On January 14th, thousands of demonstrators marched through central Tunis against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s increasingly autocratic regime.
The protest date wasn’t chosen randomly. On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable dealer enraged by police misconduct, set himself ablaze in the impoverished rural town of Sidi Bouzid.
Four weeks later, following widespread protests across the country, ageing dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned on 14 January, which was eventually chosen as an official day of memory and a public holiday.
The demonstrators’ banners and cards on central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the usual site for major protests, unmistakably indicate that not much has changed after Mohamed Bouazizi’s death. The economic system has been unable to deliver adequate public goods and equity. The rise in inflation, which reached 10% in 2022, is being made worse by shortages of essential items, resulting in long lines for petrol.
In Egypt the state apparatus is as strong as ever. According to a 2023 Human Rights Watch World Report, prisons are still overcrowded, with thousands of prisoners incarcerated for political reasons. Critics of the regime were abducted by Interior Ministry police and National Security agents. With near-complete impunity, Egyptian prison officials and security personnel ill-treated and tortured prisoners, including using systematic sexual abuse to degrade them.
The economy isn’t faring much better. In November, inflation reached about 20%, according to the latest data, while the Egyptian pound (EGP) continued to slide against the US dollar (USD). Meanwhile, symptoms of a slowing economy are appearing. Additionally, Egypt signed a $3 billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund in December.
In neighbouring Libya, things are even more bleak. Since the overthrow and subsequent death of previous leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011, Libya has struggled to restore state institutions. The struggle for control of Libya cuts across ethnic, regional, political, and even religious lines. Each coalition has established administrative institutions and appointed military commanders—and each has experienced internal fracture and discord. Furthermore, migration and people smuggling have remained persistent in the absence of a unified regulatory body.
The socioeconomic conditions that fuelled the uprisings a decade ago are still there. Political tensions between established elites attempting to restrict public voice and engagement will inevitably result in repeated crises.