Yet the protesters are themselves a sign of change in the country, as are the challenges confronting the government. The demonstrators are representative of a new generation that has come of age in relative freedom, only to face the prospect of long-term unemployment.
A large number are university graduates, organized and articulate. All out of work, they have forged a united movement out of protesters from a swath of towns and villages across the area.
There was no particular spark that started the protests, the first of which began in Ksar Ouled Debbeb, a small town just outside Tataouine, on March 14. The protesters’ core demand is simply more jobs.
“We were fed up,” Ali Ghaffari, 24, an English student, said. “We were young people in our 20s. We made a list of 260 people who are jobless.”
Other protests soon followed in surrounding towns. In April, protesters began camping in front of the governor’s office, and a month ago they set up the camp in the desert.
The government recently handed out new oil concessions in the region, a step that only served as a reminder of how little the region benefits from the resource. The oil companies hire people generally from outside, and little is invested back.
The protesters’ demands have steadily solidified: a quota of jobs for local people at the oil companies drilling in the region, the creation of jobs in an environmental agency and an investment fund for job creation programs.
The government has denounced the leaders of the unrest as having links to terrorists or being the tools of mafia bosses. But it has steadily raised its response to their demands.
The protesters are…