Poverty, Unemployment and Corona… Crises Foreshadows New Revolution in Tunisia

While Tunisians are struggling to get out of the political impasse created by the contention among the Republic Presidency, the government and Parliament, the country is further experiencing more complex crises as a result of the fragile economic situation and the outbreak of the Corona epidemic as the opportunities to have a dignified life are dropping down. especially with the high unemployment rates which, according to observers, represent a new threat to the food sufficiency of the poor. This would increase the tension in the country from which the Arab Spring revolutions were sparked and recall the conditions that Tunisians lived more than 10 years ago and led to the outbreak of the “Jasmine Revolution”, after Bouazizi had set his body on fire.

In light of the crises that the country is experiencing, the rising cost of living has become a real threat to the poor and vulnerable classes in their most basic food rights. The soaring increases in the prices of basic materials that constitute the food basket of low-income people have prompted expectations of a repetition of the scenario; sparking the revolution again.

Statistics issued by the State Institute of Statistics indicate that foodstuffs have increased by 7.2 percent during the month of June due to an increase in vegetables by 13 percent and an increase in the prices of food oils by 16.5%. In addition, it has been shown an increase of 8 percent in milk and its products, 7.6 percent in fish and 6.4 percent of the meat.

As for the data issued by the National Agricultural Observatory, it has been presented that the spikes in the prices of vegetables exceeded 50 percent in some varieties during the past month as well. The price of potatoes increased by 52 percent, pepper 15 percent, and the price of watermelon fruits increased by 11 percent and sardines by 11 percent.

The Cost-of-Living threatens food security of low-income people

The economist, Noman Al-Tafushi, does not hide his pessimism about making improvements. He is expecting that the rate of rising prices will continue to constitute great living pressures on the various social classes, especially the poor who face high prices and unable to keep pace with the living development. He opines that this will contribute to expanding the cycle of poverty in the country in the coming years and, possibly, the next few months.

According to the economist, the quantities of agricultural materials passing through wholesale markets and regulated distribution routes have declined, and this explains the high prices due to speculation in prices and the control of the networks of monopolists in the stock market and the levels of supply. He also stresses that the decline in the oversight role of government agencies for prices has helped to form a food cartel in Tunisia, which has become the main controller of prices that are constantly rising. Despite the abundance of supply and the decline in consumption directed to the tourism sector and restaurants as a result of the frequent periods of closure.

Al-Tafushi questions the government’s claims that social assistance to the poor allows for minimum expenditures to be guaranteed under international standards. He points out that this aid is not in line with economic changes and price increases, and has not achieved its main objective of combating poverty and lifting families out of destitution.

Al-Tafushi also confirms the high rates of poverty in the country, as it affects between 28 and 30 percent of families due to the decline in incomes and the rise in unemployment.

“Revolution of the Hungry” on the Road

The Corona pandemic is the reason behind the decline in opportunities for a decent life in Tunisia, according to Khaled Al-Shartini, a community researcher.

“Many daily workers have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, amid the decline in the tourism sector’s income, following the general closure imposed by Tunisia, like many countries,” he adds.

Al-Shartini points out that many owners of small and medium entrepreneurs lost and were not compensated by the state, as the country is living in a situation “more complicated than the situation

that led to the Jasmine Revolution against President Ben Ali 10 years ago. “The people revolted in 2011 for dignity, while the economic situation was much better than it is now,” he stresses.

The researcher expects that this time the country will witness a “revolution of the hungry”, as he described it, amid the exodus of Tunisians’ migration to escape the “scourge” that awaits them. He points out that the number of illegal immigrants from Tunisia towards the Italian coast has doubled this year.

Tunisian immigrants constitute the largest number of nationalities of immigrants who arrived in Italy last year, with a rate of 38 percent, according to Al-Shartini.

Italian Ministry of Interior figures show that 12,883 Tunisians arrived in Italy in 2020, nearly five times the number in 2019. While Al-Shartini confirms that the number of Tunisians who fled the country this year is much more than the numbers recorded by the Italian authorities.

Stiff political positions behind the disaster

Nehad Al-Trabelsi, a political analyst and specialist in Tunisian affairs, believes that this situation is caused by the political tension and the “hardened” Tunisian scene on the part of the country’s decision makers, because of their adherence to their position, at the expense of development that remains hostage to a political agreement, has not yet taken place.

In this regard, Al-Trabelsi points out that the political parties are not moving in the direction of a solution, each party wants to impose its political agenda and vision, while the poor and middle groups remain the most affected by that.

“In Tunisia today there is neither support nor compensation in case of loss,” he adds.

Al-Trabelsi agrees with the researcher Al-Shartini that if the situation continues in this way, it will go towards explosion, instability, and perhaps a second intifada with more radical shape and goals than 2010.

In the context of his speech, he also reveals that Tunisia lives in a kind of stratification, “as there are families who rule the country in a rentier manner and reduce all laws to serve their influence, at the expense of the hardworking groups.”

It is noteworthy that Tunisia is witnessing a significant increase in cases of “Covid-19”, and health authorities say that the intensive care units are full and the situation is catastrophic.

The country also recently recorded a new record in the number of Corona deaths, as the Ministry of Health announced, on Friday, 205 deaths from the Corona virus within 24 hours, in the largest number of daily deaths since the epidemic began, and 6,787 new cases of the virus were recorded. This raises concerns about the country’s ability to fight the pandemic, with hospitals overwhelmed and oxygen in short supply.

For its part, the World Health Organization said that the number of daily deaths in Tunisia is the highest in Africa and the Arab countries, with a total of about 530,000 patients and 17,200 deaths.

Tunisia is experiencing a complex political and constitutional crisis due to President Kais Saied’s refusal to accept the new ministers, who were chosen by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, in the government reshuffle, to take the oath after receiving confidence from Parliament on January 26.

Recently, voices have risen within parliament, warning of the implications of Ghannouchi’s continued stay in his position over parliamentary performance and the future of political stability in the country. Popular anger over his practices has also widened and demands have been raised calling for his removal from the political scene, in order to give priority to the public interest and to pave the way for resolving the political crisis in the country.

Ghannouchi had previously faced the threat of expulsion from his position last July, when 4 parliamentary blocs submitted a list of no-confidence motion against him. Which was dropped by Parliament in a plenary session, after 97 members voted “yes”, while 16 deputies opposed the list, while 18 papers were considered canceled, as the credit for Ghannouchi’s stay at the head of Parliament at the time is due to his ally, the “Heart of Tunisia” party

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