Tunisia arrests 11 after clashes in birthplace of Arab Spring

A Tunisian child waves atop a monument on Bouazizi street on August 15, 2019 in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, which nine years ago saw the start of the Arab Spring movements that brought down multiple autocrats in the Arab world (AFP/ File Photo).
Updated 03 December 2019

Tunisia arrests 11 after clashes in birthplace of Arab Spring

  • “Youths aged between 11 and 18 attacked law enforcement officers during the night, throwing stones at them and wounding 20 officers,” spokesman Hayouni said
  • Security forces dispersed the youths with tear gas

TUNIS: Eleven Tunisians were arrested during a night of clashes between protesters and police in the central region of Sidi Bouzid, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after the self-immolation of a young man sparked outrage.
Clashes in Jelma started after the death last Friday of a 25-year-old who set himself on fire in the center of the impoverished town in desperation over his economic woes.
Angry residents blocked roads and attacked police on Saturday and Sunday nights, interior ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni told AFP.
“Youths aged between 11 and 18 attacked law enforcement officers during the night, throwing stones at them and wounding 20 officers,” Hayouni said. Security forces dispersed the youths with tear gas.
Elsewhere in the region, several hundred people burned tires and blocked roads, an AFP correspondent said.
On Tuesday, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights expressed “deep concern at the state of social tension in Jelma.”
This showed the failure of successive governments to devise concrete solutions to unemployment and lack of development in Tunisia’s interior, the NGO said.
“Ignoring social demands” and reliance on security forces to respond was increasing tension, it warned, calling for a “radical change in economic and social policies.”
In December 2010, the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
Since then, the marginalized region has experienced further periods of unrest fueled by unemployment and poverty.
During the last major wave of protests in January 2016, anger at the death of an unemployed man in Kasserine spread across the country and led to a curfew being imposed for several days.


In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

Updated 25 September 2020

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

  • $30,000 Is being demanded by players for a single season

DAMASCUS: Professional football clubs in war-battered Syria are struggling to sign new players, who are demanding raises to counter the decline in the value of their pay packets. 

Nine years into a grinding civil war, Syria’s economy is in tatters, life is increasingly expensive, and the national currency is in freefall on the black market. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded economic woes, with footballers forced to play in closed-door stadiums, wiping out turnstile revenues. 

“Professional football has become a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, president of Homs city’s Wathba club, runners-up in the Syrian league last season. 

“Players who once played with us for reasonable amounts are now demanding astronomical sums. They say it’s because of the devaluation” of the Syrian currency. 

The Syrian league, which has no foreign stars, was suspended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop during the war except at the outset in 2011. 

Players were transferred last year for as little as 35 million Syrian pounds ($17,500 at the current black market rate), but Sibaei said players are now demanding salaries of up to 60 million pounds ($30,000) for a single season. 

“Next season, we’ll need between 400 and 500 million pounds for contracts and other expenses, knowing that the club only has around 160 million in its kitty,” he said. 

He said the club spent around 315 million last year, some of which he had to advance from his own pocket. 

Whereas the average Syrian earns between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an average professional football player brings home around 1.5 million pounds ($750) on a monthly basis. 

Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which finished fifth last season, conceded football players were better off than the average Syrian. 

“The salaries are decent and the purchasing power of some players is good,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder with the Damascus club. 

“But it’s not enough to secure their future as a player’s lifespan on the field is short,” he said, as most players retire in their early thirties. 

No foreign player has been recruited since 2012, but today’s record devaluation is making even acquiring Syrian talent tough. 

The pound’s value against the US dollar has plummeted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the official rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black market. 

The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and police in English) are funded by the defense and interior ministries, respectively. 

But other clubs say the dual economic-coronavirus crisis has depleted their coffers, and are seeking funds elsewhere to recruit before the new season starts in a month. 

Reigning champions Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new players with funds from sponsors and club board members. 

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philippines in World Cup 2022 qualifiers, is moving from Jaish for 50 million pounds ($25,000). 

Kamel Kawaya, 22, signed for Tishreen from Shorta for the same figure. 

Al-Wahda has renewed contracts with all its players, and even made three new signings. 

Its president Maher Al-Sayyed said he had pitched in to help cover some of next year’s ballooning budget. 

“I lent the club 180 million pounds while waiting for conditions to improve,” out of a projected budget of more than 600 million pounds, he said. 

In the northern city of Aleppo, Al-Ittihad are looking at a budget of 500 million pounds — more than twice last year’s. 

Basil Hamwi said they would be counting on fans and expatriates to help make it through the season. 

At Hutteen, another top-flight club from Latakia, coach Hussein Afash said he understood players’ demands. 

“The players are right to be asking for better-paid contracts after the devaluation of the pound as they’re now earning a fourth of what they did,” he said. 

Club president Khaled Tawil said he hoped that wealthy business tycoon Samer Foz would help cover costs. 

“We are counting on Foz, who sponsors our team,” he said.