Protesters in Tunisia took to the streets on July 11, Saturday, to express their anger and frustration at the rising unemployment and worsening living conditions in the southern part of the country. Hundreds of ordinary Tunisians also participated in popular demonstrations staged in the southern town of Remada to protest the police killing of a local youth during an anti-smuggling police operation on July 7. Protests have been registered in recent weeks across southern Tunisian towns and villages over abysmal economic conditions, high unemployment rates and declining infrastructure in the region.
On Saturday, the protesters, which included a substantial number of women, were seen shouting slogans such as “either we get a better life or we all die”. They also demanded that the Tunisian president, Kais Saied, visit the southern region and address the hardships faced by the local population, as well as respond to the police killing of July 7. The deceased was reportedly suspected of being a smuggler and was killed when the security personnel opened fire at four vehicles allegedly smuggling goods from Libya, which is on the border of the southern region of Tunisia. The defense ministry stated that it has opened an investigation into the case.
Historically, Southern Tunisia is a region that has been economically underdeveloped and marginalised compared to the rest of the country. After nearly 10 years of the toppling of the regime of ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the Tunisian revolution, the southern region continues to be neglected. This is despite a pledge by the Tunisian government in 2017 to invest millions of dollars to economically uplift and improve the lives of those living in the region. In Tataouine, about 80 kilometers from Remada, community members have mobilised and blocked major roads since the last week of June in demand of employment opportunities and better economic conditions.
Last Thursday, president Saied, in a video message posted on the official presidency Facebook page, said that “The situation in the south of Tunisia is unacceptable.” However, he failed to reassure Tunisians of any current or future plans and concrete steps proposed by the government to stabilize the economy of the south in the long term. In this sense, it is likely that protests will continue and spread across more southern areas.