Tunis January 14, 2011 | Source: Wikimedia

Political Significance of January Protests on Governance in Tunisia

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Opinion by:Ezzeddine Moudoud, Ph.D. Senior Local Governance/Decentralization Specialist Graduate of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University 

Five years after the fall of Dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and transparent Presidential elections, the recent events in Kasserine look like déjà vu that could turn into another social explosion, as Tunisia's economic situation, especially after the 2015 terrorist attacks, is more difficult than ever.

 In this new difficult context, these events are, however, both a symptom and a reminder, of much deeper structural problems: the persistence of regional disparities and social inequalities five years after the “Jasmine Revolution”. First and foremost, they are a symptom of a the total “disconnect” and the incapacity of the current new urban “revolutionary” élites - Secularists and Islamists alike, to put aside their political interests and address the urgent economic and social problems facing the country. The “paralysis” of state institutions, especially the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) which thanks to an art new to Tunisia: “filibustering” is the best manifestation of this inertia. As of January 2016, two key draft laws are still pending:The new Decentralization Organic Law, the objective of which is to translate the revolutionary Chapter 7 of the 2014 Constitution into new intergovernmental relations that provide local governments with true fiscal and administrative autonomy in local development; and (ii) the draft Law, that will end the “illegitimacy” of the current “Délégations Spéciales” (appointed by the since 2011), that continue to “govern” Tunisian municipalities five years after the Revolution.As the Municipal Elections Law is still debated local elections are now (tentatively, wishfully, implausibly???) scheduled for October 2016 - provided that the Law is adopted by April 2016…; Kasserine events are also a reminder of the persistence of regional disparities. True that regional disparities are not new in Tunisia and cannot be eliminated in five years. They date back to the colonial period. After independence in 1956, they have been even aggravated by misguided, top-down regional development policies.  But, and after the “Jasmin Revolution”, they suddenly became (again…) at the center of the public debate and the search of a new vision of regional development.  The result was the White Book of Regional Development: A New Vision of Regional Development (Livre Blanc du Développement Régional: Une nouvelle Vision du Développement Régional. Ministère du Développement Régional, Tunis, novembre 2011) But after all the promises by all “transitional governments” (8 since 2011) no concrete policy measures were implemented to address their root causes: poverty and unemployment levels, especially that of the youth, much higher in the interior regions than in the littoral ones.  Since 2011, jobs and projects were promised by all transitional governments. But, and to this day, even already approved and funded projects are still blocked in Tunis by “obscure” procurement procedures. A true nightmare of the current Essid government. (Note article was written in January ahead of data which showed a rise in overall unemployment to 15.4%, statistics from 2013 utilized for comprehensive regional comparisons)  While the national overall unemployment rate is estimated at 13 percent (data for 2013), some interior governorates have unemployment rates as high as 28 percent (Gafsa), 24 percent in Tataouine (South West), 21 percent in Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid (Center West), and 22 percent in Le Kef (North West). Moreover, and regarding “University Graduates,” unemployment rates in the interior regions are nearly the double of that of the national level of 23 percent. For example, it is as high as 41 percent in the governorate of Kasserine and 39 percent in that of Sidi Bouzid. Another important measure of the regional divide in today’s Tunisia is poverty levels by region. While the national poverty level was reduced from 32 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010, and ranged from a low rate of eight to nine percent in the North East and the Center East, it remained as high as 26 and 32 in the North West and Center West regions (where Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid are located) respectively. In short, Kasserine recent event are not a surprise for the author of this short note, as the same very factors that “triggered” the “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 from Sidi Bouzid are still the same as in 2011. 

It is in this sense that they are a dangerous reminder, for both “Secularists” and “Islamists”, that youth, in central Tunisia and elsewhere, in their quest equal economic opportunity and dignity, are not interested in the future of “Nida Tounes” (in total dislocation right now…) or “Ennadha”! They cannot care less!