à un israélien !!!

    on connait les douaniers voleurs, voici les policiers traitres.
    ces laches, il faut les renvoyer immédiatement .

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