8 years on, Tunisians say revolt gave them ‘freedom’ but not ‘dignity’

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Young Tunisians speak to an AFP journalist in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Tunisian youth Omar (C) rehearses for the role of a peer who dreams of migrating to Europe, at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Young Tunisians watch as their colleagues rehearse for a theatrical performance at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Young Tunisians watch as their colleagues rehearse for a theatrical performance at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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8 years on, Tunisians say revolt gave them ‘freedom’ but not ‘dignity’

DOUAR HICHER, TUNISIA: Young Tunisians say the revolution they staged eight years ago to oust their longtime dictator has failed to restore their “dignity” and ease the North African country’s economic woes.
“Since the revolution we have freedom but still no dignity,” says Sofiene Jbeli, an unemployed computer technician who lives in the working class satellite town of Douar Hicher west of Tunis.
Like many of his compatriots Jbeli says he does not regret taking part in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that shook the region and forced out veteran strongmen like Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
But he feels bitter.
“If the system does not change in 2019 (when presidential and legislative elections are due to take place) the revolution would have been for nothing,” says the 35-year-old.
Sociologist Olfa Lamloum of the NGO International Alert shares some of Jbeli’s assessment but disagrees that the revolution failed completely.
“The revolution’s slogan was ‘work, dignity and freedom’ but the first two were not achieved,” says Lamloum.
While Tunisia has been praised as a model of democratic transition, wealth and control of the economy remain concentrated in the hands of a small elite despite economic growth.
The country is grappling with an inflation rate of 7.5 percent and unemployment stands at more than 15 percent, with those worst hit being young university graduates.
In May, Tunisia held its first free municipal elections with more than 57,000 candidates — half of them women and young people — running for office.
The quotas for women and youth candidates in the polls — touted as another milestone on the road to democracy — “allowed a large number of young people to be elected to municipal councils,” says Lamloum.
And yet, she says, “nothing has been done to improve the lives of young people... Socially, their situation has really deteriorated.”

One thing the revolution did achieve, according to Lamloum, is to allow politicians, researchers and non-governmental organizations access to impoverished areas like Douar Hicher.
This, she says, has created space for debate, although politicians did not clearly use the opportunity to look into the problems facing the population to try and find solutions.
For Jbeli and other young Tunisians this has not been enough. They point to numerous hurdles, beyond their economic hardships, that are stifling their daily life.
Following a series of deadly jihadists attacks in 2015, authorities have prevented some citizens, mainly men and women under 35, from traveling to certain countries without parental permission.
“Based on official statements, the measure is part of efforts to prevent people from joining extremist armed groups abroad,” according to Human Rights Watch, calling it “arbitrary.”
Sofiene said the measure was one of several “humiliations.”
“We launched a revolution in order to become full-fledged citizens but for me the only thing I got out of it was freedom of expression,” says high school student Hamza Dhifali.
“Before (the uprising) I could not express myself freely, now I can. It’s great, but no one listens,” he adds.
Issam Elhali, a 31-year-old father of two, says the promises made by the revolution that toppled strongman Ben Ali and forced him to flee on January 14, 2011 were “only on paper.”

Elhali says authorities have proposed loan programs to help young people set up projects.
“I borrowed 7,000 dinars ($2,400) to set up a small hardware store but the interest rate is fixed at 21 percent and I simply cannot manage that,” he says.
“The authorities say they are backing the young people but in truth they are ripping us off,” he adds.
“There is no future for us.”
Nevertheless, in Douar Hicher young people — scouts, dancers and would-be stand-up comedians — are keeping busy preparing a show to mark the eighth anniversary of Tunisia’s uprising.
Others like Elhali work in community groups tasked with keeping their town clean.
“We are the rare few to still have some hope. Others feel let down and while the time away by just sitting in cafes,” says Elhali.
He also took to task the country’s politicians and the political struggles that have recently emerged between the prime minister and the president.
“We are in a boat whose captains are having a dispute while watching the boat sink,” says Elhali.
“I want to save myself and leave the boat” and build a new life abroad.
Seventeen-year-old Zeinab Rannen agrees and hopes that by successfully passing her high school exams she will be able to rescue her “dignity.”
“I believe the way out, here or elsewhere, is through education,” she says.
“But most of all I would like to go abroad in order to win the respect and dignity I will never have here.”


Italy’s Salvini says France has no interest in stabilising Libya

Italy's Interior Minister and deputy PM Matteo Salvini said France has no interest in stabilising the situation in Libya. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Italy’s Salvini says France has no interest in stabilising Libya

  • The French say accusation is baseless and reiterated their efforts in Libya
  • Relations between Italy and France, traditionally close allies, have grown frosty since the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition

ROME: Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, continuing a war of words between Rome and Paris, said on Tuesday that France was not looking to bring calm to violence-ravaged Libya because its energy interests there rivalled those of Italy.
Relations between Italy and France, traditionally close allies, have grown frosty since the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition last year and took aim at pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron.
France’s Foreign Ministry and the French president’s office declined to respond immediately.
On Monday France summoned Italy’s ambassador after Salvini’s fellow deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa and generating mass migration to Europe.
Salvini backed up Di Maio, saying France was looking to extract wealth from Africa rather than helping countries develop their own economies, and pointed particularly to Libya, which has been in turmoil since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
“In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy,” Salvini told Canale 5 TV station.
A French diplomatic source said it was not the first time that Salvini had made such comments and that it was probably because he felt he had been upstaged by Di Maio.
The source added that the accusation was baseless and reiterated that French efforts in Libya were aimed at stabilising the country, preventing the spread of terrorism and curbing the migration flows.
Italy’s Eni and France’s Total have separate joint ventures in Libya, but Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi denied in a newspaper interview last year that there was any conflict between the two firms in the north African state.
Salvini is head of the League, while Di Maio leads 5-Star. Both are campaigning hard for European parliamentary elections in May and are eager to show they have broken with the consensual politics of center-left and center-right parties.
The two men have repeatedly targeted neighboring France and accused Macron of doing nothing to help handle the hundreds of thousands of mainly African migrants who have reached Italy from Libya in recent years.
Asked about the latest diplomatic spat with Paris, Salvini said on Tuesday: “France has no reason to get upset because it pushed away tens of thousands of migrants (at the French border), abandoning them there as though they were beasts. We won’t take any lessons on humanity from Macron.”