Reporting on protests linked to economic and social issues in Tunisia
ESCR-Net member Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) published its monthly reports on social protests related to economic, social and cultural rights that have taken place across the country in January and February of this year. FTDES has been publishing monthly reports on the activities of social movements across Tunisia in Arabic and French since September 2013.
In reports published on the state of social protests in Tunisia in the beginning of 2017, FTDES observed several notable trends.
Economic hardship, access to services and social marginalization
In Tunisia, the regions in the interior of the country are home to the largest populations living in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. Those regions were also hit by heavy rains and snowfall in the beginning of the year, which led to flooding and triggered a wave of protests demanding access to essential social services, including infrastructure and disaster management and relief. Recent months also witnessed protests relating to unemployment and under employment. Reportedly, politicians had promised to address these issues in the lead-up to parliamentary elections, raising expectations which they could not subsequently fulfil.
Protests also decried the dramatic price inflation during January which followed a controversial announcement by the government of a budgetary decision to freeze wage increases without introducing measures to arrest inflation and the deterioration of purchasing power, which threatens the ability of the middle and lower classes to sustain regular levels of consumption. Furthermore, FTDES observed that high commodity price inflation was accompanied by an excess in production of certain agricultural commodities (primarily milk last year and citrus fruits this year), hampering profitability for farm owners and job security for agricultural workers. Protesters also denounced unfair competition in the local sale of manufactured goods, the prices of which have allegedly been driven down by contraband or cheap imports. According to FTDES, failure by the country’s supervisory bodies to manage these economic problems has further exacerbated tensions within civil society.
Health care, education and the environment
Several waves of protests also took place with regards to health care. The focus of these actions ranged from calls for a review of a law on drugs (one third of all incarcerated persons in Tunisia are in prison due to charges related to drug use, possession or trafficking) to measures needed to restrict trafficking of imported medicines and tools. Medical personnel led protests to call for changes in malpractice legislation while residents in the interior regions denounced the return of certain illnesses which had been presumed to be eradicated, as well as the lack of specialized medical facilities, medicines and medical equipment in area hospitals.
For Tunisian schools, January was occupied by exams and holidays; but by February, education-related protests conveyed concerns expressed by parents regarding teachers' strikes in several regions, as well as a denunciation of violence perpetrated against students and their parents in educational institutions.
The environment was another focus of protests. Fears of pollution by phosphogypsum (a by-product of the process of phosphate ore into fertilizer, which may be radioactive in some cases) prompted demonstrators to call on supervisory bodies to take the necessary operational and rapid measures to end the irresponsible dumping of waste and safeguarding public health from threats of pollution. Waste management is another issue which has prompted protests across Tunisia.
FTDES noted with concern that the social protests described above have received minimal coverage by the media, reflecting the decreased attention by many political parties to these grassroots expressions of grievances. The progressive decentralization of protest movements from large cities to small towns, villages and rural areas, and away from major cities and coastal areas, has further led to the lack of national attention to them. Yet, as the Forum noted in the February report, “Indeed, these protest movements are neither a conspiracy nor useless nor a waste of time, acquired or revolution.” Rather, FTDES argues, they reflect a situation that requires action by the country’s decision-makers and administrators who have failed to live up to expectations following ambitious commitments made during recent electoral periods, and their unwillingness to recognize the deep inequalities that exist across regions of the country. The Forum also calls attention to the persistence of poverty and inadequate access to social services, as well as the incapacity of the government to provide effective responses to the shortage of drinking water, price inflation, rising unemployment and other conditions that threaten the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Tunisia.
To read the reports: