Widespread protests force Tunisian army deployment

The Tunisian government deployed over 2,000 troops this week as protests over increased taxes spread. Government officials indicated the army will be protecting government installations, following an incident in which protesters burned a security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting police to flee.

Over the weekend, several opposition activists were arrested in the capital of Tunis after protesting a new government taxation on basic goods. The wave of protests comes on the heels of the seven-year anniversary of the death of Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire in protest of the government’s policies. Bouazizi’s death on Jan. 4, 2011 – which helped spark protests that spread across the Middle East – is a highly emotive date for Tunisians.

The government’s response has been heavy-handed. The arrests sparked widespread condemnation and rallies across Tunisia. In response, the government deployed the military to several major towns and arrested hundreds of activists. Tunisian leaders insist the new taxes are necessary to satisfy international lenders and stabilize the economy; Tunisians have pointed to the new taxes as emblematic of a failed and oppressive government.

The army has deployed to at least four towns: Thala, Sousse, Bizerte, and Kebili. Protests are ongoing in the capital, as well as Sfax, Ettadhamen, Béja, Siliana, Mahdia, and Nabeul.

Protests are concentrated on the coast, but have also worryingly spread to Tunisia’s western border with Algeria, where the Islamic State has strong support. The Islamic State group has been known to recruit heavily in Kasserine, one of the western towns where protests have erupted. Tunisia, particularly areas near Kasserine, produced more Islamic State fighters than any other country, according to UN data cited by the Washington Post. Many could return home as other fronts quiet.

Protests in areas near Kasserine have already turned violent. In nearby Thala, security forces withdrew after protesters set a headquarters on fire.

Protests may intensify in the coming days, as Jan. 14 marks the anniversary of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 2011 ouster.

Sources
Tunisia protests: authorities accused of indiscriminate crackdownThe Guardian
Tunisian army has been deployed in several cities as violent protest escalated (Arabic), Youm7
The Tunisian town where ISIS makes militantsCNN
Please click individual cities on the interactive map to access online sources. 

Alexandra Gutowski is the senior military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Grant Rumley is a research fellow at FDD.

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