Tunisia has entered a phase of social turbulence since two weeks ago and protests surged in several cities and in certain districts of the capital, Tunis. Indeed, clashes were between protesters and police for many days. A man was killed Monday in Tebourba, on the sidelines of a rally against the increasing cost of living, while growing a general grumbling against the austerity budget adopted in late 2017. The demonstrations, enameled in some cases of shop looting occur in a degraded social context, where the rebound in inflation (6.4% year-on-year) adds to the deleterious effects of an unemployment rate of 15% (30% for graduates of higher education).
Seven years after the 2011 revolution, which overthrew the dictatorship of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the socio-economic stagnation is the reverse side of a democratic transition that had earned Tunisia a certain prestige abroad. Social unrest, particularly in the less favored interior regions compared to the coast, is recurrent, as illustrated by the outbreaks of January 2016 or spring 2017. However, the rapidity of the contagion in recent days has a new character. The disturbances affected almost simultaneously neighborhoods of Tunis and localities close to the capital as well as the governorates of the interior (Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa) and even cities of the coast (Gabes, Nabeul). The police made dozens of arrests. Thus, nearly 200 people were arrested in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday.
These shakes put a lot of pressure on the government of Youssef Chahed, appointed in August 2016, who has very limited options. On the political front, the prime minister is weakly supported by his party (Nidaa Tounes), the “modernist” formation allied to the Islamists of Ennahda in the government coalition. Chahed, who was placed at the head of the government by the president, Beji Caid Essebsi, has irritated many of his friends because of the presidential ambitions that are lent to him, also, he is a close relative to the president. In search of new support, the head of government has established a privileged working relationship with the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the main and most powerful union in the country. However, this link is hardly useful for appeasing the current social tension, because many protesters are not affiliated to any trade union or partisan organization. The prospect of municipal elections in May, the first local poll since 2011, should add to the volatility of the political landscape by fueling new competition and new actors.
Apart from political reasons, it is on the economic and social ground that the head of government is expected because the financial indicators are alarming. While the budget deficit (6.1% of GDP) and the public debt, which is close to 70% of GDP, are drifting, the government has resolved to aggravate the tax grab, in particular by raising VAT. Added to the inflation fueled by the depreciation of the dinar, which has lost a quarter of its value against the Euro in two years, this increase in indirect taxation has proved socially perilous by weighing heavily on the purchase power.