Nearly two years after the Jasmine Revolution brought down the government, Tunisians are still not satisfied, and renewed riots started last week over economic difficulties once again, sparking concerns over more Islamist unrest.
The economic struggles that ignited the self-immolation of a despairing pushcart vendor set off what days later became known as the country's “Jasmine Revolution.” The decades-old regime of President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was ousted by protesters in January 2011, setting off the region-wide Arab Spring uprisings.
But in the final analysis, the country is still struggling. And Tunisians still take to the streets and clash violently with police when things get tough, appearing not to know how else to solve their problems.
At least 200 people were injured when unemployed Tunisians attacked police in the streets of Siliana, a city on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The demonstrators were protesting the lack of development funds for the town, they said, demanding that Tunis fire the regional governor and that local officials resign. Of those, 17 people were blinded by birdshot fired by riot police. Among them were two international journalists, including France 24 television correspondent David Thomson. Residents blocked entrances to the city, setting tires afire on the roads.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali refused to back down, stating on national television that he would not remove the governor. Interior Minister Ali Larayed also appeared on national TV, calling for calm, and asking the people of Siliana to “protest calmly and accept dialogue.”
Jebali told reporters the friction between hardline Salafi Muslims and “leftist elites” is further exacerbating an already inflamed situation and harming the economy. His ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party is trying to walk the middle path between the two. But Tunisians appeared to have little interest in the assurances of government ministers in the capital, Tunis, that things would soon be better.
It has yet to be seen whether efforts to appease the mobs will have any long-term effect.
The World Bank had approved a $500 million loan Tuesday, Investment Minister Riyad Bettaieb said, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with a business delegation from the European Union. "Next year our public expenditure is essentially covered, thanks also to lines of credit for a total of $1 billion from the World Bank and the African Development Bank, so we are not planning to ask for further international support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he said.