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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    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