Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Tunisian Protests Sparked International Revolution
Tunisians look to war-torn Libya for work
By Mohamed Haddad (AFP) – 4 hours ago
TUNIS — Sitting on a cafe terrace in an impoverished Tunisian town, Mohamed Gasmi has little else to do but ponder his meagre prospects in the newly liberated north African country.
"I've been thinking about Libya," despite the ongoing conflict there, instead of settling for paltry pay as an occasional day labourer in Tunisia, said Gasmi, an out-of-work butcher.
Gasmi, like other unemployed youths in Ettadhamen, works off and on for a construction firm taking advantage of cheap labour as the jobless rate nudges near 20 percent, five months after a popular uprising toppled longtime ruler Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
As a baker in Tripoli, Gasmi's brother is earning more than twice what he could hope to earn in Tunisia.
"He struggled to find work here. What's worse, he was being paid 15 dinars (seven euros) per night compared with 70 dinars (35 euros) in Libya," Gasmi said of his brother.
He did return to Tunisia in February at the start of the uprising against Moamer Kadhafi but has since returned, assuring Gasmi that "everything was going fine," and that the area where he was working was quiet.
For Gasmi, prospects of a better standard of living are trumping any fears about the violence in Libya.
He is originally from Mateur, a farming town about 60 kilometres from Tunis. At 20 he abandoned his studies and headed for the capital where he began working for a butchery.
But after seven years he lodged a complaint against his employer who had refused him his benefits.
"My boss was a mini-dictator, worse than Ben Ali," said Gasmi.
Pale, thin and drawing on a cigarette, he explains how he had hoped to set up his own business.
"I asked the state employment office for credit to open my own butcher shop," he said. "I would have started by myself, got some capital, maybe hired somebody."
But it was not to be: Gasmi was told he needed to own property or have a three-year business lease.
Across the road, a local small loans association confirms what Gasmi experienced.
"We don't lend to young people, they don't have guarantees," said a top company official, Fatima Louati.
Microcredit is financed by a public bank and is granted according to whether there is a guarantee and not the project's viability, the agency's director Hamadi Hammami noted with sympathy.
What is more, "only six percent of loans result in lasting projects," he said.
On the cafe terrace, Gasmi is still waiting. The dispute with his former employer rumbles on.
The revolution has come and gone, but social justice has yet to reach him.