Tunisian youth do more than protest

Tunisian youth do more than protest

Protests in Bardo Square outside the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) building in Tunisia continue in the wake of the assassination of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi on 25 July. The square has been divided between protesters calling for the dissolution of Tunisia’s government and others showing their support for the current government led by the Ennahda party.

Many of the protesters on both sides are youth. And many supported the Jasmine Revolution in January 2011. In order to understand how youth are feeling and what they are doing to help Tunisia work through this difficult time, I spoke with youth council leaders in three different cities —Mohamed Messai in Sousse, Ghada Daly in Sidi Bouzid and Zeinab Aouini in Bizerte.

According to Messai, “Many youth are feeling that Tunisia’s politicians don’t care about the greater interests of our country like the economy.”

“Recall that two years ago, Tunisians demonstrated in the streets of Tunisia, demanding employment and a better economic life. Today many feel these priorities have been forgotten by politicians who seem more concerned about their own political interests,” said Messai.

Youth like Messai are calling upon politicians in this transitory period to use the energy spent fighting over political ideology on the economic development.

Messai and the Sousse Council of Youth Leaders that he is a member of are not just expressing their views through public forums, but are engaging with other stakeholders, including politicians. Recently, they met with Taher Hmila, a spokesperson of the NCA, to discuss many issues, including the legal age at which a candidate can run for election in Tunisia. Although it’s too early to say whether concrete changes will result from the meeting Messai says that, “We should continue to work and be advocates for the issues that affect us — we should never stop.”

Daly agrees with Messai. When asked about recent violence affecting the country, she replied, “Some Tunisians will say that the opposition is responsible for recent violence. But it doesn’t matter. Instead, we need to focus on the future of our country together.”

She further believes that nothing can be done by one group alone. “Tunisia is still in transition and the foundation for a better future can only be built together,” she said.

By “together” Daly doesn’t only mean different political groups but also younger and older generations.
“We [youth] want to be heard by our politicians,” says Daly. To this end, she and the Council of Youth Leaders in Sidi Bouzid have been reaching out to media to make their voice heard on diverse topics ranging from the status of young athletes in their region to the high cost of living.

Other youth are mobilising to work toward the future stability of their country by countering violence head on. In the aftermath of Brahmi’s assassination, Zeinab Aouini took action with the youth council of Bizerte. While she believes efforts to achieve stability require work over both the short and long term, the youth of Bizerte’s Council of Youth Leaders decided to focus on long term stability.

“We are currently developing a project starting with primary schools to integrate classroom activities that teach youth to accept each other, to express their opinion peacefully. In our youth council we are brainstorming what this could look like and simultaneously contacting schools in the region. In early discussions, schools expressed interest in our project and some teachers encouraged us,” according to Aouini.

The youth council leaders in Bizerte are starting their project at the local level, but have high hopes to reach the national level.

Youth leaders from Bizerte, Sidi Bouzid and Sousse have high hopes for their country, and are ready to work toward an inclusive future.

This abridged article is taken from Commonground News Serivces.