Tunisian authorities suspended classes in all of the country’s schools and universities on January 10, until further notice, after students began joining the mass anti-government protests that have rocked the country for the past month.
Students were initially absent from the protests, but began organising rallies early January following calls published on Facebook and Twitter to show solidarity with the popular uprising. On January 9, university students in the capital, Tunis, hit the streets for the first time since the start of the unrest.
The ministries of education and research issued a joint statement announcing that all schools and universities would remain closed “pending an investigation
to determine who are the troublemakers who have pushed innocent students to breach public order”.
This latest crisis began last month after a 26-year-old graduate set himself on fire in front of the regional government headquarters in the western town of Sidi Bouzid. He was protesting the fact that police repeatedly seized the farm produce he sold in the street, depriving him of his only source of income. His desperate gesture unleashed pent-up anger about the country’s high level of youth unemployment, slow economic development and rampant corruption.
“Even the least politically active students were out in the streets”
Najib Abidi is a communications student in Tunis. He was part of the march organised by the capital’s largest university campus on January 10.
The call to protest was issued on Sunday, January 9, on Facebook, and the following morning at 9 a.m. there was a large crowd of students gathered in the university’s central courtyard to protest. First we went around to each of the university’s five campuses to rally as many students as possible, then we went out into the streets.
“Riot police were waiting. They had been ordered not to let us leave campus.”
There, riot police were waiting. They had been ordered not to let us leave campus. They pushed us back by firing tear gas and started randomly beating people with their truncheons. We responded by throwing stones, but we couldn’t go any further. We refuse to let things stop here, though. We’ll try to organise another protest soon.
The reason students only belatedly joined the protests was because the unrest began during our winter break and mid-term exam period. But after the bloodshed that took place this weekend, there was no way we could continue doing nothing. Even the least political students were out in the street. Everyone is shocked by the government’s brutal crackdown. It’s inhuman and unacceptable.”
Video of the January 9 in Tunis.
“The police made me sign papers in which I pledged not to participate in any kind of protest”
Rami Tn is 18. He and fellow classmates participated in protests in the southern city of Jbeniana early January.
When classes resumed after a two-week break on January 2, my classmates and I decided it was our duty to join the popular protests that were taking place across the country. We gathered in the courtyard of our school, brandishing banners getting other students who came in to join the movement not to go to class. Supervisors tried in vain to make us go to our classrooms.
We left for lunch at noon and returned at 3:30pm to stage a sit-in. Upon our return, we were surprised to find a considerable number of riot police deployed around the school. They didn’t stop us from entering. I guess they thought their mere presence would intimidate us. They were wrong.
When I went home in the evening, I saw that police had circled my entire neighbourhood. I was walking home when a police car pulled up next to me and an officer forced me to get in. I was kept at the station for three and a half hours. The police made me sign papers in which I committed not to participate in any kind of protest again, and warned me of the consequences I would face if I did.”
High school student protest in the town of Ksar Hlal (centre-west Tunisia) on January 2.
High school student protest in the south-eastern town of Gabès on January 2.
Post written with France 24 journalist Sarra Grira.