Co-founder Yassin Ouerghi cited a few of the 22 economic and social demands listed in the campaign. These include an increase in the minimum wage to 600 Tunisian Dinar ($200), an increase in the state pension to 400 TND ($135), a strategy for employment, a reduction in the cost of basic necessities, improved living standards, a halt to the privatisation of public companies, urgent reforms in the health, education and public transportation sectors, and – last, but not least – a clampdown on corruption.

The demands come amid widespread dissatisfaction with the countryʹs economic state, in an effort to raise the minimum conditions for a decent life and to elevate the aspirations of the young people.

Eight years after the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia has failed to realise all of the revolutionary ideals, although nine governments have come to power since 2011. While it has succeeded in achieving a democratic transition, its economy has been hit hard, witnessing record levels of inflation (close to 8%) and unemployment (over 15%, with 30% affecting young graduates) and the ongoing collapse of the dinar.

Yassin Ouerghi holding photo of co-founder Bourhan al-Ajlani, currently in detention (photo: Alessandra Bajec)
Too much of a threat? Co-founder Bourhan al-Ajlani was arrested shortly after the Red Vests launch. Well connected with the revolutionary youth in Kasserine, it was arguably Bourhanʹs militant political activism that led to his detention. "When news of the Red Vests spread, those at the top started to become afraid. They realised that if the Yellow Vest phenomenon is on the rise in France, the same can happen in Tunisia where people are even more fed up!" says his brother Ghassen

Confronting the political status quo

The North African state has implemented a set of tough austerity measures such as increasing taxes and cutting fuel subsidies, which has pushed up fuel and energy prices several times, in order to fulfil donorsʹ demands to reform its economy and cut its budget deficit amid the chaos that followed the ousting of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Against this background, the Red Vests have emerged to confront the political status quo. During a press conference on 14 December, campaign activists declared that the group was planning peaceful protests in the Tunisian hinterland. A first protest against rising prices and deteriorating purchase power was staged on 17 December in Kasserine to coincide with the 8th anniversary of the Tunisian uprising.

"We want to be the voice of the marginalised and impoverished classes," stated activist Jrad during the press conference. Then: "we demand development, better living conditions for Tunisians, and fight against price hikes. The government and the whole political class have failed."

"Since the revolution weʹre free to speak up, but whatever we say falls on deaf ears. The politicians donʹt listen to us," complains Shili Lassaad, a young man whoʹs thinking of joining the Red Vests movement, "thatʹs why these Tunisian youths have come to the fore to take action."

Having submitted their demands to the Tunisian authorities, the Red Vest campaigners plan to hold a sit-in – "Kasbah 3" – in front of the governmentʹs headquarters. Date to be announced.

Alessandra Bajec

© 2019

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