Tunisia’s revolutionary youth disillusioned ahead of municipal elections

Many young Tunisians are enraged at being kept apart from a political scene that they think it is reserved for veterans from all political sides. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2018
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Tunisia’s revolutionary youth disillusioned ahead of municipal elections

  • Many Tunisian youths say they are not planning to vote in the May 6 elections that many hope will help anchor democratic change at a local level.
  • Municipal leaders elected on Sunday will have more autonomy than those in office under Ben Ali.

TUNIS: Clean streets, functional transportation, a football field... young Tunisians are not asking for the moon from their soon-to-be elected officials, but many are skeptical about whether they will bring real change.

In this Sunday’s municipal elections, the first in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, a third of voters and a majority of the candidates will be under the age of 36.

But if they were the primary driver of mass protests that ousted Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which gave birth to the only democracy of the Arab Spring, many youths are now pessimistic.

With tailored tweed trousers and slicked-back hair, 22-year-old Yosri Aloulou steps over rubbish and dirty water in the Old City of Tunis as he heads home to his family’s apartment after finishing work at a hip cafe in the capital.

“You see, over there is Rue de Riche (Street of the Rich), but here it’s the street of the poor,” he said, chuckling with his friends.

They are frustrated by the stark contrast between the carefully renovated touristic medina next door and their neighborhood of Bab Jdid, where dilapidated houses are collapsing.

“I would like the road to be repaved and the rubbish bins collected, and that water didn’t come up to your knees every time it rains for half-an-hour,” said the young man, who finished high school last summer and is now working to save money to pay for film studies.

“Here, there’s not even a youth center or a football field,” he said.

When young people from the neighborhood presented a list of ideas to local authorities, Aloulou said, they were told to vote and take the issues up with their newly elected representatives.

“The civil society organizations are acting. They are just blah blah,” he said, pointing to a group of campaigning political activists who passed by Bab Jdid’s entrance without stopping.

Disenchanted with what they view as a lack of improvement since the revolution, and a distrust of a political class full of “old elephants,” many Tunisian youths say they are not planning to vote in the May 6 elections that many hope will help anchor democratic change at a local level.

But in the west of the capital, Wasila Najar, a medical intern at the Manouba Hospital, wants to “keep hope that change is possible.”

“In my district, there is a surgeon and other people I know who are stepping forward with real proposals,” said the 29-year-old student, citing pollution, rubbish collection and transportation issues.

Municipal leaders elected on Sunday will have more autonomy than those in office under Ben Ali, and more prerogatives than the special delegations tasked with the day-to-day management of cities since the revolution.

“For me, it’s the independent lists that can improve the situation, with local officials who know our problems and have ideas on how to solve them,” said Najar.

Only the Islamists of the Ennahda party and the liberals of Nidaa Tounes have managed to secure lists in all 350 municipalities, and many observers expect them to capture a good part of the cities.

But Wasila says she still plans to vote on Sunday to avoid leaving “the country to those who have lied and disappointed us” in recent years.

After parliamentary elections in 2014, Nidaa Tounes, elected on an anti-extremist ticket, quickly made an alliance with Ennahda, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many Tunisian voters.

This is precisely why Ghazoua Maaouia, a gym teacher who voted in 2014, will not vote this time around.

“This campaign is pure comedy,” she said. Candidates clash on TV, she said, but the real deals are made “in backstage arrangements between the big parties that share the cake.”

Maaouia, who teaches at a public school downtown while completing her doctorate, believes young candidates will never have a true seat at the table. For her, the young political hopefuls are only “symbolic.”

“Young people have ideas, they do a lot of things in the field, but they have no political power to get things done.”


First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

Updated 22 February 2019
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First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

  • President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the gathering is about much more than migration
CAIRO: European and Arab leaders are to hold their first summit Sunday, in what the top EU diplomat sees as a chance to boost cooperation across a troubled Mediterranean region.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss topics like security, trade, development and migration.
Wars and conflicts in places such as Syria and Libya are on the agenda at a summit guarded by the security forces who are fighting a bloody jihadist insurgency a short distance to the north.
But analysts voiced doubts over how much progress can be made, with Europe split over migration and Arab countries still grappling with the fallout from Arab Spring revolutions.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc.
But checking migration is only part of Europe’s broader strategy to forge a new alliance with its southern neighbors.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insists that the gathering in Egypt of more than 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration.
“We will have frank, open discussions, not only on migration, definitely not,” Mogherini told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
“We will have first of all discussions on our economic cooperation, on our common region,” she said.
“That is a troubled region but also full of opportunities.”
Attending will be Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU member countries, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
EU officials said 25 European heads of state and government will attend.
These include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who could also discuss the stalemate over Brexit on the sidelines.
Apart from El-Sisi, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will attend from the 22-member Arab League, which is based in Cairo. It is not yet clear who else will be present.
A UN official warned that Europe’s failure to bridge divisions on migration “risks blocking all the other discussions” at the summit.
“How do you discuss an issue if you can’t even mention it!” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said EU countries like Hungary refuse to mention migration because they oppose asylum seekers and migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
The EU has struck aid-for-cooperation agreements with Turkey and Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has sharply cut the flow of migrants since a 2015 peak.
But the official said broader cooperation with the Arab League, which includes Libya, is limited without the EU being able to speak in one voice.
Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, said the summit will struggle “to establish a dialogue between two sides who are confronted with their own challenges.”
The meeting comes as “the Arab countries are still feeling the effects of the revolutions started in 2011,” Pierini told AFP.
“Arab League unity is in trouble,” said Pierini, now an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank.
With expectations low for EU-Arab progress, the focus may shift to EU efforts to break the logjam over Britain’s looming exit from the bloc on March 29.
Britain’s Philip Hammond said May would have an “opportunity” in Egypt to discuss Brexit with her EU counterparts who have balked at her requests for concessions to sell the divorce to her parliament.
But officials in Brussels and London have played down the prospect of a Brexit “deal in the desert” to try to ensure an orderly departure.