MEDITERRA NEA N BA SIN TEAM PRESENTS IN FOCUS Tunisia Two Years Later: Rising Unemployment and Regional Inequalities
Comprehensive Information on Complex Crises

Excerpted from 11 December 2012

This document provides the ‘In Focus’ excerpt from the MB Weekly 11 December 2012. The ‘In Focus’ section of the weekly gives our readership a more detailed reporting of an event or topic of particular relevance in the Mediterranean Basin and other regions of interest. ‘In Focus’ pieces provide hyperlinks to source material highlighted and underlined in the text. For more information on the topics below or other issues pertaining to the region, please contact the members of the Med Basin Team, or visit our website at

In Focus: Tunisia Two Years Later: Rising Unemployment and Regional Inequalities By Samuel Lau Nearly two years after Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation initiated the Arab Spring revolution, Tunisia continues to face formidable social and economic challenges which threaten to stall progress in the country’s on-going democratic transition. In October 2011, during the first free elections since Tunisia achieved independence in 1956, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly, and subsequently formed a coalition government with two runnerup parties, the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol. During its election campaign, the Ennahda party made promises ranging from embracing civic freedoms to affecting an economic turnaround, but it continues to struggle with many of the problems at the root of the uprising that ousted former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Two of the most pressing challenges are high unemployment and stark regional inequalities. While the government is aware of these issues, its perceived inaction and failure to achieve rapid progress has led to growing unrest and violence, as unemployed youth, deprived inland populations and ultraconservative Salafists feel increasingly marginalised by the new government. Following the revolution, unemployment across the country rose to 19% in 2011, an increase of 6% from the previous year, while the figure rose to as high as 44% for recent university graduates. According to Reuters, official statistics suggest that unemployment rate increases for those Tunisians with higher education. Furthermore, 35% of the unemployed are college graduates. Ennahda promised to create 590,000 new jobs during its election campaign, as well as to reduce the unemployment rate to 8.5% by 2016 from the current 19%. Since taking office, the unemployment rate has only declined slightly to 17.6% during 2012 and will likely remain at approximately 18% through 2013, according to the World Bank. The first year following the revolution also saw a trend of selfimmolations, mainly by desperate, young men from poor, rural areas. Many others are illegally migrating to Europe, often through dangerous means in search of better economic opportunities most are which are caught by authorities and placed in detention or face deportation. Although it was Tunisia’s youth who spearheaded the revolution, they are perhaps the most disappointed with the results, reports the BBC. Regional disparities across the country, which continue to deprive the interior and peri-urban areas of economic development, are also a major challenge faced by the current government. According to Joulan Abdul Khalek, a consultant at the World Bank, the Ben Ali regime created ”shocking levels” of inequality among regions by focusing all economic development in the capital Tunis and its surrounding suburbs. This region holds only 30% of the country’s population and 10% of its landmass, but garners 65% of total private investment in the country. In contrast, the southern and western parts of Tunisia hold around 57% of the population, but only contribute 18% of value-added in the economy. While unemployment averages around 13% in the capital Tunis, it runs at 28% in central provinces where the revolution began, reports Reuters.

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On 27 November 2012, the local branch of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) organised a general strike in Siliana, a farming town in Tunisia’s low-income northern interior, to demand jobs, government investment and the resignation of the governor. The strike quickly degenerated into violence between protestors and the police, causing over 300 injuries during 5 days of protests, which were contained by the military. Fearing the clashes could spread to other regions, on 30 November President Moncef Marzouki said in a televised speech that the government has not “met the expectations of the people” and stressed that Tunisia was at a crossroads between “the road to ruin and the road to recovery.” President Marzouki also asked the Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to appoint a new cabinet, one that was smaller and specialised to deal with the unrest, and by 02 December, a deal had been reached with the protestors resulting in the resignation of the regional governor and promises of increased economic development. However, the unrest already appears to be spreading, as similar clashes have been reported in at least two other towns. As more Tunisians become disillusioned with the country’s slow pace of socio-economic reform, Salafist groups have seized the opportunity to increase their influence, rejecting democracy’s legitimacy and arguing that Tunisia needs a strict implementation of Islamic law, reports The Guardian. Some Salafists have advocated the use of violence to advance their goals and consequently, and attacks have escalated in recent months. As a result of these attacks, including the US Embassy attack on 11 September, the government extended the state of emergency that has been in place since January 2011 was extended through January 2013, thereby continuing special intervention powers for security forces. The state of emergency decree bans gatherings of more than three people and authorises security forces to shoot instigators of public disorder. The New York Times (NYT) has described Tunisia’s situation as a ”vicious cycle” in which political unrest scares off the investors needed to Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki has warned that if the economy is not fixed create jobs.
there will be a ‘revolution within the revolution’. Source: The Guardian

Fearing that Tunisia’s worsening economy could promulgate increasing unrest, the World Bank approved a USD 500 million loan to the government, followed by another USD 500 million from the African Development Bank. The government now has enough financing to cover its 2013 spending, and the World Bank expects economic growth to increase to approximately 3.7% in 2013 and 4.9% in 2014. However, Tunisia will need at least three to five years before it will see a change in employment prospects. Meanwhile, social unrest may be simmering as the frustration of increasing numbers of unemployed youth and deprived inland populations are reluctant to wait three to five more years for change, reports the NYT.

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