Strikes, dissatisfaction and frustration characterise the general situation in Tunisia. Political and religious polarisation is overwhelming the economic needs of the everyday Tunisian.
Thala, west-central Tunisia, was one of the first towns to rebel against the former president Ben Ali’s regime, paying for freedom and change with the blood of its young people’s lives. Today, Thala’s patience is running out as they await some relief for the reigning poverty around the marble mines.
Similar to the phosphate mines in neighbouring Governorate Gafsa, the marble industry, once exploited by Ben Ali’s relatives, could create enough jobs for some 14,000 inhabitants of the town as an immediate solution to combating unemployment. The millions of dinars this would bring would replenish a fallen economy.
But the current Government led by the Islamist Ennhada party hasn’t yet taken a final decision about how best to exploit these mines. In theory no licences have been issued either for local or foreign investors to exploit these rich resources.
The rise of civil disobedience, strikes and protests even during the activation of the emergency laws has been the result. It is no surprise against the background of endless announcements by Governmental officials proclaiming the high priority and attention given to the development and investment in Tunisia’s internal regions to ensure fair and equal distribution of wealth and riches. These unmet promises have sparked several protests that have been met with brutal violence, according to human rights observers.
‘We are the walking-dead, we live in a vacuum, we have nothing. We have nothing. All it (the Government) can do for us is put us in jail,’ shouted a protester during a recent protest action – reported by the AFP.
‘The socio-economic situation in Thala is worse than under the old regime and no governmental promises have yet been kept,’ protested Adel, a teacher in the city.
Faced with rising anger and dissatisfaction, the Government seem to have no other solutions but to increase the security measures, trying to buy more time by highlighting the need for dialogue and making further promises of development plans in the rebelling regions.
Promises for special inter-ministerial commissions to be placed in charge of the area’s prospects and reopening the marble plants employing a minimum of 200 people sound like the Government’s best offer to date. But for the region’s locals, such promises are far from convincing: more protests and more violence is expected.
What grows more palpable by the day like never before is the desperate need for a fresh, straightforward and serious rescue attempt to be made to save what’s left of the country’s economy. More debt and aid-based solutions are insufficient; a multi-sectoral, job-generating approach focused on the available human resources as well the natural resources, is essential.
Driving the public into political and religious polarisation, manifested best in Tunisia by the growing examples of religious extremism, is a clear threat to the democratic transition, our security, and our economic growth.