Protests have erupted in Tunisia over the death of the journalist Abderrazek Zorgui who set himself on fire. Before he died, he had posted a video on social media saying he would set himself alight due to the difficult social circumstances experienced by him and his family. Tunisia’s national journalists’ union said in a statement that Mr. Zorgui died “due to harsh social circumstances and a lack of hope.”
While the Tunisian authorities have launched an investigation, the move did not dissuade people from protesting. So far, 22 demonstrators have been arrested. The developments in the past three days resemble the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze in Tunis in 2010 – the incident that was largely seen as a trigger for the Arab Spring uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. The unrest following Mr. Bouazizi’s death eventually led to the toppling of the longtime autocratic leader, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia has been regarded as a zone of relative stability in the region but while the country has made advances towards democracy, Tunisia’s economy has struggled and joblessness has remained high. Mr. Zorgui’s self-immolation “is a sign of rejection of a catastrophic situation, regional imbalances, high unemployment among young people and the misery in which our fellow citizens live in the interior regions,” the Tunisian newspaper Le Quotidien said.
Alongside Morocco, Tunisia is a rare bastion of stability in North Africa and the European Union has invested in its stability and economic development. Tunisia’s secular model is seen as precious at a time when other formerly secular countries in the Muslim world, such as Turkey, are playing with Islamism. Tunisia’s new 2017 law enshrines women’s rights by criminalizing marital rape and sexual harassment, making gender-based wage discrimination illegal and raising the age of consent for women to 16.