More Protests in Tunisia on Arab Spring Anniversary

Unions and political parties are calling for another day of demonstrations Sunday in Tunisia, after a week of protests in the capital and across the North African country, fueled by rising frustrations with the country’s social and economic issues.

Sunday also marks the seventh year since Tunisia’s Arab Spring uprising that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

“Work, Freedom and Dignity,” the slogan chanted seven years ago has been invoked again this past week for the demonstrations.

“The revolution brought nothing concrete to our daily lives, which only get worse and worse,” said Fatma Ben Hassine. “The politicians, whose only concern is their comfort, leave us in despair.”

WATCH: Report Protests Erupt Again in Tunisia, Cradle of 2011 Arab Spring

On Saturday, Tunisia announced plans to increase aid for poor families by $70.3 million, after days of protests over austerity measures.

“This will concern about 250,000 families,” Mohamed Trabelsi, minister of social affairs, said. “It will help the poor and middle class.”

President Beji Caid Essebsi is scheduled Sunday to visit the poor district of Ettadhamen in the capital Tunis that was hit by protests. In his first visit to the area, Essebsi will give a speech and open a cultural center.

Several hundred protestors took to the streets Saturday in Sidi Bouzid, where the 2011 uprising first began. And on Friday, protesters in cities and towns across the country waved yellow cards — a warning sign to the government — and brandished loaves of bread, a symbol of the day-to-day struggle to afford basic goods.

Anger has been growing since price hikes were introduced by the government earlier this month.

Since Monday, security forces have been deployed in Tunis and across the country. Several hundred people have been arrested, including opposition politicians, while dozens have been injured in clashes with police. A 55-year-old man died earlier this week, though the circumstances of his death remain unclear.

The demonstrations have gained momentum as anger grows over government tax hikes on top of already soaring inflation.

“Why did we do the revolution? For jobs, for freedom and for dignity. We obtained freedom, sure — but we’re going hungry,” unemployed protestor Walid Bejaoui said Friday.

One of the main protest organizations is using the Arabic social media hashtag ‘Fesh Nestannew?’ or ‘What Are We Waiting For?’ The group is urging a return to the spirit of the 2011 revolt.

“We believe a dialogue is still possible and reforms are still possible. The yellow card is to say ‘attention.’ Today we have the same demands that we have been having for years, it’s time to tackle the real problems, the economic crisis, the high cost of living,” said Henda Chennaoui, a member of “Fesh Nestannew.”

The government enacted a new law this month raising taxes to try to cut the deficit — a move largely driven by Tunisia’s obligations to its international creditors, says analyst Max Gallien of the London School of Economics.

“I think that this government feels that its ability to make its own economic policy or its ability to roll back these austerity reforms is very much limited by the demands of international financial institutions, primarily the IMF.”

The government has condemned the violence, but pledged to listen to the protestors.

“No matter what the government undertakes, its top priority — even during tough decisions — is improving the economic and social conditions of the people,” Prime Minister Youssef Chahed told reporters Thursday.

So could the region witness a repeat of 2011, with the protests gaining momentum?

“We’re looking at a different region now. But at the same time there are similarities: the issue of austerity, of socio-economic nationalization, of corruption and predation by elites,” according to analyst Gallien.

The Tunisian government’s task is to address those deep-rooted problems before the protests spin out of control.


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