Unemployed young people from the Tunisian city that touched off nationwide protests say the government is failing them and protested anew Saturday in a precarious calm enforced by a nationwide curfew.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring protest movement, is the only democracy to rise from those turbulent demonstrations five years ago, touched off by the suicide of a young man who despaired of making a living. The country has a 15 percent unemployment rate but among young people one in three is jobless.
The government imposed a nationwide curfew on Friday night and has not said when it will be lifted.
The nationwide protests this week were triggered by the death of a young man in Kasserine who was electrocuted when he climbed a transmission tower to protest losing out on a government job. The protests then spread to cities throughout the country, including scattered demonstrations in the capital Tunis, where a bank and some stores were looted.
On Saturday, a small crowd at a government building in Kasserine reasserted their demands for jobs, while in Tunis the prime minister said the situation was under control.
“We want to send a message to the president in my name and the name of everyone: We are demanding work. We’re not destroying. We’re not burning. We’re not causing chaos but just demanding jobs,” said Maher Nasri, an unemployed graduate.
Tunisian leaders say they understand the protesters’ frustration but blamed criminals for the violence. The Interior Ministry said 261 people had been arrested, with a total of 423 since the unrest began.
Emerging from an emergency government meeting to address the unrest, Prime Minister Habib Essid said the security situation was under control and he emphasized his optimism for the country’s future.
The government, he pledged, “would be firm faced with the difficulties and multiple challenges of security, economy and society it confronts.”
“The democratic process in Tunisia is an irreversible choice, despite the attempts of some to put in in doubt,” he said.
A coalition of Tunisian human rights activists, lawyers, labor leaders and employers won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for their successful efforts to prevent Tunisia from descending into chaos and authoritarianism. But multiple terror attacks in 2015, claimed by ISIS, have caused incalculable damage to a North African economy heavily dependent upon tourism.
And in Kasserine, protesters said the government needed to do far more to win their trust.
“We want solutions that can be implemented,” said Ahlam Gharsalli. “We need urgent solutions because we’re fed up with waiting.”