IT'S JANUARY AGAIN IN TUNISIA

Clara Capelli - Q Code Magazine
IT'S JANUARY AGAIN IN TUNISIA

NEW CLASHES ERUPT IN TUNISIA AS A RESULT OF THE UNPOPULAR 2018 BUDGET LAW

It’s January again in Tunisia. A month that, as many observers have reminded us, has often been historically characterised by violent social protests. Like those taking place today in response to the new 2018 Budget Law by Youssef Chahed’s technical government. On Monday, 8 January 2018, a protestor died in unclear circumstances and the autopsy results have not been disclosed.
It is a sort of historical regularity that tells us a lot about the Tunisian dynamics, from the “bread revolt” in 1984 to the decline of the Bourguiba presidency, to the 2008 clashes in the Gafsa-Redeyef mining basin, when there was no confidence for the “stability” of Ben Ali’s presidency. January 2016 also opened with a series of nationwide clashes and protests, to the point that Tunisia, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, had to impose a curfew for almost 15 days, as well as extend the state of emergency introduced on 24 November 2015 following the attack on the national guard, which was renewed for another 3 months in November.

THE INCREASE IN BREAD PRICES after a series of austerity measures in 1984 brought the people’s anger to the streets, an anger that was violently repressed, so much so that the Instance de Vérité et Dignité (Truth and Dignity Commission) was tasked with investigating a wide variety of crimes committed by the Tunisian state against its own people between 1955 and 2013.

The “rigged” outcome of an employment offer at the Gafsa Phosphate Company, which saw 1000 candidates apply for approximately 80 jobs, triggered a series of demonstrations and protests in the Gafsa region, which was also violently repressed by the silence of the national and international media. The tragic death of a young unemployed person in the region of Kasserine, once again due to an unfair recruitment process, fuelled the protests against a political class incapable of offering prospects to its workers, especially in the poorest areas of Tunisia.

THE CAUSES OF THE 2018 REVOLT WERE ALSO ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL.
Kasserine, Thala, Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Kebili, Jendouba: these clashes occurred in historically marginalised areas and in the large urban suburbs of Tunis (from Tertouba, where a protestor died) and the coast. Very violent clashes, not always with a well-defined political content, often fuelled by deep social anger.

Object of the discontent – across all social classes of the country, this must be said – are the measures of the controversial 2018 Budget Law, which among other things, calls for a 1% increase in all three VAT rates, as well as a significant increase in the cost of fuel and consumer taxes (from luxury goods to alcoholic and confectionary products) and the introduction of a compulsory “social solidarity contribution” for companies as well as public and private wage earners.

GREAT DISCONTENT was also witnessed in the private sector due to tax increases (which was strongly emphasised by Ennahda when discussing the law), but refined notions of economy are not necessary to understand that this indirect tax burden will, above all, weigh unfairly on weaker sections of the Tunisian population and on the middle class, whose purchasing power has already been heavily tested by the devaluation of the dinar in recent years. And the doubts about the actual potential of this manoeuvre to increase the country’s prospects are more than justified.

The 2018 Budget Law is also burdened by the requests of international organisations that, since 2011-2012, have brought their agendas to Tunisia without negotiating or aligning them to the specific context. The devaluation of the dinar, together with the fact that the public deficit estimated by the financial budget is expected to be 4.9%, link to the conditions of fiscal stability required by the International Monetary Fund within the four-year support program of nearly 2.9 billion dollars, a program that over the years has been the subject of delicate negotiations with the Washington technicians.

NOTWITHSTANDING THE INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK, THIS LAW IS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A RULING CLASS UNABLE TO GOVERN FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF LIVING CONDITIONS AND LONG-TERM PROSPECTS OF ITS CITIZENS, RAKING MONEY IN A SHORT-SIGHTED MANNER WITHOUT DEVELOPING SOLUTIONS AND STRATEGIES, NEITHER IN THE SOCIAL SPHERE NOR IN TERMS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH.
Tunisia remains suspended between the ambitiousness of the objectives of dignity and wellbeing set by the protests that between 2010 and 2011 (once again, in January) led to the fall of Ben Ali and the palazzo clashes between the main political forces – in particular, Nidaa Tunes and Ennahda – in an alternation of compromises and tensions (to give just one example, the municipal elections that were scheduled for 17 December 2017, have been postponed to a date to be defined) which to date has not been able to lead to a path of change and development.

If something moves in Tunisia, it is among the islands of civil society that try to channel the protests into political proposals. This January 2018, a new platform tried to relaunch the frustration created by the budget law through the FECH NESTANNAOU campaign (“What do we want”, in Tunisian Arab).

Various events throughout the country are scheduled for 12 January 2018, but instead of focusing only on what will happen, it is appropriate to take a step back and observe the design that these months of January have traced in the history of Tunisia. A design that very few people know, but that would better help understand what happens a few kilometres away from Italy. And not only in January.

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