Five Tunisians who did not pass a competition to become teachers attempted to hang themselves on Friday, according to Al Jazeera. Witnesses report that the five men in the impoverished Kasserine region climbed onto an improvised scaffold outside the education ministry and tied rope nooses around their necks. Bystanders rescued them and all were taken to the hospital. Four have been released; one man who is 43 years old — the maximum age to enter the Tunisian civil service — suffered a head injury and remains hospitalized.
The other four men are all in their 40s. All five are unemployed and, while they had the appropriate qualifications to teach, they had not been able to get jobs under ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Prior to Friday, the five and others had staged a sit-in to protest “alleged discrimination against their region in hiring civil servants.” Kasserine is, says Al Jazeera, some 60 kilometers from Sidi Bouzid, “the cradle of Tunisian unrest, which suffered the greatest number of casualties during the country’s uprising.”
The suicide by immolation of fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi is believed to have set off Tunisia’s revolution and the overthrow of its president on January 14. The country will elect a Constituent Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution on October 23. But since the revolution, unemployment has risen from 14 to 19 percent, due to 80,000 new graduates entering the job market and the return of approximately 30,000 Tunisians who have fled the unrest in neighboring Libya . The attempted suicide of the five men was, says witness Rachid Jabbari, an “act of desperation” and a dark sign of the struggles that face Tunisia after the initial euphoria of Ben Ali’s ouster.
It is also a sign of the uncertainty and tumult that are gripping the region, with some countries — Egypt, notably — grappling with the newness of democracy and others (Syria) seemingly mired in violent conflict as protesters clash with government forces. In Yemen, protests and sit-ins are still being held as the country waits in an extended limbo while President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovers in Saudi Arabia from serious injuries from a June attack.
In Egypt, people are again filling Tahrir Square, the Guardian reports, to criticize the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reinstating Mubarak-era emergency laws. The SCAF said that it is broadening application of the emergency law after the Israeli embassy in Cairo was attacked last week. Amnesty International has objected to the return of military law as the biggest threat to human rights in Egypt since ousted president Hosni Mubarak fell. Said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa:
The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days.
Can the gains of the Arab spring last or will they be swept away as economic conditions worsen and the new authorities fail to concede power to citizens?
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