“What did democracy do for us?” Tunisians keep populist side and faith

Fauzi Brahmi, a day laborer who couldn’t find a job, does dominoes with his friends at a cafe in the town of Sidi Bujid, the birthplace of the 2011 revolution in Tunisia.

The four fathers, whose families live together, said they were anxious for the days of the dictator Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, who was banished by the riots. “Life was much cheaper at the time,” he said. “We dreamed of a better future after the revolution, but it was worse than before.”

Sidi Bujid, the capital of the state of the same name within the poor interior of Tunisia, is where the young street vendor Mohamed Bujiji fired in protest of humiliating treatment by city officials, causing an outburst of anger involving the country. Defeated Ben Ali.

A huge portrait of Bouazizi still covers the façade of the post office building on the main street of Sidi Buzid. But like most Tunisians, townspeople are deeply disillusioned with poverty and unemployment, the economic downturn over the last decade under a series of weak coalition governments that have failed to cope with the dissatisfaction that fueled the rebellion.

Until July, when Tunisia’s elected Populist President Kais Saied seized all power and closed parliament, the country was the only successful democratic transition born of the 2011 revolution and regional turmoil. Was considered.

The giant portrait commemorates Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation led to the uprising that pioneered democracy © Anis Mili / AFP via Getty Images.

Millions of people are looking forward to Sayed, whose economic policy has not yet been clarified. He remains popular despite announcing that he has suspended the Constitution and governed by decree. But his biggest challenge, analysts say, is to achieve the financial relief that long-suffering people expect.

“We are looking for factories, jobs, investments and colleges in Sidi Bujid,” said cafe owner Sayed Bakkari. “I have three siblings, all graduated as English teachers, but all are unemployed.” Zuhour Freiji, who coordinated demonstrations by young graduates to encourage the government to hire, was filmed. I have been unemployed since 2017 when I graduated from higher education with a degree. “There is no private sector here in Sidi Bujid, so I want a job for a civil servant,” she said.

According to the IMF, the Tunisian economy has stuttered for years as a result of Covid-19, reducing GDP by 8.2% in 2020. The pandemic has damaged the important tourism industry and reduced exports to traditional European trading partners. Thousands of small businesses have been closed. According to the National Statistics Bureau of Tunisia, the national unemployment rate at the end of September was 18.4% and the youth unemployment rate was 42.4%.

Anouar Jaouadi, an engineer working at Sidi Bouzid’s vocational training institution, has blamed the high unemployment rate in the inland, where one-third of the population of 12 million lives, due to the lack of national investment in infrastructure. “Development attracts the private sector and is the key to dealing with established unemployment,” he said. “People are fed up and we are now [new force] It will serve the great purpose of the revolution. It was mainly work, then freedom and dignity. ”

But Saeed, who blamed the business and political elite for corruption, still doesn’t understand what his economic program looks like. At one point he said he would introduce a system that would force the “most corrupt businessmen” in the country to invest in the development of the poorest areas. Discussions have begun with the IMF on a new agreement, which is likely to include provisions such as subsidy cuts and public sector wage bill caps.

Tunisia needs to find about $ 4 billion to close the fiscal gap, but given its risk profile, economists say interest rates are too high to borrow in the international market. Increased government spending to deal with coronavirus emergencies has raised public debt to nearly 88% of GDP. This has been described by the IMF as unsustainable. This adds pressure to the state budget, which is already suffering from public wage bills, which represent almost 18% of GDP. This is one of the highest levels in the world.

Olfa Lamloum, Tunisia’s director of the UK-based civil society organization International Alert, said that 10 years after the revolution, nothing has changed in the poorest states. “The highest poverty and unemployment rates are still in the same place,” she said, adding that the age of long-term unemployed “who graduated 10 years ago and never worked” has also increased.

“There is no true development strategy” in Tunisia since the revolution, she said, and the solutions offered were the same as in Ben Ali’s time.

Romdhane Ben Amor, a spokesman for the Tunisian Economic and Social Rights Forum, a think tank, said there was a risk of anger if Sayed failed to deliver. “After a while, they will want him to live up to their expectations, and the danger to him from his supporters is greater than from his enemies. He has an economic or social vision. there is not.”

But for now, many, like Sidi Bouzid’s teacher, Radia Girari, seem willing to give the president a suspicious benefit, despite his authoritarian tendencies. “What did democracy do for us?” She said. “Life is still high, but I’m giving Sayed a chance, and so are all Tunisians.”

“What did democracy do for us?” Tunisians keep populist side and faith

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