Protests Erupt In Tunisia Amidst Tax Increases

Protests have erupted in Tunisia over the past week, following announcements of a new government budget that has increased taxes on a number of goods and services in a country that is already suffering from rising unemployment, poverty, and inflation, despite being one of the only stable democracies to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.

The new budget went into effect on the 1st of January, as per the 2018 Finance Act, and raised prices for fruits, vegetables, internet usage, petrol, hospitality services, housing, phone cards, and other goods and services to the anger of Tunisians, many of whom already struggle to live off of the minimum wage. Major protests began in ten towns across the country a week after the budget went into effect, and are currently ongoing.

Since the Arab Spring uprisings replaced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia has had seven different prime ministers – including current incumbent Youssef Chahed – none of whom have been able to solve the country’s growing economic crisis as of yet. Chahed has stated that with these tax increases Tunisians would experience their “last difficult year,” as the economy stabilizes over the course of 2018. Inflation in the country has risen to over 6%, along with a $US5.8 billion trade deficit in 2017, which has put considerable strain on Tunisians’ livelihoods.

Taxes were increased primarily at the behest of the International Monetary Fund who agreed to extend Tunisia’s four year $US2.9 billion loan in 2016, provided the government works to curb unemployment and public sector spending, hiring, and wage growth. The IMF has also recommended Tunisia grow the private sector and implement structural reforms to help with the 12% unemployment rate and to help grow and strengthen the economy overall.

However, these changes have prompted outcries from the public, and in particular young people, many of whom have steadily grown discontented with a government they believe does not understand the difficulties of life for the poor and marginalized in the country.

Protesters took to the streets bearing slogans stating “I Will Not Forgive” and “What Are We Waiting For?” and were met across the country by police. One 55-year-old man in the town of Tebourba was injured and died in hospital, likely due to tear gas inhalation, according to the Tunisian Ministry of Interior. Five others were also injured in the demonstration along with many more across Tunisia.

The opposition party leader Hamma Hammami has encouraged Tunisians to continue to protest the new austerity measures, and “increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law is dropped.”

While Tunisia’s economy is in need of growth and strengthening and cannot sustain as it is indefinitely, the poor and marginalized are most at risk as a result of the new financial laws and further change needs to take into account the economic disparities and inequalities present in Tunisia.

Ashika Manu