Thursday, January 13, 2011

Things fall apart

Tunis is a boring country. Unemployment is high, recreational activities are sparse. Men sit in cafes, women sit at home. That’s about it.
Any potential occasion for excitement is jumped upon. Days or even weeks before local soccer matches young men run through the streets chanting fight songs and waving flags, looking for supporters of rival teams. When their team wins they light flares and drive through the streets singing and cheering themselves hoarse. When their teams lose they riot.
I don’t blame them. There really isn't much else to get excited about here.
That all changed about a month ago. It all started with unemployment
Despite the fact that college is free here and it’s expected for both men and women to get college degrees, the vast majority of Tunisian jobs are in low skill fields like light industry, agriculture and tourism.

What few good jobs there are seem to go to people with personal connections to the political establishment. As a result many intelligent young Tunisians graduate with no prospects.
This is especially true in the smaller cities that have no value as tourist centers. In one such city, Sidi Bouzid, a young man, Mohammed Bouazizi was out of college and couldn’t find work, so he was selling fruits and vegetables on the streets without a permit.
This is extremely common in Tunisia (I buy my clementines from the back of a pickup truck parked in front of a mosque) and usually is tolerated by the authorities. However, for whatever reason police confiscated Mohammad’s cart, and supposedly beat him up.
Enraged, desperate and hopeless Mohammed went to the police station, and in front of a gathered crowd, poured petrol on himself and lit a match.
Many people identified with Mohammed and his suicide set off protests in his native city of Sidi Bouzid. Despite intense government repression within a month these protests spread across the country and now Tunisia, once considered the most stable regime in the middle east, a country where people were literally terrified to discuss politics in public now has violent anti government protests in every city.

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