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Tunisia crisis: ‘Social costs of austerity not on government’s radar’

Monday - 15/01/2018 06:39
Tunisians marked the seventh anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising with a peaceful rally against austerity measures on Sunday, capping a week of sometimes violent protests triggered by tax and price hikes.

The North African country is seen as having enjoyed a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. Seven years later, however, anger over rising prices and the country’s persistent economic problems is again boiling over.

Designed to revive the economy while meeting Tunisia's agreements with international donors, the government's new financial bill came into effect on January 1. Yet after a week of fierce protests, critics say the new measures are only exacerbating the problem.

FRANCE 24 spoke with Max Gallien, a PhD candidate and researcher on the political economy of North Africa at the London School of Economics (LSE), about the economic situation in Tunisia, and how this has informed the current crisis.

FRANCE 24: Rising living costs are seen as the major trigger of the protests in Tunisia; who or what is to blame for the increase?

Max Gallien: It is important to distinguish between this new spike that we are seeing since January 1 – which is partly due to the new measures in the financial law, and also due partly to the response of shops and merchants to increases in taxes and tariffs – and the backdrop of rising inflation in Tunisia over the last few years, connected to the continuous depreciation of the dinar. Tunisia imports a significant amount of food, so this is quite directly influenced by the currency crisis.

Who is to blame? It is a combination of larger macro-economic factors that will be a reality for the foreseeable future, but also government policy that has been fixated on deficit reduction.

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 Key: Tunisia

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