Tunisia, still facing massive unemployment, is wracked by another flare up of protests.
On January 16, 28-year old Ridha Yahyaoui, an unemployed college graduate from Tunisia’s impoverished Kasserine governorate, learned that his name was suddenly removed from a list of seventy-five candidates for government jobs. They had been approved for employment six months earlier by Kasserine’s governor and first delegate. In desperation, Yahyaoui climbed atop a utility pole where he was electrocuted. Whether or not he intended to commit suicide is uncertain.
Demonstrations have apparently subsided since January 26 but whether or not protests resume, Tunisia is in a precarious state.
Solidarity protests targeting unemployment immediately erupted in Kasserine. A sit-in at the governorate headquarters began on January 18. On January 19 two unemployed graduates threatened to jump to their deaths from the roof of the government building. The next day protests against unemployment reached the coastal cities of Tunis and Sousse.
The protests in solidarity with Ridha Yahyaoui and the demand of the youth of Kasserine for employment reprises events in the neighboring, and only minimally less miserable, governorate of Sidi Bouzid, five years ago. On December 17, 2010 a street vendor who had been harassed and insulted by the police while attempting to earn a minimal livelihood, poured gasoline on his body and ignited himself in front of the governor’s office. Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation sparked solidarity protests featuring demonstrators chanting, “A job is a right, you pack of thieves!” This protest movement ultimately toppled former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011 and inspired uprisings throughout the Arab world. In 2016 protestors in Kasserine and beyond chanted “Work, Freedom, Dignity.”