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Tunisia announces new social reforms
January 21, 2018, 1:02 pm

Seven years after the Arab Spring upheavals in the region, Tunisia, which is seen as the birthplace of that uprising, last week announced a new set of social reforms. The government announcement came as anti-austerity protests continued to rock the capital and other cities in Tunisia.

Announcing the new measures, the country’s Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi said the reforms package were aimed at improving care for the needy and enhancing access to healthcare. He revealed that the new plan would increase monthly benefits to low-income families from roughly $60 per month to $85 and that in total the social reforms package would cost the government in excess of 170 million dinars ($70 million). "This will directly benefit around 250,000poor and middle class families," said the minister.

The announcement came after Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi met with labor unions, political parties and companies to discuss e anti-austerity protests triggered by tax increases that took effect from January 1. "We discussed the general situation in the country and the reforms, especially socio-economic, that must be adopted to overcome the current problems," said Wided Bouchamaoui, who heads the UTICA employers' federation.

January marks the seventh anniversary of anti-government protests led to the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East. Protest organizers have called for mass demonstrations to mark the anniversary, saying that since the Arab Spring there have been nine governments in Tunisia, all of whom failed to rectify the socio-economic imbalances prevailing in society.

On another front, the authorities moved swiftly to quash anti-government protests that began last Friday, with the interior ministry revealing that 800 people had been arrested on suspicion of engaging in violent acts during the week's protests, including rioting and looting.

Tunisians have held rallies across the country to protest the government's new austerity measures, aimed at minimizing the country's deficit. The Tunisian people have become increasingly angry since the government said it would increase the price of petrol, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items from January 1.

Tunisia's has been in economic crisis since 2011, when the Arab Spring uprising unseated the government. Two major militant attacks in 2015 also greatly damaged the country's tourism industry, which made up eight percent of gross domestic product. Many people face unemployment, with official figures put the unemployment rate at around 15 percent.

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