Agitation spread across Tunisia over the economic and political crisis deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic in the North African nation. Many Tunisians are disappointed by the absence of political changes 10 years after the Arab Spring.
The demonstrations in Siliana and other cities in Tunisia began on Friday after a video posted on social media showed a police officer shouting and pushing a shepherd whose sheep entered the local government headquarters. Tunisian police clashed with demonstrators in Siliana as nationwide protests against the police and an economic crisis entered their second night. Clashes also broke out in poor areas of Tunis, including el-Tadamen and Sijoumi, as hundreds of angry youths burned tyres and blocked roads. Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Daytime protests in recent days demanding jobs, dignity and the release of detainees have been followed by nighttime violence, with COVID-19 restrictions compounding a wider economic malaise. Protesters in all three rallies chanted “the people want the fall of the regime”, and called for more jobs.
Much of the unrest has been in working-class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution. Tunisia – on the 14th of January- marked one decade since Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14. But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
Interior ministry spokesman in Tunisia, Khaled Hayouni said a total of 632 people were arrested, including “groups of people between the ages of 15, 20 and 25 who burned tires and bins in order to block movements by the security forces.” He said that some of those arrested threw stones at police and clashed with security forces.
Tunisia’s economic crisis, unemployment, and lack of basic services – all deepened by the pandemic – have angered protesters. Earlier, the powerful labour union and other rights groups voiced support for peaceful protests against “policies of marginalisation, impoverishment, and starvation”, accusing the state of squandering the revolution’s hopes.