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Tunisia's Youth Bitter at Revolution Fallout

  • Lisa Bryant

Unemployed Tunisian graduates hold signs as they shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis to demand jobs and call for the resignation of the ruling government, September 29, 2012.

Unemployed Tunisian graduates hold signs as they shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis to demand jobs and call for the resignation of the ruling government, September 29, 2012.

Young Tunisians were at the forefront of the country's 2011 revolution. But today, many are unemployed and bitter about its fallout.

Twenty-five-year old Tarek Zeid wants to become a computer engineer. But his only job prospects right now are wrapping up Tunisian carpets at a tourist shop.

Like tens of thousands of Tunisians, Zeid was on the streets in early 2011, in demonstrations that ousted former strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. But today he says, the revolution hasn’t brought many benefits.

Zeid says unemployment is too high. Hopes for democracy aren't panning out.

Nor is Zeid alone. Among many youth here, there is a sense of bitter disappointment - or at least impatience for results - after Tunisia's revolution.

Some of the young bloggers who spearheaded the revolt have become successful in business and media. But roughly one-third of young, working-age Tunisians are unemployed.

In many ways, says former education minister Hatem Ben Salem, they are an invisible generation.

"The ones who made the revolution are the young Tunisians," he said. "You never see them anywhere today. Not in the government, nor in the institutions. Nowhere. They are nowhere. They are the lost part of this revolution, although they were the biggest part of it."

Last year, thousands of young Tunisians voted with their feet, . setting off for Europe on rickety boats. Fewer are making the dangerous crossing this year. But earlier this month, for example, a boat carrying 100 Tunisians sank off the Italian coast of Lampedusa.

Others, like 31-year-old Kamel Ayari, pass their hours in cafes, hoping their fortunes will turn.

Ayari says he's applied for lots of jobs, both before and after the revolution. Employers always promise to call. He's still waiting.

"Failure to reform"

Part of the problem, says former minister Ben Salem, is the government has failed to reform the education system. He also blames the ruling Ennahda party for making promises it cannot deliver.

"When you say you will create 500,000 jobs in Tunisia, that's a lot. You could never create such a number of jobs in such a short time," he said.

But Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi says the government is slowly turning the economy around.

Ghannouchi says unemployment is slightly down. Government statistics also show Tunisia's economy grew 3.5 percent during the first half of this year - compared to negative growth last year.

Still these upbeat statistics don't comfort university student Hajer Ben Jemaa. Ben Jemaa says she voted for Ennahda. She hopes the party will help Tunisians like herself find jobs.

But shop worker Zeid says he has lost all faith in the current government.

Zeid says he hoped Tunisia's revolution would bring freedom. But today, he says, the only time he feels free is at the stadium, during a football match.

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