A Tunisian who set himself on fire in the capital last week died from third degree burns on 90% of his body, according to a medical source at the regional Hospital of Injuries and Severe Burns in Ben Arous, a southern suburb of Tunis. Adel Khazri, the 27 year-old Tunisian who hailed from a very poor family in the north-western governorate of Jendouba was a street cigarette vendor. The young man arrived in the capital only a few months ago to look for work.
Eyewitnesses said that Khazri stood at the top of the stairs leading to the Municipal Theatre in the capital's main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, and cried loudly before setting himself ablaze, saying, "This is youth; this is what unemployment does." Police and bystanders rushed to extinguish the flames but too late.
TAP news agency cited eyewitnesses as saying that the young man sold cigarettes at Moncef Bey Market in central Tunis and that, "he had recently been harassed by police who carry out campaigns against street vendors and cigarette sellers." Tunisian police recently launched a campaign against street vendors, whose numbers have risen. Subsequently Khazri was prevented by local authorities from selling cigarettes on the street.
Last Thursday, hundreds joined the young man’s funeral procession in Jendouba and protested against the region’s poverty and economic marginalization. According to his mother, her son had been supporting her and his five siblings since his father’s death three years ago.
The suicide is not the first incident of its type in post-revolution Tunisia. Several Tunisians have set themselves ablaze in the past two years in protests emulating that of Mohamed Bouazizi. Since Tunisia’s uprising, protests over economic hardship have increased in a number of Tunisian cities to pressure the new government to create job opportunities and to improve social conditions. In fact, according to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INS), Tunisia's unemployment rate stood at 16.7% in the fourth quarter of 2012. These economic and social troubles have yet to be solved amid a deep political crisis that the country is still going through.
The incident occurred during a time when the new proposed cabinet of Tunisian Prime Minister-Designate Ali Laarayedh has just received the approval of a majority of the National Constituent Assembly. Laaryedh was appointed after former Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali resigned from his position following the rejection of his own Islamist Ennahdha party to his initiative to form an apolitical technocrat government leading Tunisia to elections. This was the plan he proposed following the assassination of prominent secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid.
During the constituent assembly session last Tuesday, Larayedh promised, "to restore security to Tunisia" and “combat the high cost of living”. He further added that "the government plans to create 90,000 new jobs, including 23,000 in the public sector, within what remains of 2013."