Tunisia has been rocked by a series of major demonstrations by unemployed workers.
Protests began in the interior town of Kasserine following the death of 28 year-old Rida Yahyaoui. He was electrocuted after climbing a transmission tower in a protest after he failed to get a government job. Action spread through the heartlands of Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid and on to the capital, Tunis, and other coastal cities.
Following Islamist terror attacks against tourist targets last summer the economic situation has worsened. There are now 700,000 unemployed in a country of under 11 million. The union federation, Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), supports the protests. They declared, “the ruling elite’s failure to achieve the hopes and expectations of Tunisians [has led to mass discontent]”.
The government has used riot police and tear gas against the workers and imposed a curfew. Prime Minister Habib Essid who heads a coalition government has called for “patience”. Essid says that he is concerned that Islamists might use the turmoil to their own advantage. The events resemble the December 2010 suicide of a 23 year-old market stallholder, Mohamed Bouazizi, whose death sparked protests for jobs and democracy that spread quickly across the country and sparked the Arab Spring.