The country′s economic decline resulted in a huge mountain of debt. Unemployment rose, the country′s middle classes were increasingly eroded and the regional divides between the better-off coastal areas and the economically underdeveloped interior widened. 

Debt in itself does not necessarily present a problem, as long as it serves the creation of jobs and general prosperity. But here, the government borrowed increasing amounts to cover the budget deficit, rather than investing the money in the country′s development.

Tunisia now finances itself primarily through the scant support from its western partners and through taking on more debt. A major source of income is the money it receives via programmes and agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), most recently three billion US dollars in May 2016. This took Tunisia′s foreign debt from 22.6 billion dollars in 2011 to 28.1 billion dollars by the end of 2016. A leap of around six billion dollars within five years: the national debt looks worryingly likely to pass the 30 billion mark in 2018.

Inadequate reactions exacerbate the situation

Tunisian parliament in Tunis (photo: AP)
Massive trust deficit: "Parliament′s actions, the government′s explanations, the way that each faction has tried to blame the other and the heavy-handed response by the security forces, involving violence and arrests, had the combined effect of increasing protesters′ frustration still further and causing some demonstrations to escalate into violence," writes Ismael Dbara

Neither the government nor the opposition has reacted to the latest protests, which were spread geographically across 16 government districts, in an adequate fashion. Parliament′s actions, the government′s explanations, the way that each faction has tried to blame the other and the heavy-handed response by the security forces, involving violence and arrests, had the combined effect of increasing protesters′ frustration still further and causing some demonstrations to escalate into violence.

The government, under Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, has been waging a "war on corruption" for the past year and has now arrested a few high-ranking members of smuggling networks. But the fact that some senior members of his own party defended those who had been arrested, because of their relationships with them, caused outrage among the people of Tunisia.

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