After the latest spate of protests and violent acts in the governate of Sfax, police there have released 14 people detained over the past week while charging three others, reported Tunisian news agency TAP. According to the same report, those arrested were accused of arson and ransacking a police station.
The protesters allegedly belong to leftist parties and trade unions in El Hencha, a city in the governorate of Sfax. They initially organized a rally on August 23. They were protesting the appointment of various members from the Ennahdha party to the Development Association, which distributes small loans to local businesses, reported Shems FM.
What began as a conflict over appointments within the association devolved into clashes with police the night of August 23, with conflicting accounts over the nature of the arrests and the number of people wounded as well as those involved in violent acts.
Hedi Ben Jamaa, deputy regional director of the Sfax chapter of the Tunisian General Workers’ Union (UGTT), said that the protests were directed against political parties attempting to control the association. Ben Jamaa was not present for the events, but is familiar with the protesters’ grievances and organizations involved at the grassroots level.
Originally a government program and part of the former ruling RCD party of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the Development Association is under fire from those who wish to see it less influenced by party politics and more focused on helping people.
“The UGTT refuses monopolization of this organization by any political party,” Ben Jamaa told Tunisia Live.
Shems FM interviewed Ennahdha member Najib Magtouf, who placed blame for the violence squarely on the protesters, alleging that they had been agitating to allow former RCD party members to participate in the association’s activities.
In a statement to TAP, the governor of Sfax, Fathi Adderabali said that the presence of Molotov cocktails during recent instances of unrest “confirms that violence at these events was planned,” adding that numerous political movements and unions had exploited the series of events for their benefit.
Ben Jamaa was careful not to distribute blame where none is due. “I was at a UGTT meeting the other day for teachers, and the topic came again. We are careful not to blame anyone. Some are saying these actions were the work of the RCD, others Ennahdha. I prefer to be cautious and not blame anyone. Everyone has their own point of view of what’s going on.”