Street vendors in Tunisia still struggling
Demonstrations broke out on Thursday (March 14th) following the funeral of 27-year-old Tunisian street vendor Adel Khadri, who set himself on fire to protest his difficult social situation.
The protests occurred in Jendouba, where dozens of youth voiced their concerns over unemployment, El Watan reported.
The day prior, vendors gathered on Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, the same place where Khadri ignited himself, demanding that the new government allocate an organised commercial space for street vendors and provide them with legal licenses to practice their trade.
The incidents came at a time when the intensity of protests has recently increased in a number of Tunisian cities to pressure the new government to create job opportunities and improve the social conditions of marginalised and poor people.
Tunisia's unemployment rate stood at 16.7% in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INS).
That's down from 18.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011, a year after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
Prior to the revolution, illegal vending was concentrated in Boumendil near the city and was under the control of Ben Ali's family.
After the regime's fall, it became available to everyone, attracting many young people to the profession and became ubiquitous due to unemployment and poverty.
Many street vendors agreed that difficult living conditions and the lack of government assistance forced them to take up street vending and to work illegally.
"We are simple citizens. Poverty and helplessness force me to stay out for more than ten hours a day for few dinars," street vendor Ali Bin Mhenni said.
Most street vendors complained about restrictions by municipal security forces. This includes the confiscation of their goods.
Street trader Akrem Barhoumi said that he is forced to change his location many times in the same day because of security agents.
"I have been exercising this profession for more than four years and filed many demands for a license with the relevant authorities. They were all ignored. I have given up hope now and I will continue to play the game of cat and mouse with the municipal police," he said.
"It is at least a decent profession, better than stealing and being a crook," fellow street vendor Ayoub Merdissi told Magharebia.
"It is better to let these people earn their livelihood from their sweat. It is better than seeing them turn into thugs and criminals," one of Merdissi's customers agreed.
Vendor Lasaad Saidi warned the government against continuing to ignore the demands of street traders for an organised space where they can exercise their profession.
"Many vendors share Khadri's low morale. If the government does not intervene to save and organise the livelihoods of these young people, the tragedy will continue," he told Magharebia.
While many young people said they sympathised with the plight facing the Tunis street vendor, they were critical of his way to protest the tough social conditions.
"This is not permissible in our religion and an escape from reality," Lassaàd Gara told Magharebia. "People with weak will resort to these methods; this young man has lost the world and the after world with his irresponsible behaviour."
"It is not by killing yourself that you transmit your message and needs. There is not a life with despair, and we should not give in to difficult conditions and problems," Faycal Abdul Azim told Magharebia.