Tunisia stands as the only Arab country to have undergone democratization due to the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in the 2010s. Fueled by widespread poverty and a low standard of living, along with many other factors, the nearly month-long campaign of civil disobedience led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, installing a functioning democracy has not alleviated all of the problems that Tunisians faced pre-revolution.

The Jasmine Revolution

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Sidi Bouzid fruit vendor whose goods had recently been confiscated by the local authority, self-immolated outside of the local governor’s office. His sentiments echoed amongst many frustrated with poverty in Tunisia, corruption and the suppression of freedoms. Leading up to the revolution, an increasing number of middle-class citizens expressed dissatisfaction with their living standards. Despite an approximate 7% increase in GDP per capita from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of the country’s middle class that rated themselves satisfied with their current and future prospects dropped from 24% to 14%. Due to other factors such as government corruption, which is not accurately reflected by metrics like GDP, Tunisians felt as if they had little to gain from their country’s economic growth. As a result of these factors, many Tunisians took to the streets soon after Bouazizi’s defiance act.

As riots escalated and protestors were dying under live fire from police, President Ben Ali appeared on national television and made some concessions, reducing food prices and internet usage restrictions. These remarks proved too little too late, however, and the protests continued. By January 14, state media reported the dissolution of Ben Ali’s regime and the establishment of legislative elections. As unrest continued, Ben Ali fled the country. While new leadership took the reformed government’s reins, unrest continued as many of these new politicians were once members of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally. Eventually, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the acting prime minister, announced several figures from other parties in the interim government. He also reemphasized the new government’s pledged efforts to maintain economic prosperity and freer speech. Eventually, the Democratic Constitutional Rally dissolved in the face of continued protests over the inclusion of politicians from the old regime. These reforms within the Tunisian government stood as one of the major catalysts for the Arab Spring protests, a series of demonstrations across the Arab world that demanded alterations to many standing regimes.

Fundamental Changes?

While the Tunisian government changed drastically in the face of civil uprising, Tunisian citizens still face some of the issues that plagued them prior. Socially, there has been continued strife between Islamism and secularism in the country, with violence spreading throughout the country in 2012 regarding the connections between religion and government. While secular parties have slightly outpaced Islamist parties, there have been problems with fundamentalist violence both domestically and abroad—Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Lybia, making up large percentages of their foreign recruits. Additionally, terrorist groups have staged attacks on Tunisian soil, attacking institutions such as museums and resorts.

Economic troubles have also challenged Tunisians—since 2011, nearly 100,000 highly skilled workers and professionals have migrated out of the country. Despite the changes in government, unemployment is still a significant issue. Nearly 23% of university graduates were unemployed right before the onset of the revolution. That figure has since risen to 29%. Government corruption and protracted bureaucracy have done less than initially desired in helping the Tunisian middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, some Tunisians have started to doubt the new government’s effectiveness, with only 46% saying that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” in 2018, dropping from 71% in 2013. Moreover, there has been some support from the international community in alleviating these issues.

The International Labour Organization

A wing of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization has devoted resources towards alleviating some of the poverty in Tunisia and societal issues facing Tunisians. Some initiatives include construction projects, such as a covered market in Sidi Bouzid. These initiatives provide vendors more favorable conditions to sell their goods and provide construction workers with employment. In Regueb, a village near Sidi Bouzid, the ILO implemented the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas, providing around 100 individuals with agricultural skills. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, has endorsed the collaboration of local organizations and the ILO in improving the conditions of Tunisian citizens.

Many challenges face Tunisians in the near future in alleviating the societal and economic issues that stand before the country. However, the success of Tunisians in standing for a reformed government inspired generations across the world. With support from the international community and dedication within the country, a bright future may lie ahead in alleviating poverty in Tunisia.

– Samuel Levine
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in TunisiaThe North African country of Tunisia is sandwiched by two relatively unstable nations, Algeria and Libya. However, Tunisia has had consistent development in human wellbeing for the past couple of decades, ranking among the best nations in Africa. In part, this success can be attributed to Tunisia’s relatively strong healthcare system. According to a World Health Organization report, Tunisia possesses a “national health strategic plan” as well as a relatively high life expectancy at 75 years. Healthcare in Tunisia is a promising sign that the country can adequately support its population and promote longer, healthier lives for its citizens. Here are six facts about healthcare in Tunisia.

6 Facts About Healthcare in Tunisia

  1. More than 90% of the population is covered by health insurance. While some citizens use private insurance, others are covered by programs in place to assist the most disadvantaged in society. However, Tunisia still lacks truly universal coverage. One of the top complaints about healthcare in Tunisia is gaps in payment for important medical procedures, which can burden families.
  2. Tunisia’s 2014 constitution granted healthcare as a human right. The government is still working to make this a reality and provide universal, effective healthcare in Tunisia. Specifically, the government is trying to improve the dilapidated health infrastructure in the south of the country. This manifested in a 9% increase in the healthcare budget in 2016, which went toward improving infrastructure in remote areas.
  3. Private healthcare in Tunisia is booming. In recent years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of private clinics built in the country was expected to surge. Seventy-five new facilities are set to be completed by 2025, doubling the number of hospital beds in the country. These improvements should help make access to quality healthcare more readily accessible to the general population.
  4. Tunisia successfully combated many diseases in the past. Most importantly, Tunisia has been able to eradicate and control many deadly diseases that put a strain on its healthcare system. Malaria, polio and schistosomiasis are well under control. In addition, Tunisia’s healthcare system has worked to address HIV/AIDS.
  5. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia has done relatively well. Sitting at 1,327 confirmed cases and 50 deaths as of July 2020, the country is positioned to recover economically from the virus, which is devastating in other parts of the world. Though it is still early in the pandemic, it appears that the healthcare system in Tunisia was able to absorb the influx of cases in order to slow the death rate.
  6. Robust preventative measures enabled Tunisia’s positive response to COVID-19. Seeing the potential for a rise in cases early on, the government, as advised by healthcare experts, quickly went into a rigorous lockdown that lasted for months. This was especially difficult considering that tourism accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. According to a WHO spokesman, a strong sense of community and respect for the lockdown measures eased the country’s caseload and death toll. Because the Tunisian population was willing to make sacrifices for the broader community, they are now in a comparatively better place than some other nations around the world.

Healthcare is a critical issue for any nation. While there is always room for improvement, Tunisia has succeeded in using its available resources to ensure medical coverage for its people.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Pixabay

Women's Empowerment in TunisiaA lawyer by training and a former militant against the colonialist movement, Béji Caïd Essebsi, current president of Tunisia, has earned himself another title for his resume: women’s rights activist.

Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, is often regarded as a model country for Middle Eastern countries trying to move toward democracy. In a predominantly Muslim country, President Essebsi has been the subject of much criticism due to his support for controversial legislation regarding women’s rights. However, the president maintains that under the country’s constitution, Tunisia is a civil state that emphasizes equality.

In July 2017, Tunisia’s parliament passed an unprecedented legislative package defending women’s rights. The law on violence against women, specifically rape and domestic violence, became a landmark step toward women’s empowerment in Tunisia, as well as all over the Middle East. Including key elements of the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women, the law defines violence as “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychological or economic suffering to the woman, including threats of such aggression, pressure or deprivation of rights and freedoms, both in public and private life.”

Tunisia became the first to overturn the draconian law offering impunity to rapists if they marry their victim of the few countries that still enforced it. Shortly after, Jordan and Lebanon followed suit. In addition, the laws passed by the Tunisian parliament include criminal provisions for violence committed within a family, as well as public sexual harassment. The new law takes important steps to women’s empowerment in Tunisia by requiring equal pay and protection against child employment. The law also includes crucial preventative measures to prevent violence against women, and requires assistance be given to surviving victims of domestic violence.

President Essebsi did not stop there though. In September 2017, he shifted his focus toward administrative orders regarding marriage and inheritance. President Essebsi urged the government to rescind previous law forbidding Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. Additionally, he seeks to allow women to receive equal inheritance as women heirs are currently entitled to only half the inheritance of a man.

While President Essebsi’s emphasis on equality has the potential to empower women in Tunisia, passing a law is only the first step. Changing the way people think about women, not only in Tunisia and the Middle East but all over the world, still promises to be an uphill battle.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Tunisia
Tunisia proved the authority of its democracy when 2010 uprisings overthrew a decade-long dictatorship. That same year, the World Bank found that the poverty rate in Tunisia had been cut in half since the start of the century. Tunisia’s GDP has doubled as it approaches 10 years since that revolution, but rural areas are still stuck in a rut of poverty.

Most economic growth is localized to coastal, urban communities. The agricultural sector only contributes 10 percent to the overall GDP, but 35 percent of the country’s population competes for that small percentage. The result is that two-thirds of the country’s poor population lives in rural, agrarian areas.

Still, Tunisia is considered a success story and role model for other countries fighting poverty. The government implemented programs to improve the national status of education, healthcare and infrastructure after the new democracy took hold in 2011, and the aggregate influence was tangible. But the disparity remains, and the poverty rate in Tunisia is as much as 30 percent higher in some rural regions.


The Devastating Effects of the Poverty Rate in Tunisia


In hard to access areas, potable water and electricity are only available to 65 percent of people. This leaves nearly half of the poor population without water or electricity. The number of women receiving prenatal care is 35 percent lower in rural areas, and infant mortality rates are significantly higher. The Tunisian government has made basic healthcare accessible to all people, regardless of income, so the adverse statistics seem to represent a different problem.

Literacy rates (a strong indicator of poverty) are just above 98 percent for males between 15-24, and near 96 percent for females of the same age across Tunisia. These are promising figures, just like the overall improvement in poverty rate in Tunisia, but again there is a disparity in rural areas. Dropout rates for primary education remain at about 50 percent for the whole country, disproportionately attributed to children in poverty, and especially to girls in rural areas. The statistical stagnancy represents a social emphasis on patriarchy rather than education, and it is more and more clear that one father’s agrarian income can no longer support a family.

Tunisia’s battle against poverty shows that change begins with people. The poverty rate in Tunisia will continue to improve as the people continue to seek self-sufficiency. The civilian uprising that created their new democracy was an inspiration to similar countries, and hope remains that societal examples within that new democracy will make education and health a greater priority in rural areas.

Brooke Clayton

Photo: Google

Causes of Poverty in Tunisia
The pressing issue of poverty in the North African country of Tunisia is one that needs to be addressed. While attempting to understand the causes of poverty in Tunisia, patterns of unemployment, food insecurity and civil unrest have become most apparent.

According to a 2010 estimate, nearly 15.5 percent of Tunisians lived below the poverty line, whereas in 2014 the poverty rate was as high as 24.7 percent. Furthermore, the income inequality in Tunisia is dramatic – the top 20 percent of Tunisians earn 46.3 percent of the national income while the bottom 20 percent earn only 5.9 percent. Poverty, in particular, affects those in central Tunisia at a higher rate than those on the outskirts of the country’s borders.


Leading Causes of Poverty in Tunisia


Hunger is a pressing issue within Tunisia that contributes to poor living conditions for many. Numerous Tunisians are finding that their food is too expensive for them to afford or that it is physically and geographically inaccessible in seasons where food is not abundant. There are many problems associated with malnutrition on such a large scale including limits to economic productivity and increased health costs for many.

Tunisia also has a remarkably high unemployment rate, which affects, in particular, university graduates and women. Tunisia’s sizeable workforce is straining the country’s resources and many young Tunisians have reacted violently against this, which has contributed to the civil unrest that concluded with the revolt against the Ben Ali regime in 2011.

The civil unrest that has plagued Tunisia since 2011 is another one of the major causes of poverty in Tunisia. The political instability that is a result of the Ben Ali regime stems from dissatisfaction with poverty and unemployment that continues to plague many Tunisians. This unrest has since driven away tourists and business investors alike, which has further increased unemployment for Tunisians, as not enough jobs are being created to meet the demands of the growing workforce.

At the moment, it seems that the best way to combat poverty in Tunisia is to address the unemployment and political instability that have contributed to poor living conditions for many of the population. By addressing these two major issues, the lives of many in this country will likely begin to improve as poverty can start to decrease nationwide.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Corruption in TunisiaIn 2010, a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid while protesting a corrupt and undemocratic government. In the proceeding months, popular protests spread like wildfire from the inland region of Tunisia to the coastal capital, and on to Egypt and Syria.

Since then, the country has held its first successful democratic elections. Still, corruption in Tunisia has not subsided. This development has been cynically dubbed the “democratization of corruption.”

The most pernicious form of corruption in Tunisia can be found in the credit industry. In recent years, the government has received between $2 billion and $4 billion worth of foreign loans, which officials then allocate to private banks – usually those with close clientele relationships with the government.

Moving down the line, nepotism also decides which private companies can acquire credit from banks. More often than not, investments end up in the major coastal cities, leaving almost four million rural Tunisians – 35 percent of the population – working and living in only 15 percent of the total Tunisian economy.

Last May, a “Second Revolution” erupted outside Tataouine, a rural city in the south, protesting corruption in Tunisia. Demonstrations called for increased regional investments and jobs and demanded that one local oil company in particular implement employment quotas for Tunisian nationals.

In tandem with the democratization, a number of anti-corruption agencies like the National Authority for the Fight Against Corruption (INLUCC) have been created. In an ironic twist of fate, the current government used the widespread anti-corruption sentiment to accuse recent protesters of colluding with smugglers and violent extremists.

While much of the called-for investments in inland Tunisia may, no doubt, end up in the hands of corrupt officials and businesspeople – just as it does in coastal cities – capital flows will nevertheless begin to amend regional economic disparities and prevent future conflict. Indeed, the World Bank notes that rather than improving since the 2011 revolution, the economic divide between the inland and costal regions has grown more severe.

To fix these problems, the International Crisis Group recommends encouraging the Tunisian government to give more funding to the INLUCC and facilitate an economic dialogue between regional elites. Until corruption in Tunisia is brought to an end, foreign loans will continue to merely stimulate certain segments of the Tunisian economy and exacerbate regional tensions.

Nathaniel Sher
Photo: Flickr

Why is Tunisia Poor

Tunisia is a country of around 11 million people in North Africa. In the past decade, it has emerged as the only success story of the Arab Spring, a revolutionary and democratically-minded movement that swept the Arab world in the early 2010s. So why is Tunisia poor?

In the decade before 2010, Tunisia managed to halve its poverty rate, dropping from 35 percent to 16 percent. This success came from certain important social achievements. Universal access to electricity, high enrollment in primary education and reductions in child malnutrition were significant factors. However, these trends seemed to stall after 2010, and the poverty rate has remained fairly stagnant.

Despite the poverty reduction and economic growth, inequality has also increased. Many investments in the early 2000s moved from high-skill jobs to low-skill ones. Tunisia also lacks a significant social security system and unemployment insurance. Investments typically happen in coastal regions, which increases regional wealth disparities.

In central Tunisia, poverty and and unemployment rates are several times higher than the national average. Some experts worry that the lack of infrastructure and jobs will create a breeding ground for extremism that could threaten Tunisia’s progress.

But why is Tunisia poor in certain areas? Several factors contribute to overall unequal opportunity in Tunisia. Where you live and the circumstances you were born into can determine how long you attend school and whether you have access to water. Additionally, Tunisia falls behind most other Middle Eastern and North African countries when it comes to sanitation.

Certain facts about an individual household in Tunisia can determine whether the family is impoverished. The educational attainment of the head of the household and the ratio of male to female employees are some indicators. Additionally, the ratio of the food budget spent on inexpensive cereal products can also indicate a level of poverty. Finally, households with fewer children are also less likely to be impoverished.

Thankfully, with successes both in reducing poverty in the past and in the Arab Spring, the people of Tunisia have proved that they can achieve incredible social victories. The International Monetary Fund has also recently lent Tunisia $2.9 billion to help address the issue of poverty.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Tunisia's Human Rights
In 2011, Tunisia was embroiled in revolution, eventually leading to the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the formation of a new, free, republic. Although Tunisia’s new government may be free, there is no guarantee that it will have a stellar human rights record. Following the revolution, Tunisia’s human rights record has been imperfect, and its new government still has issues to work out.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report, the biggest threat to human rights in Tunisia is the current nationwide state of emergency, which has been in effect since November 2015. Through this state of emergency, the government military force has been granted an expansion of powers in order to deal with the threat of the Islamic State along Tunisia’s borders. Instead, the military has used its power to take away the human rights and freedom of Tunisian citizens. Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which was created to address Tunisia’s human rights violations, reported that it has received reports of more than 62,000 human rights violations.

Among said human rights violations include arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment, discrimination and the banning of assembly and free speech. Since the start of the state of emergency, there have been thousands of arrests and house searches, often without a warrant. Accompanying these arrests is a sense of intimidation and harassment, where law enforcement and military officials are threatening people in the name of counter-terrorism. Tunisian citizens are stereotyped, men in long beards and women in religious clothing are explicitly monitored and treated harshly and their homes are searched. These unlawful searches and arrests go against key human rights, including the right to work and freedom of movement – further injuring Tunisia’s human rights record.

The Human Rights Watch notes that Tunisia has been trying to prevent torture and ill treatment towards detainees in their prisons, with the National Constituent Assembly creating a High Authority for the Prevention of Torture, which elected 16 members in March 2016. Using unannounced inspections, torture in prisons and detention sites can be reduced. However, the Tunisian government is still unsure of how to preserve the human rights of citizens in police custody as reports of ill treatment by judges and police officers rise.

Addressing these reports, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended, among other suggestions, that Tunisia should increase accountability amongst these police officers and judges by raising awareness of human rights. Thus, while the government continues to stabilize and search for ways to stem Tunisia’s human rights violations in the midst of the country’s ongoing state of emergency, there is hope that the treatment of its citizens will continue to improve.

Rachael Blandau

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Tunisia
Water quality in Tunisia has been a long-standing problem in the country located in the northernmost part of Africa. Data indicates that most water resources are polluted and that the majority of these pollutants stem from wastewater discharge, industrial effluents and agricultural activities. Although efforts have been made within the last decade to create wastewater facilities, overall the quality of the water remains poor and could continue to worsen if more is not done to reverse the increasing pollution.

There is a large demand for water that has not been polluted—per capita renewable water resources are 489 cubic meters per year for a population of 9.6 million people. The annual per capita water scarcity threshold is 1,000 cubic meters, making Tunisia’s 489 cubic meters far below what is accepted. In addition, 16% of withdrawn water goes to households, tourism and industrial uses, while a whopping 84% is used for agricultural irrigation. Water used for agricultural purposes has doubled in the past 15 years.

Various government strategies and activities have been implemented in regard to the water quality in Tunisia and how to better protect its water resources. Water quality management is dispersed among a few institutions. The Ministry of Agriculture’s role is planning and managing the water sector, while the Ministry of Environment controls water pollution sources, among other responsibilities.

Recently, efforts have been made to improve water quality in Tunisia by Japan, which has granted the country credit for construction of a seawater desalination plant in Sfax, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This credit has been given more specifically to the National Water Supply and Distribution Company, also known as SONEDE. The amount of the grant is about 780 million dinars (MD) and will be paid back over 25 years with a seven-year grace period, at an interest rate of 1.7%.

This credit will reinforce the capacity and water quality in Tunisia that is used for drinking by helping SONEDE provide 100,000 tons of water to the region of Greater Sfax, which is the second-largest city in the country. This credit will come to the aid of one million people residing in Sfax.

Sabri Bachtobji, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, stated that the grant given to construct a seawater desalination plant in Tunisia is the first Japanese commitment that is part of the promises given at the TUNISIA 2020 Conference on Investment that was held in November 2016.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Pixabay

Tunisia is a small, African nation located on the Mediterranean Sea and nestled between Algeria and Libya that transitioned to a democracy after the 2011 Arab Spring and adopted a progressive constitution in 2014. In the same year, it held elections to elect a president. Its location makes it a favorite point for refugees in Tunisia, but most see it as a transit country.

10 Facts About Refugees in Tunisia

  1. Before 2011, only 100 refugees arrived each year in Tunisia. These refugees came primarily from Algeria, other western African countries, and Palestine.
  2. During the height of the Arab Spring in Libya in 2011, some 990,900 people (10 percent of Tunisia’s population) crossed the border into Tunisia. However, 77 percent of the Libyans who became refugees in Tunisia later returned to Libya.
  3. Since 2011, there has been a steady decrease in the number of “persons of concern” — a designation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugees, returnees, stateless people and asylum-seekers — in Tunisia. The number of Tunisian refugees in 2017 is close to 1,000.
  4. Libyans arriving in Tunisia have three months before they must apply for a work permit from the Ministries of Interior. An organization called International General Services was created in Tunisia to assist refugees in becoming more self-reliant. Refugees sign one-year contracts with the service organization for jobs in fields such as maintenance in electricity and air conditioning.
  5. Tunisian refugees often arrive after being rescued from sea trying to get to Europe. Of the 900 people rescued by this method in 2015, 147 people claimed asylum in Tunisia.
  6. At the beginning of 2015, 80 percent of those who boarded boats in Libya and arrived in Tunisia were economic migrants looking for a better life. The remaining 20 percent were Eritrean, Somalian and Syrian refugees. The UNHCR assists Tunisia in determining if the person is a migrant or a refugee.
  7. Tunisian refugees have access to French and English language classes and may enroll in Information Technology training in the towns of Medenine and Ben Guerdane.
  8. The UNHCR is assisting Tunisia in drafting a new asylum law. Until that time, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination.
  9. All elementary school-aged refugees are enrolled in primary school once they have reached Tunisia.
  10. All asylum seekers in Tunisia receive health care. UNHCR covers the cost of primary and emergency visits through their partner, Tunisian Red Crescent.

Tunisia has seen the number of refugees increase greatly since 2011, and then decrease to a much smaller number today. The country’s location attracts both migrants and refugees. It has promised to adopt a national asylum law soon, which will take the burden away from the UNHCR as the sole entity conducting refugee interviews.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr