The Main Catalysts of the Tunisian Revolution

The Main Catalysts of the Tunisian Revolution


Title of Course

Instructor’s Name



Since 2010, the world has witnessed a number of revolutions soar through a number of Arab nations, with Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia being some of the most widely known revolutions. Some of these revolutions have taken these countries to the verge of collapse; take, for instance, Libya and Egypt. It is perhaps then understandable that the origin of this contagious fever, Tunisia, was overshadowed. However, the tranquil and small North African country is indeed where all of this begun. The unrelenting and bold protests in Tunisia that lasted over two months brought down one of the longest regimes in the world, that of Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali, and inspired other Arab nations throughout the continent to revolt against their tyrant rulers and fight for their freedom.

It all started on 17th of December 2010 when a 26-year-old man called Mohamed Bouazizi ignited a fuse that eventually burn him to death and ignited some of the worst revolutions in the Middle East. He was a street businessperson who set himself on fire in protest after the local authorities took away his wheelbarrow filled with his day’s work, and humiliated him in public. The sad circumstances surrounding his death are what sparked the unrest that swept across his hometown. The protests rapidly spread to the capital of Tunis and other areas. Soon the government responded to these riots with more violence, repression, arrests, and the eventual shutdown of the internet. By the time the president and his cabinet came up with a better response, it was too late and too little, as the protests continued and spilled over to 2011. This forced the president and his family to flee.

This paper, therefore, will look into the major issues and events that sparked and fueled this revolution in Tunisia. To address this more comprehensively, the paper will discuss three main catalysts that will further be broken into other categories for a more comprehensive coverage. The three main catalysts that the paper will cover will include the high unemployment rate, corruption and lack of political freedom. Lastly, the paper will tie together all these points to make a conclusion that will summarize all these events. The research question in this case is what the main catalysts of the Tunisian revolution were.

High Unemployment Rate

As of 2010, the unemployment rate in Tunisia was about 13 percent, the highest ever seen in the nation for a long time even despite the fact that the literacy levels among the young people is high. Analysts thought that this was one of the major catalysts of the unrest in the North African country. 13 percent of the Tunisians were officially out of unemployment, and the figure s even larger when it came to young people, and even larger for students who had recently graduated. The Tunisian riot police struggled to overcome hundreds of troops of labor activists surrounding the main headquarters of the trade union in Tunis to prevent youths from breaking out to riot against the high unemployment rates in the nation in 2010. Analysts indicated that police were hemming more than 2000 demonstrators at one time in front of the trade union offices, and that a number of people were injured. The police had to cut off all areas and roads leading to the offices to prevent the riots from reaching the unionists. Heavy security had to be deployed around the trade union headquarters to prevent more violent scuffles from happening between the rioters and the police.

These sparks of riots begun in December of 2010 when the 26-year-old man set himself on fire in the streets after city officials harassed him and took away his wares in the city. Mohamed Bouazizi was born in Tunisia in Sidi Bouzid in 84. When his father died, circumstances forced his mother marry his uncle, and the family lived in poverty for a long time. The young man struggled and attained a university degree, which he was not able to use because he could not find work. Because his uncle was always in poor health, the young man had to work to provide for his family, and despite the fact that his level of education was high, he had to work as a street fruit vendor for a living.

Mohamed lived in a home in a rural town in Tunisia ridden with corruption and high unemployment rates among the youth estimated at about 30 percent. He was a computer graduate who despite all of his efforts could not secure any employment and resulted to selling fruits on a cart in the streets. As a result, of his acts, other young people started to riot angry at what the police had done, and desperate because life in Tunisia had become unbearable with no employment. The police shot a man dead as thousands of angry young people attacked offices of the ruling party and police cars in Menzel Bouzaine. These riots came shortly after another young man had climbed on an electric pole in the home town of Mohamed and electrocuted himself to death, claiming that he had gotten tired of being poor and unemployed.

This obviously led to more outbursts and increased public anger over the failure of the government to provide its citizens with employment and means of earning a living. Responding to this anger, the cabinet and the president met, after which the development minister Mohamed Jouini traveled to the small town to announce that the government was starting an employment program worth 10 million shillings in the region. He recognized the fact that the demonstrators had legitimate reasons to demand for employment. The unemployment rates in Tunisia have we have already seen are at more than 13 percent and the most affected are the university graduates. The country’s economy is mainly fed by exports to Europe, tourism and remittances. The low employment rates have led to its economy to grow at extremely low rates. For instance, in 2010, the economy grew to 3.8 per cent from the past year’s 3 percent growth. Obviously, such small economic growth is not sufficient to reduce the high unemployment rates. Another compliant that also acted as a catalyst to the riots was that government did not share the prosperity of the nation evenly between the poor interior cities and the richer coastal cities.


According to a number of reports, a high level of corruption was another significant factor that incited the Tunisian revolution in 2010. Although the transparency index ranked the country as one of the least corrupt nations in the North African region, it still ranked it among the most corrupt nations in the world. According to the reports, there are a number of levels of corruption in Tunisia that angered the public. The first was the kind of corruption found in all levels of government. The president, his, family, and his close aides were among the world’s worst corrupt individuals, who ensured a repressive government to enable them to loot and steal money from the public. Several sources rumored that President Ali and his family exploited the Tunisian economy for their personal gain. Despite economic legislation that was increasingly liberal, all the main decisions and especially those that had to do with privatization and investment were made by the highest levels of the government, and sometimes by the president himself. This arrangement made it possible for the president, and his family, including the family of his wife to become increasingly aware of, and show interest in, and to take hold of virtually every significant sector of the nation’s economy. This made it difficult for individuals who did not have any connections with the president’s family and his aides to survive economically, or to obtain any employment or permit to operate a business or company. Moreover, allegations arose that the president, his family and close aides owned a large part of the nation’s valuable assets ranging from supermarkets, telecommunications, resorts, hotels and beaches. This did not go well with the public especially after they were convinced that their first lady was a thirsty, and influential wealth animal.

Another form of corruption that incited public anger in Tunisia was the one that involved basic extortion and bribery, which was common among the security forces and the police. The police image in Tunisia seems like one that includes a police officer on each corner and street whose job seems like to check paperwork, intimidate citizens and identification cards. Any kind of infraction can lead to the authorities taking one’s documents, which requires money to resolve. For a small fee, most opt to pay up to avoid any potential negative outcome and proceed normally. The police in the country get low salaries, and it is no surprise that they have taken to harassing civilians for small bribes, as was way of coping with the rising living costs. An example, of this form of corruption is one Mohamed met in the streets when the city authorities started harassing and intimidating him because he had no money to bribe them. This led to him lighting himself on fire and the consequent unrest.

Lack of Political Freedom

Another extremely critical cause of unrest in Tunisia was lack of political freedom. The nation’s resident was widely known for his repression on freedom of expression. Out of 178 countries, the world press freedom ranked the nation in the position 154 regarding press freedoms. The president was intolerant of personal and press opinions and views on the manners of governance or living conditions in the country. This repression was so deep- rooted such that Tunisia was the only Arab country widely known for its absence of opposition or rebels. The regime imprisoned and later executed the individuals the government and the authorities caught opposing the government, for instance, the opposition movement of his rule that of 1992. In addition to this, instances of opposition groups arrested and tortured existed throughout his rule. As a result, the Tunisians were afraid to oppose their president and the government denied them their rights and freedom for a long time.

Over the years, President Ali established the most authoritarian and repressive regimes in the region. The wholesale and systematic political and civilian repression stopped any expression of discontent and dissent and encouraged the increase of corruption at all government levels. In spite of the intimidation that was widespread, the lack of political freedoms, violation of human rights and endemic corruption, the president, and his aides and family ensured that they had the support of the Tunisians through availing to them social benefits. This blinded the civilians for so long such that they did not realize that they did not own any rights or freedoms, until the day when Mohamed attempted to get the attention of the authorities to give him the right and freedom of speech and service by setting himself on fire. The issue of human rights and freedom was so opaque and oppressive such that the political parties present in the country were limited. The number shot so fast after the revolution such that it was so obvious that some repression of some sort did exist. After the president fled the country and the revolution terminated his regime, the political parties in the country grew by over 100 indicating that there was a force of some sort that had denied people a chance to form opposing parties.

Other than the above main catalysts of revolution in Tunisia, other minor causes fueled the revolution. One of these minor causes of the revolution is the high prices of food despite the fact that the country was rich in agricultural products. Another minor cause of the revolution might have been the poor living conditions that many poor Tunisians were forced to live in. with little or no employment opportunities for the ordinary civilians, living conditions were harsh and most of them were living in congested shelters with little food and poor sanitation. In addition to these two causes, the increasing inflation of the country’s currency made life for the ordinary civilians even more difficult. Combined with the other catalysts discussed above, these causes led to an historical revolution in Tunisia in 2010 that led to the tyrant president Ali living and ending his 23 year rule.


The purpose of this paper was to find and discuss the main catalysts of the 2010 Tunisia revolution. As it we in the discussion, the revolution was, as a result, of three main catalysts, which included high level of corruption in all government levels, lack of political freedom and human rights, and high unemployment rates. In addition to these, the paper also identified other minor catalysts. These include the high food prices, the poor living conditions and the increasing inflation of the nation’s currency. A large demonstration thus formed in December of 2010, the first protest movement ever since the establishment of Ali’s rule. Mohamed, a young graduate who had resulted to selling fruits on the streets after lacking employment, ignited the protests. The young man set himself on fire after the authorities terrorized him. The following protests quickly spread throughout the cities and towns and after a few weeks, the demonstrators succeeded to overthrow the 23-year long regime of President Ali. Although at first the protests begun as a response to anger resulting from Mohamed’s death, they soon turned into political riots in response to problems in the presidents governance such as corruption, unemployment and lack of political rights.


Beaumont, P. (20 January 2011). Mohammed Bouazizi: the dutiful son whose death changed Tunisia’s fate. The Guardian (UK).

Evans, L. (2011). Tunisia: how does it compare to other countries in the region? The Guardian.

Innocent, M. (2011). Populalist discontent in Tunisia. The National Interest.

Noor, N. (2011). Tunisia: the revolution that started it all. International Affairs Review.

Oliver, C. (26 October 2010). Corruption Index 2010: The Most Corrupt Countries in the World – Global Development. The Guardian (London).

Randeree, B. (10 January 2011). Tunisian leader promises new jobs – Africa. Al Jazeera English.

Ryan, Y. (26 January 2011). How Tunisia’s revolution began – Features. Al Jazeera English.

Saleh, H. (2010). Anger over unemployment erupts in Tunisia. Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Tunisia jobless protests rage – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

Worth, R. F. (21 January 2011). How a Single Match Can Ignite a Revolution. New York Times.