How the freest Arab country is doing five years after the Jasmine Revolution

Five years after the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia is considered the only free Arab country, according to Freedom House report of 2015. But taking a look back at the period that followed the revolution, it seems that the country has encountered more challenges than any other in the region, especially with recent incidents.

On Jan. 16, an unemployed young person from Kasserine in west-central Tunisia, Ridha Yahiaoui, died after climbing a power pole and being electrocuted.

Yahiaoui has recently discovered that his name, among others, was removed from the list of cases that were to be submitted to the Prime Ministry to ameliorate their situation, according to the secretary-general of the Union of Unemployed Graduates Salem Ayari.

Yahiaoui did not commit suicide. He was rather trying to showcase his current situation.

Kasserine is one of the birthplaces of the Jasmine Revolution that resulted in overthrowing ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Jan. 15, 2011.

According to Hashem Ahelbarra, a roving Middle East correspondent for Al Jazeera English, it counts 30 percent of unemployment rate, twice the one at the national level.

The incident triggered several protests across the country. Over 150 demonstrated in the capital, while in Kasserine, the police had to use tear gas to disperse the angry crowds.

The situation escalated quickly, resulting in imposing a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. across the country. The curfew did not come as a surprise for the citizens as it is the government’s usual response to any event as such. Tunisia is still in a state of emergency due to the bombing of the presidential guard bus Nov. 24 that resulted in 12 deaths.

Following the turmoil, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi gave a speech Jan. 20 in a press briefing. “We inherit a situation in Tunisia where there are 700,000 unemployed among which 250,000 are recent graduates. Some regions are poor and others are marginalized, these are the challenges Tunisia is facing,” he said.

“It's true that there are events, but we respect the freedom of expression, freedom of demonstration and freedom of organization. The president is the guarantor of respect for these freedoms, but I must say that we also have excessive freedom of means of expression whether print, film or still spoken and we respect this,” President Essebsi added.

And concerning the demonstrations, the 89-year-old head of state said: “These events may be excessive but there are reasons behind them,” adding “the movement is understandable, but it should not be dramatized.”

Many described his speech as weak and generic, considering that he failed to convince citizens that the actions undertaken by the current government of Habib Essid are effective and will resolve the crisis. He is blamed for focusing on freedom of expression while it is an obvious problem of unemployment.

And this is not the first time that the president’s words were met with criticism. A few months back, Essebsi lost the trust of many due to his biased position in the ruling party Nidaa Tounes, which he founded in 2012.

Despite the bitterness that many expressed toward the overall situation in Tunisia, citizens remain optimistic concerning the future. When asked, they say it is a long process and they always look ahead.

One would say strolling in the streets of downtown Tunis and seeing music bands performing under the warm sun of the city gives a deeper understanding of the country’s true spirit.