Keyword in Focus

Keyword in Focus: Tunisia

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Too few jobs or too many graduates? Image: courtesy of Stefano Benetti

“A socio-economic oasis in a political desert”: this is how Diogo Noivo describes Tunisia in a 2009 briefing paper for the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS). It got about by now that the notorious tourist destination is not a paradise for critical spirits and democratically-minded people. But now it seems that even the socio-economic oasis Tunisia was supposed to be is drying out.

A desperate, unemployed university graduate, who was denied the right to have a vegetable stall on the local market in a provincial town and slapped and insulted by the police, burnt himself in protest. Demonstrations organized by otherwise loyal trade unions were not crushed by the government’s security forces for a change and the autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali reacted to the protests by firing his youth minister and allocating more money for the country’s youth programs. However, the angry crowd didn’t let itself calm down by this and Ben Ali returned to his old methods: guns and batons.

In this excellent report, the German-language Swiss public radio reveals the socio-economic causes of this unrest: Tunisia’s good education system brings out tens of thousands of university graduates every¬† year, which the country’s low-tech industries such as textiles and cheap tourism can’t absorb. Whereas unemployment rates are relatively low in the coastal areas in the north and north-east of the country, they are much higher in the inner regions.

Neighboring Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi contributes to the labor market crisis by unpredictably opening and closing the borders to his country. Libya would badly need qualified professionals, according to the correspondent.

With the ISN’s recent editorial contribution in mind, I draw the following two conclusions:

  1. The socio-economic situation in Tunisia is a good case in point of how a society can over-educate its people, as argued by Alison Wolf in this ISN Podcast.
  2. Stopping crime – or in this case unrest – is not only about batons and guns but also about creating jobs that appeal to our youth, as Viridiana Rios wrote in relation to drug dealing in this recent ISN Insight.

For further information on Tunisia, click the respective country keyword in our Digital Library and you’ll find related publications, web links, news articles and organizations.

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