News / Middle East

One Man’s Act Triggers Watershed Events in Tunisia

In this photo released 28 Dec 2010 by the Tunisian President's office, Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, second from left, visits Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire after police confiscated fruit and vegetables he sold withou
In this photo released 28 Dec 2010 by the Tunisian President's office, Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, second from left, visits Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire after police confiscated fruit and vegetables he sold withou

Multimedia

Audio

It has been two weeks since a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in the southern Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. This, after police confiscated his market stall, the sole source of income for Bouazizi and his family. The incident sparked anti-government protests and clashes with police across the country. It has also highlighted the growing problem of unemployment in Tunisia, which the World Bank estimates at just under 15 percent, more than double the 6.4 percent rate for other middle income countries.

Recent university graduates are among those most affected. The World Bank says 46 percent of educated youths are still unemployed a year and a half after graduating. Dr. Larbi Sadiki, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at Britain’s University of Exeter and author of The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourse, told VOA’s Cecily Hilleary he believes the unrest signals that Tunisians are beginning to lose their fear of the government of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Listen to the full interview with Larbi Sadiki:

Hilleary: The protests coincide with the release of WikiLeaks about Tunisia diplomatic cables which, among other things, describe an excess of wealth in the presidential family. Is there a correlation?

Larbi Sadiki believes that the self-immolation of Bouazizi was an event that could trigger bigger changes in Tunesia
Larbi Sadiki believes that the self-immolation of Bouazizi was an event that could trigger bigger changes in Tunesia

Sadiki: I think the WikiLeaks moment is an important moment in that it brought to the fore what people have already suspected about corruption within the ruling family in Tunisia.

But I think essentially the protest has been sparked by disaffection. People basically need bread. They need employment. It raises questions about the kind of education Tunisia has got in place; about mal-distribution, about the “slicing of the cake,” as it were - who’s getting what, where, in Tunisia.

Hilleary: And who is getting “what, where?”

Sadiki: That is really the question. I think historically, the South has been neglected. And this is not uniquely, to be fair to [President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and his people, the mistake of current regime.  From the time of independence, if you take, for instance, the example of central phosphates basin towns: There is lots of production of phosphates. Phosphates were basically sold in the international market.

But the huge financial outlays were not directed for development within those areas. They were directed to development in the coastal areas in the North.  That created a huge gap between North and South. You know the cliché “North-South divide” is really nicely mapped out in Tunisia…and the government has not really done much to level the playing field.

Hilleary: Unemployment is a tremendous problem in Tunisia. The World Bank sets it at around 15 percent overall and higher among youth. Are these figures accurate?

Sadiki: I think in some places, it could probably be as much as much as 30, 35 percent in the South, where people really have got nothing. Of course, Tunisia has invested so much in tourism, but tourism today actually is only partly Tunisian-owned, and I think this is a big problem. The [bulk] of the profits [does] not stay in Tunisia. They create some employment - there’s lots of cheap labor, but there is not actually reinvestment of the proceeds from tourism into Tunisia to create more jobs for the youth.

And there’s also the educational system, …if you have 70 to 85 thousand graduates every year from different universities - highly skilled labor - but there’s no labor market to absorb these huge numbers.

Hilleary: Do you see President Ben Ali weakening?

Sadiki: Definitely. There is an amazing image and for me, this is the picture of 2010 in Tunisia: [President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali visiting [Mohamed] Bouazizi in a Tunis hospital - the young man who doused himself in petrol, who sparked the riots.

And it was really a powerful moment, because here we have a patient, a man basically bandaged, probably dying - we don’t really know yet; he’s seriously burned and the president’s looking at him. I mean, I just feel the president is really looking at Tunisia, Tunisian society. It’s tempting to say the caption for this, “Who is the patient?” Is it the regime, the body politic of Tunisia? Or is it actually the victim, Bouazizi? It’s an incredible moment.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid