In poor districts, young Tunisians with nothing to lose clash with police

TUNIS: The 19-year-old smoking with friends in a poor district of Tunisia’s capital had a simple explanation for night-time clashes between youths and police that have shaken the country - he has nothing to lose.

A decade after mass protests toppled Tunisia’s long-time president and sparked uprisings across the Middle East, anger is boiling over again amid economic stagnation, the global pandemic and a widening disconnect between people and their leaders.

“There’s nothing here ... there’s no opportunity. The only government we know is the police car coming to arrest people,” said Mohammed, surrounded by nodding friends next to walls marked with graffiti.

In the worst political unrest in years, thousands of protesters have marched through cities across the country demanding jobs, dignity and an end to police violence. At night, youths face off with security forces.

Mohammed, who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals, was one of 10 out-of-school and unemployed boys and young men in the alleyway in the Ezzahrouni district, passing around cigarettes, soda bottles and marijuana joints.

Like the others, his only aspiration was to leave Tunisia to seek his fortune in Europe. Police have said most of the hundreds arrested this week were aged between 15 and 20.

Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution ousted autocratic leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, successive governments have struggled with high deficits and demands for state jobs and services.

“If we do not listen to the voice of these angry youths, they will sweep away the whole parliament, government, president - the whole system,” said Safi Said, an independent lawmaker addressing parliament this week. The government is one of the weakest since the revolution, backed by a fragile coalition of rival parties after 2019 elections produced a deeply fragmented parliament. - Reuters