Clashes erupted between the police and unlicensed traders as part of an anti-smuggling operation in downtown Tunis yesterday. Several vendors were arrested and a significant quantity of illegal cigarettes seized.
Violence broke out on the Rue de Salines in downtown Tunis after authorities claimed that unlicensed vendors repeatedly refused instructions to disperse.
In an operation that saw security forces deployed throughout the area bordering the Port de France in central Tunis, a large number of stalls containing unlicensed and potentially contraband goods were seized by authorities. In total, illegal cigarettes were confiscated at a value estimated at 3 million Tunisian Dinar, Mosaique reported.
Illegal street trading has become a growing concern among Tunisian small business owners for some time, as growing unemployment and the increased cost of living driving has driven many into the major cities to earn a living selling what they can on the streets.
Speaking ahead of a proposed strike by shopkeepers over the impact of unlicensed trading within the city in May of this year, Abdelmonem Fitouri, the President of Tunis’ UTICA branch told Tunisia Live, “The banks are no longer offering traders loan facilities and, with access blocked to many of their businesses, traders cannot work”
However, Cherif Khrayti of L’Union des Diplomés Chômeurs, (the Unemployed Union) countered any popular criticism of the unlicensed vendors, telling Tunisia Live that the excessive violence used by authorities in dispersing unlicensed vendors was unlikely to put an end to the country’s parallel economy.
Khrayti added that the Tunisian government frequently behaved in a temperamental manner, more interested in publicity than in enforcing the law. On some occasions, Khrayti noted, security agents appeared to be quite strict in their interpretation of the law, at other times they seemed happy to overlook infractions.
In this instance, Khrayti told Tunisia Live, they appeared most interested in scapegoating the poor, explaining that anti-smuggling operations operations of this nature were principally about asserting the authority of the police.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.