News / Middle East

    Lack of Jobs Greater Threat Than Jihadists, Analysts Warn

    Protesters throw items at police forces in the city of Ennour, near Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 20, 2016. Tunisia has declared a curfew in the western city after clashes between police and more than 1,000 young protesters demonstrating for jobs.
    Protesters throw items at police forces in the city of Ennour, near Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 20, 2016. Tunisia has declared a curfew in the western city after clashes between police and more than 1,000 young protesters demonstrating for jobs.

    Rights activists and economists have been warning for months that growing disaffection among young jobless Tunisians would soon test the stability of the country.

    They say the government has failed to even outline a plausible program to develop Tunisia economically, especially to help develop distressed rural areas, which have become recruiting grounds for jihadists.

    Their fears were borne out this week when Tunisia became engulfed in violent street protests and attacks on police stations, which prompted the government to order an overnight nationwide curfew on Friday. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that attacks on public and private property “represent a danger to the country and its citizens.”

    Government officials said they needed the curfew to try to prevent a repeat of Thursday night, when police stations came under assault and security personnel resorted to tear gas to stop protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails from looting stores and warehouses.

    The street demonstrations started last week after a young man who failed to secure a government job scaled a transmission tower in Kasserine, an impoverished city in the center of the country, in protest and was electrocuted.

    Protesters clash with security forces in the central town of Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 21, 2016.
    Protesters clash with security forces in the central town of Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 21, 2016.

    More angry youngsters have threatened to kill themselves. Two were injured this week after trying to throw themselves off the roof of a local government building.
     
    Frustrated youth

    While the government has focused on the jihadist threat, fearing that returning fighters from Syria would present a real challenge to the state, the more immediate danger for weeks has been from working class youngsters frustrated with the few job opportunities available to them.

    “Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse,” says university professor Jelel Ezzine, president of the Tunisian Association for the Advancement of Science, Technology and Innovation, a research institution. “In addition to the incompetence of the government and the political system, the coalition behind the government is blindly defending the ministers and their non-deeds irrespective of the results and the ongoing unrest,” he adds.

    He says the government is failing to understand that the economic fundamentals have to change and they must be “addressed head on.”

    Unemployed protesters demonstrate in Tunis, Jan. 22, 2016.
    Unemployed protesters demonstrate in Tunis, Jan. 22, 2016.

    Under the surface, there has been growing public disaffection with the government for months. Working class Tunisians who hoped the Arab spring ouster of longtime strongman Zine Abidine Ben Ali would bring jobs have seen little economic benefit.

    Thirty-seven percent of young Tunisians are unemployed and jobless graduates have been joining the labor movement in increasing numbers of protests and sit-ins. Strikes by public sector workers have recently soared.

    In a televised address Friday night, Tunisia’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, said he understands the frustration that has built up and led to this week’s protests over unemployment, but he cautioned that instability could be exploited by jihadists. He pledged the country would “get out of this ordeal.”

    “There is no dignity without work. You can't tell someone who has nothing to eat to stay patient,” the president acknowledged. He warned that the Islamic State militant group in neighboring Libya could use the unrest "to infiltrate into Tunisia".

    FILE - Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.
    FILE - Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.

    Unemployment has worsened since the 2011 revolution that toppled Ben Ali — the first in a series of uprisings across the Arab world. Tunisia has, in many ways, remained the one hopeful story to come out of the Arab spring, the only country in the region that overthrew a dictator and emerged as a democracy.
     
    Jihadist threat
     
    But the transition has been bumpy and fraught with peril. Social exclusion and poverty — the drivers of the 2011 uprising — persist. And there is a growing jihadist threat, which has attracted more attention from Western governments determined to help Tunisia than the underlying economic challenges that help groups like the Islamic State recruit.

    Tunisia has already seen deadly attacks perpetrated by its own citizens in the name of Islamic extremism.  In June, a Tunisian engineering student gunned down dozens of tourists at a beach hotel in Sousse.  In March, two gunmen – also Tunisians – killed 22 people at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.  Officials say the perpetrators in both attacks trained at a militant camp in neighboring Libya.

    More than 3,000 Tunisians are fighting in radical Islamist militant groups in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds have joined the Islamic State terror group in Libya, according to officials in Tripoli.
     
    The brother of the young man, Ridha Yahyaoui, whose death last Sunday sparked protests lamented in an interview with the BBC Saturday the dire job prospects for the young. Mehrez said his 28-year-old brother had been fighting to get a job for two years. “His dream was to work, he didn't like taking money from people,” he said.

    “I'm his brother and when I would try to give him five dinars ($2.60), he would not take it.

    “This government has forgotten us... [Ridha] climbed a pole to tell them, 'give me my rights'. He was electrocuted and he died.”
     
    Need for structural reforms


    France announced Friday that it would provide a $1.1 billion economic support package to Tunisia over the next five years but university professor Ezzine says a begging bowl mentality to the economic problems of Tunisia will only go so far — deeper structural reform is needed.
     
    According to writer Aymen Abderrahmen, Tunisians, five years after the ouster of Ben Ali, say nothing has changed.

    Blogging on the Tunisia-Live news website, he argued: “You often hear this when speaking to Tunisians about the revolution, but how accurate is it? Not really — some things have changed: freedom of speech, access to information. However, perhaps a better question might be this: How important are these changes to the average Mohamed? Those in power have never been touched by poverty and need and, because of that, don’t feel the urgent need for change.”

    He adds: “If I were to blame the state for something, it would be the absence of a revolution with regard to people who are starving and homeless. In 2016, the government still wastes the budget on meaningless festivals and football stadiums.”

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 24, 2016 7:53 PM
    Truth be told... Is it because of the terrorist threat in Tunisia that's causing the foreign tourists and foreign country investments to bypass Tunisia that's causing the lack of jobs and causing the demonstrations that are now turning violent? .. Keep things in perspective by identifying what exactly is causing the lack of jobs (the terrorists) in Tunisia that's causing the Tunisians to protest? .. And then, blame the terrorists and the inability of the Tunisian government or any other countries to stop the terrorists so the tourists can return and foreign countries will invest in Tunisia again? .. Think about it?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora