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YouthCan, Tunisian Youth's Turn              

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SocietyEuromed Reporter

Tunisia's youth are scram­bling to leave their ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­hind and work to­gether as they did three years ago, when they suc­ceeded in over­throw­ing Ben Ali's for­mer regime. Youth­Can is a new or­gan­i­sa­tion that is try­ing to unite all of this strength in order to put a stop to Tunisia's real prob­lem of the day: its lack of prospects for youth.

"¿A Cité Et­tad­hamen?" "No." The cab­bie re­fuses to go to this city, well known for its poverty and mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion, which is sit­u­ated on Tunis' out­skirts. Last Jan­u­ary, there was heavy ri­ot­ing there. Demon­stra­tors burned tires to block ac­cess to streets and the po­lice had to re­sort to tear gas to dis­perse them.

While a sec­ond cab is dri­ving there, the mo­tor­ways get muddy and the butcher's hang an­i­mal skin, and the re­main­ing parts that are sold, in their en­trances. Hun­dreds of peo­ple work their way up and down and then sit at nu­mer­ous cafés and tea­rooms. Hafedh Oueled Saad waits at a zebra cross­ing. He's 23 years old and has been un­em­ployed ever since he came back to Tunis. He gets cof­fee and soft drinks for his guests and sits in a room full of white and gold set­tees. He starts to de­scribe why he de­cided to il­le­gally em­i­grate to Italy in 2011.

“Back there in the café, you could find 20 or 25 peo­ple that tried to go to Italy, too,” Hafedh ex­plains. After dis­em­bark­ing in Lampe­dusa, he man­aged to get to Switzer­land, but his Eu­ro­pean dream came to an end when his asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected and he was de­ported. His hope for the Rev­o­lu­tion is al­ready long gone. Hafedh tells us: “I don't mean any­thing to those politi­cians, so they don't mean any­thing to me. I wouldn't say the sit­u­a­tion is any bet­ter”. He plans to learn Ital­ian to work at a call cen­ter, “but I don't think it pays very well”. The first time he fled Tunisia, he paid 1,500 dinares (ap­prox­i­mately 725 euros). “Today, if I had the chance, I would do it all over again.”

The ail­ing econ­omy and lack of prospects for young peo­ple are the biggest threats that still lie ahead for the coun­try's tran­si­tion to full democ­racy. Three years have passed since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Ara­bia, and the new politi­cians have been un­able to find a so­lu­tion. They're too old and they don't con­nect with the prob­lems of youth. At least that's what they think at Youth­Can, a new non-par­ti­san group that has col­lected more than 25,000 sig­na­tures in a lit­tle over a month. Its ob­jec­tive is clear: sup­port young Tunisians, be­tween 20 and 35 years of age, se­cure de­ci­sion-mak­ing posts at in­sti­tu­tions. It doesn't mat­ter what party or ide­ol­ogy they sup­port.

A Bleak Fu­ture

“They can't see any fu­ture. I'm going to study. I'm going to study. And then what? That is taken to ex­tremes by some­body who can ma­nip­u­late their minds. Youth­Can's en­ergy is mak­ing them aware of their own po­ten­tial and what they must do.” Mehdi Gue­bzili is a found­ing mem­ber of the group. He and its pres­i­dent, Besma Mhamdi, speak from l'Étoile Du Nord, a mod­ern cof­fee shop-bar-book­shop in down­town Tunis. This is where Youth­Can or­gan­ised its first meet­ing. Back then, there were 70 mem­bers, today there are over 4,500 in their closed Face­book group, where there are also mem­bers from Italy, France, Ger­many, and the United King­dom.

“From the very first mo­ment that Youth­Can ap­peared — Besma ex­plains — it was per­fect. It was dur­ing the Na­tional Di­a­logue [the ex-Prime Min­is­ter, Ali Laarayedh, had re­signed and the politi­cians couldn't agree on ap­point­ing a new head of gov­ern­ment], when peo­ple were re­ally frus­trated. We raised hope and op­ti­mism at a mo­ment when every­thing was com­pletely fail­ing.”

Young Tunisians are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­cer­tain times. They pulled off the Arab Spring and they con­tin­ued to be at the fore­front when Ben Ali sent in the snipers. Ac­cord­ing to the UN, Tunisians under the age of 24 rep­re­sent 40% of the pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, today they face a 30% un­em­ploy­ment rate. And it doesn't mat­ter if they have uni­ver­sity de­grees: 40% of uni­ver­sity grad­u­ates are job­less, ver­sus 24% of non-grad­u­ates, according to the World Eco­nomic Forum. More­over, they're al­to­gether ex­cluded from in­sti­tu­tions. As Mehdi main­tains: “Es­pe­cially for young peo­ple, for us, the Na­tional Con­stituent As­sem­bly was a dis­ap­point­ment be­cause they didn't talk about any­thing. They're not fa­mil­iar with the prob­lems we ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Youth­Can is still a brand new or­gan­i­sa­tion. It doesn't have an of­fice and the ma­jor­ity of its work is done on­line, where the move­ment was spon­ta­neously born. De­spite their own doubts in the be­gin­ning, the idea is very clear now: train new politi­cians and rec­on­cile youth with pol­i­tics. In De­cem­ber 2013, two Tunisian youth (Bassem Bouguerra and Tarek Chen­iti) spon­ta­neously sent their re­sumes over with the ob­jec­tive of serv­ing the gov­ern­ment that Prime Min­is­ter, Medhi Jomaa, was cre­at­ing, “free of charge”. Dur­ing this process, hun­dreds of young peo­ple ex­plain their mo­ti­va­tions on so­cial net­work sites to be­come, in less than 24 hours, Youth­Can's most promi­nent show­case. “Bassem Bouguerra shared his re­sume on Face­book, of­fer­ing his help to the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs. I saw it and I con­tacted him, just like every­one else did,” he re­mem­bers. “All we knew was that we didn't want to be a tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal party,” adds Besma. Their ob­jec­tive is long-term, but there's no time to waste. The first pro­ject will be for the up­com­ing elec­tions, planned for the end of 2014. 200 can­di­dates will be trained for them. “Young peo­ple pow­ered by young peo­ple, train­ing them in pub­lic speak­ing, in­tro­duc­ing them­selves to one an­other, find­ing fi­nanc­ing...”

Youth­Can's mem­bers are spread through­out the coun­try. Yazidi Boul­beba is one of them. He lives in Sil­iana, a small, rural, farm­ing com­mu­nity in Tunis' in­te­rior. A diploma in Physics and Chem­istry hasn't been enough for this 28 year old youth to find work. He takes part in a po­lit­i­cal party, but when he saw an op­por­tu­nity to join Youth­Can, he didn't hes­i­tate. “The youth had a Rev­o­lu­tion for three rea­sons: dig­nity, free­dom and jobs. Free­dom is the best, but there will be no dig­nity with­out jobs.” He likes Youth­Can's con­cept of train­ing new politi­cians and he be­lieves that this plat­form can bring young peo­ple and pol­i­tics to­gether. “I hope so, be­cause this is the youth's po­lit­i­cal boy­cott.”

In Sil­iana, poverty is on the rise. “There's only one fac­tory in the province and the crops we grow are processed in other cities.” As a re­sult, a lot of peo­ple go to more pros­per­ous re­gions. “The sec­ond al­ter­na­tive is ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism. Nearly every ter­ror­ist is from the county's poor­est re­gions,” Yazidi con­fesses.

THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF A SPECIAL CAFEBABEL EDITION ON CASABLANCA CARRIED OUT AS PART OF THE EUROMED REPORTER PROJECT, INITIATED BY CAFEBABEL IN PARTNERSHIP WITH I-WATCH, SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND AND THE ANNA LINDH FOUNDATION. YOU CAN FIND ALL THE ARTICLES ON THIS SUBJECT ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE MAGAZINE.

Translated from Youthcan, El turno de la juventud tunecina                  

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