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Tunisia Protests Ramping Up Again
December 2, 2012

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The streets in a few Tunisia cities are alive with protests again, nearly two years after the so-called Jasmine Revolution ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Most notably, a group of disaffected youths rioted in the streets of Siliana, a large city southwest of Tunis, the capital, in search of a a voice for their protests of continued unemployment. For these youths, the promise of new democratic freedom has not brought with it a firm economic outlook. In part because of a sharp drop in tourism from Europeans staying home because of their own economic woes, Tunisia has seen a rise in unemployment to an average of 17 percent, with some areas seeing as many as 30 percent of the working population unable to find steady work.

President Moncef Marzouki, elected on the promise of leading the country forward, has presided over little economic growth, despite the approval of a $500 million loan from the World Bank. Marzouki's most recent strategy has been to call for the resignation of his Cabinet. In addition, he sent government troops to Siliana to quell the rioting, which injured 300 people in the end and resulted in police firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Ben Ali, who had ruled since 1987, had long suppressed opposition movements and had enjoyed the backing of western nations, including France and the United States. However, the powerful combination of pressure from large groups of young people, labor unions, a growing number of the nation's elite (including, at one point, 95 percent of the nation's lawyers going on strike), and the armed forces convinced Ben Ali to abandon his post and flee, to Saudi Arabia.

A series of caretaker leaders presided over the transition to democracy, and street protests, both large and small, continued intermittently. Many of the protesters called for Ben Ali's party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, to leave the government entirely. A federal court formally dissolved the party a few months after Ben Ali fled.

Marzouki, a longtime opposition leader, was elected in December 2011.

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