Tunisia: Economic Challenges Drive Desperation in Kairouan and Beyond

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Economic, Security, Social, Tunisia


On Thursday, 13 April 2023, former professional soccer player Nizar Issaoui died from burns after he lit himself on fire in an act of protest against what he described as the “police state” in Tunisia. Issaoui had posted on Facebook that he had been accused of “terrorism” by local police in the city of Haffouz in Kairouan after he had a conflict with a local fruit seller.

Issaoui had reportedly argued with a local fruit seller about the price of bananas, becoming frustrated at the high price. The government has recently intervened to suppress the price of bananas resulting in many sellers refusing to sell bananas at any price or selling them at inflated prices due to the shortage in the market.

Following his death on Thursday, protests began on the streets Haffouz as frustration mounted. Protesters clashed with police and teargas was deployed. Additional clashes occurred on Friday at Issaoui’s home in Haffouz as mourners gathered for his funeral.

Meanwhile, a lower division Tunisian football club has announced the suspension of their activities and matches after announcing that 32 of their players have chosen to illegally emigrate to Europe. The club, based in Ghardimaou along Tunisia’s border with Algeria in Jendouba, had struggled financially for years, often lacking the ability to provide basic equipment to the players.




As Tunisia’s economic crisis continues without relief, those in the Tunisian countryside are feeling the burden acutely. The agricultural sector has been stumbling as a water shortage limits irrigation, which farmers in rural communities in Kairouan, Jendouba, and elsewhere see directly impacting their livelihoods.

The government’s recent efforts to control prices during Ramadan has had inevitable consequences of creating black markets, graft, and follow-on attempts at market manipulation to compensate. While Issaoui’s frustrations were directed at the police for accusing him of “terrorism,” the conflict stemmed from the strain communities are under due to rising inflation and costs.

We are continuing to watch for indications of growing unrest in Tunisia’s margins. These areas are often overlooked by those in the capital city, but are Tunisia’s traditional heartland and where unrest has historically fomented.


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