Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Uneven development, neglect of rural populace drove the Tunisian revolution

NPR's Eric Westervelt filed this report about the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" yesterday under the headline, "Rural Tunisians Hope Revolt Brings Jobs, Opportunity." The story's lede, which follows, elaborates on the rural angle, noting that the uprising began in rural Tunisia, where it is seen as a "jobs revolution."

Pent-up fury in the country's rural interior over endemic unemployment, and a long-standing sense of regional inequality, fueled the nationwide revolt. Protests in the capital by students and many from the country's middle classes played a key role in toppling the autocrat. But it all began — and casualties were by far the highest — in the rural hinterlands.

The story seems to be one echoed in so many countries in the developing world: uneven development leaves rural residents jobless and, ultimately, hopeless. This was a theme, for example, of the 2010 uprising in Thailand, which was ultimately squelched. (An earlier blog post about the Thai situation is here, and a recent update is here.)

Back to Tunisia, Westervelt quotes Taoufik Hamdouni, 29, who lives in the same village as the man who set himself on fire after he was humiliated by a local official who was harassing him about his vegetable stall in Sidi Bouzid, which according to wikipedia has a population under 4,000. Hamdouni says:

"Ben Ali was stupid because he was not interested in the center or south of the country," Hamdouni says. "We've been marginalized for a long, long time. You see the differences between the regions. Even those of us with degrees have to look for work in the tourist towns as laborers and such, and we get bossed around by people who aren't even educated."

Seething anger at a sense of regional neglect was exacerbated by widespread local corruption, says Hamdouni's friend Marwan Chokri. Local government and party officials would shake you down or ask for a kickback to get an interview, to get to the top of the list, to get a license — you name it, he says.

* * *

Ben Ali came from the Tunisian coast, so there was an added sense in the rural areas that the ousted dictator favored the coastal resort towns while people here got nothing.

The U.N. estimates unemployment among the country's young rural population at greater than 25%, but Tunisians believe it is much higher.

Westervelt concludes, quoting a resident of Sidi Bouzid, that if the revolution does not lead to job creation, it will be seen as a failure.

1 comment:

D'Arcy said...

The Tunisian experience reminds me this week of Cynthia Duncan’s "Worlds Apart". She describes the difference in living conditions in rural Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta verse northern New England as partly due to the division of class. Where the poor and rich were more segregated (Appalachia and Delta) the rural poor suffered from deeper poverty and less opportunity than in the revers situation in New England. Moreover, wealthy persons were more likely to think negatively of the poor in segregated regions. Applied on the larger scale in Tunisia, class and space segregations produced reminiscent results. Physical and psychological separation of resource rich urban centers and poor rural communities ultimately resulted in disparities in quality of life that sparked revolution.