TUNISIA

Tunisia’s dictator may be gone, but one of the revolution’s key demands remains

 Youth unemployment was one of the main factors that sparked the popular uprising in Tunisia, the very first of the Arab Spring. Nine months after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster, many youths feel that their situation has not improved. With elections just around the corner, one young unemployed Tunisian explains why he and his peers continue to hit the streets.

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Young unemployed college graduates at a protest in Makther, central Tunisia. 

 

Youth unemployment was one of the main factors that sparked the popular uprising in Tunisia. Nine months after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster, many youths feel that their situation has not improved. With elections just around the corner, one young unemployed Tunisian explains why he and his peers continue to hit the streets.

 

The central Tunis avenue of Habib Bourguiba was as packed with protesters on Thursday as it was in the early days of the popular uprising. Marching youths chanted “Employment is a right! Give it back to us, you thieves!”, the same slogan used during the months leading to Ben Ali’s ouster. All across the country, unemployed college graduates are at the forefront of demonstrations.

 

Thirteen percent of Tunisians are unemployed; the rate is double for young people.

 

Young college graduates protested in Tunis on September 29. In this video, a journalist clashes with a police officer. 

"The leaders of these associations don’t know how to compromise"

Maher Hamdi is a member of the Union of Unemployed College Graduates.

 

Last Monday, we tried to stage a protest in front of the Ministry of Education, but we were violently dispersed by the police. So we organised another march on Thursday to denounce police brutality. Clearly, their methods haven’t changed since the revolution.

 

Our association was unofficially created on May 26, 2006, but was never recognised under Ben Ali’s rule. After the revolution, we addressed a formal request to the Interior Ministry, but never heard back. After 90 days without word from them, we were entitled to register with Tunisia’s legal journal for our association to be officially recognised, which is what we did.

 

We believe that we are representative of Tunisia’s unemployed youth. We have more than 120 offices throughout the country, even if some of them were shut down by the authorities. We don’t just protest, we also propose alternative education and labour system reforms. Unfortunately, the ministries won’t listen to us. The Education Ministry has refused to even meet us, and although we met with people from the Employment Ministry twice, nothing really came of it.

 

What we most contest are the criteria by which civil servants are recruited. They are unfair. For example, the nationwide exam to become a teacher takes into account test scores, but also previous internships and the candidate’s marital status. Yet everyone knows that often only the people from families close to the ousted regime got internships, because of their connections. We also believe it is unfair that candidates’ socio-economic background and graduation date are not taken into account.

 

Five independent lists of young graduate unemployed candidates are running for the next assembly elections [on October 23]. Our goal is to make the most of the three minutes of air time granted to each list to get our message out. We are especially campaigning for the right to employment to be written into the constitution. But I’m not getting my hopes up."

"The leaders of these associations don’t know how to compromise"

Karim Mejri is an advisor in Tunisia’s Ministry of Employment.

 

Our ministry had no past history of meeting and communicating with nonprofits. We are trying to change this, and to take their views into account. Unfortunately, after barely two months, the head of the Union of Unemployed College Graduates pulled out of talks with us and published an aggressive opinion piece on our meetings, calling them nothing more than ‘therapy sessions’.

 

Employment reform is one of the biggest challenges post-Ben Ali Tunisia. Last April, we organized workshops with the director of every regional government. They then met with members of local NGOs, and took into account their suggestions in the reports they sent back to us. We are trying to take everyone’s views into account, but oftentimes they contradict each other.

 

It’s true that there’s a lack of coordination between ministries, for the simple reason that barely eight months ago, there was no attempt at coordination at all. We are in a transitional phase and we’re doing our best, but some union leaders don’t seem to realise this. They don’t know how to compromise.

 

One thing they have to understand is that it will take time for civil servant positions to open. It’s not just a question of hiring – we have to provide the hired candidates with adequate training. Some of them obtained their degree years ago, and their education is outdated. Under Ben Ali, any presidential decree creating new jobs in the public sector would take one and a half years to implement. Now, we are succeeding in six months."

A protest held Monday in Tunis.

 

Another protest in the city of Sousse. All photos were published by our Observer Maher Hamdi on his Facebook page.

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.