The second week of January was notable for the increase in popular resistance against governments and convention. As the protests in Iran seemed to wind down last week, Tunisian police arrested more than 770 people when anti-austerity protests broke out in the North African country. The protests are in response to an unpopular new Finance Act, which saw price hikes and value added tax increases imposed from January 1. The International Monetary Fund agreed in 2016 to a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion, but payments are tied to the Tunisian government carrying out economic and social reforms. The reforms come at a time when Tunisia’s economy is struggling as unemployment rates remain high.
Tunisia, widely recognized as the sole success story of the Arab Spring, is regarded as more tolerant when it comes to social issues in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to gender issues. Even so, its recently launched LGBT internet radio station has received thousands of death threats. Shams Rad’s studio location is “kept secret for fear of terrorist and homophobic attacks,” said of the organizers. Many of the station’s volunteer presenters are keeping their identities secret; including having their faces blurred in staff photographs. The station offers a range of live streaming content that covers LGBT-related issues such as politics, culture, sex and sexual health, and the arts. Funding for the online station is being provided by the Dutch embassy in Tunisia.
Elsewhere in the region:
- Following increasing numbers of reports of animal cruelty, Turkey has drafted a new law to jail anyone convicted of animal abuse. Gulay Yedekci, the deputy of the opposition Republican People’s Party, requested that parliament put forward this bill to protect animals and said that current punishments are too lenient. Yedekci argues that the legal rights of all living creatures must be recognized. Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with an estimated 81 detained in 2016.
- On Friday, the indigenous people of North Africa (Berbers) celebrated the first day of the year 2968. The Amazigh New Year, known as Yennayer, marks the first day of the agricultural calendar used by Berbers for millenia. North Africans mark the occasion with activities such as Amazigh dance performances called “Ahwach” and “Ahidous”. Efforts to recognize and protect the Amazigh culture and language are ongoing in the region; Algeria has already declared January 12 a national holiday, and Amazigh activists in Morocco want their government to do the same. Visit this site to view one Algerian town’s celebrations that include elaborate costumes and drumming.
- Also in Algeria, the government banned the import of 900 products including cell phones, household appliances and vegetables in a bid to cut spending following a drop in earnings from oil and gas. The temporary ban is the most drastic action undertaken yet by the North African OPEC oil producer to curb a ballooning deficit caused by the fall in crude oil prices since mid-2014. With the new ban, the government hopes to bring down the import bill to $30 billion this year from a projected $45 billion for all of 2017 and $46.7 billion the previous year.
- And, finally, the Pew Research Center released data that indicates Muslims will be the second-largest religious group in America, surpassing Judaism by 2040 because of higher birth rates. According to Pew, the Muslim population will more than double in that time period, from 3.45 million in 2017 (1.1 percent of the total population) to 8.09 million in 2050 (2.1 percent of the total population). The Christian population in 2020 is predicted to be around 252 million, tens of times higher than the Muslim population, and the projected population in 2050 would be 261 million.