One year on, protests return to Siliana, Tunisia


As Tunisia’s political crisis continues with Ennahda, Tunisia’s Islamic government, gripping on to power, protests are continuing across the country in the run up to the third anniversary of the revolution on 14 January.

One of the biggest in recent weeks took place on 27 November, 2013, some 5,000 people demonstrated in front of the local offices of of Tunisia’s national trade union centre, l’Union générale des travailleurs tunisiens (UGTT) in the northern city of Siliana.

The neighbouring towns of Gafsa and Gabes also joined Siliana in a general strike.

Furious with the policies and actions of the Ennahda government , demonstrators in Siliana were also commemorating one of the worst acts of police violence in Tunisia since the revolution in January 2011.

The famous slogan of the 2011 revolution was heard once again – ‘degage!’ or ‘get out!’ – but this time it was directed towards the Ennahda party, which was elected to power in October 2011.

Back in November 2012, protestors were calling for the resignation of Ennadha governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi for failing to provide economic development in the region.

Without warning police opened fire with shotguns, leaving some 250 demonstrators injured, 19 with serious eye injuries.

One year later and no official investigation has been carried out.

The current Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh was the Interior Minister at the time and is alleged to have given the order for police to fire on protestors.

There have been various calls for an investigation but in the current political climate, this is unlikely to happen.


Widespread anger

The overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 did little to reverse decades of underdevelopment in the central area of Tunisia which still suffers from high unemployment.

Siliana is less than 150 kilometres away from the town of Sidi Bouzid, where a vegetable seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in December 2010, igniting revolution in Tunisia and the ‘Arab Spring’ across the region.

Widespread anger over corruption, the rising cost of living and endemic unemployment started protests three years ago. But since coming to power, Ennahda has failed to respond effectively to these issues.

The most recent protest in Siliana is just one of the many anti-government protests and strikes that have taken place across the country recently.

In October 2011, Ennahda party won the post-revolution elections and formed a government with two smaller parties.

It had been agreed that the winners would only stay in power for one year to allow for the Tunisian National Assembly to agree on a new constitution and arrange fresh elections.

Two years later Ennahda is still in power and the constitution is not yet completed.

The party has also been widely criticised for failing to tackle Tunisia’s economic problems or for stopping political violence.

Earlier this year, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two leaders of the left-wing coalition Front Populaire, were assassinated creating a political crisis leading to a ‘sit in’ by deputies outside the National Assembly.

A quartet of civil organisations – the UGTT, UTICA (the employer’s association) the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Tunisian lawyers association – came to an agreement with Ennahda in October on a ‘roadmap’ which would lead to the party stepping down to allow an interim technocratic government to take over.

But the political crisis continues as the ‘national dialogue’ over the selection of a new prime minister appears deadlocked.