10 Years After Sparking Arab Spring, Tunisia Faces Riots Over Faltering Economy

Protests have erupted across Tunisia over dire economic conditions ten years after the small North African country sparked the Arab Spring, and was widely perceived to be its only success.

Photos and videos posted to social media show crowds of mask-clad Tunisians marching in the streets of capital Tunis. According to Tunisian news agency TAP, protests also took place in 12 other cities, including Sousse, Bizerte and Kairouan.

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Tunisian interior ministry on Monday announced the arrest of 632 people during the protests, many of whom were minors. On Sunday, the ministry imposed a curfew from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. citing the need for a "comprehensive quarantine" to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Newsweek has contacted Tunisia's interior ministry for comment.

Tunisian media reported clashes between police and protesters, as well as shop windows broken and tires set ablaze. AFP reported police used tear gas on protesters.

Tunisia has been mired in political and economic crises since its 2011 uprising, dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution."

After toppling autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, Tunisia emerged from the Arab Spring as a democracy, as well as a success story compared to its regional neighbors.

However, the country remains plagued by the paralysis of its political elite. Tunisia's parliament is deeply fragmented and seemingly in perpetual disaccord. Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi—who was appointed in July following the resignation of his predecessor Elyes Fakhfakh—announced a cabinet reshuffle on Saturday.

After a series of terror attacks in 2015 harmed the Mediterranean country's key tourism industry, COVID-19 dealt further blows to an already frail Tunisian economy. Reuters reported the pandemic led Tunisia's tourism revenue to drop by 65 percent in 2020.

According to The Associated Press, the pandemic increased unemployment in the country from 15 percent to 18 percent. AFP reported Tunisia's GDP shrank by 9 percent last year and one third of young people in the country are unemployed.

Tunisia's staggering unemployment rates led protesters seeking jobs to stage sit-ins at the country's sole producer of phosphate last November, bringing production to a halt and causing further damage to the country's economy.

The coronavirus also added further strain onto Tunisia's worsening public services. In December, a young doctor in the neglected Jendouba region plunged to his death after walking into a hospital elevator shaft without a carriage in place.

Tunisia has recorded 180,090 coronavirus cases and 5,692 deaths.

"No fear, no horror, power belongs to the people” dozens of Tunisians demonstrated on Monday in Tunis to condemn violence .
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said that more than 600 young people, mostly aged between 14 and 17 were arrested yesterday .#Tunisie #تونس pic.twitter.com/5IJcsU5Rli

— rabeb aloui (@rabebaloui) January 18, 2021
Tunisian protesters clash with security forces
Protesters stand amidst fumes as they block a street during clashes with security forces in the Ettadhamen city suburb on the northwestwern outskirts of Tunisia's capital Tunis on January 17, 2021, amidst a wave of nightly protests in the North African country. FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images