Last week, desperation gave way to anger as hundreds of people marched in front of their local government offices in different parts of the country, demanding an end to the lockdown and access to the financial aid the prime minister had pledged last month. A number of similar protests against the lockdown also erupted in late March.
“People came out spontaneously – hunger made them go protest,” said Marwan Jelassi from his home in Cite Ettadhamen, a working-class neighbourhood in north Tunis. “They went to the local governor’s office, but it was closed … all of them are people who lost their source of income.”
These days, Jelassi stays at home with his wife and six-year-old son and tends to his plants. When he does leave the house, he is careful to avoid the landlord. “He wants me to pay the rent and I cannot afford it for now.”
Like many other daily-wage workers, he can no longer afford to buy groceries for his family of three and now relies on his mother-in-law sending pasta, flour, milk and coffee.
“In such conditions you cannot work and cannot even borrow money … there will be a catastrophe, people can’t stand it anymore, hunger leads to catastrophes,” said Jelassi.
Not far from Jelassi’s home, in Cite Bassatine, 36-year-old construction worker Mohammed Ghodhbane blames government inaction and the marginalisation of low-income areas like his own.
Despite being asthmatic and at greater risk of complications related to the coronavirus, Ghodhbane says he cannot afford to stay at home and instead continues to take to the streets in search of a daily wage so that he can provide food for his family.
But some protesters said the dismissals made no difference to them.
“Now that they dismissed the local governor … they think that they resolved the problems. But nothing happened, today we are still in the streets and we still need the same requests,” said Mongi Bayar.