KERKENNAH, Tunisia - On the Tunisian island of Kerkennah, 90 minutes by ferry from the city of Sfax, all appears calm for the moment - save, perhaps, for the disproportionate presence of gun-toting soldiers cruising around in military vehicles.
Ask island residents about the events of recent weeks, however, and you’ll be offered horror stories of tear gas wantonly launched at protesters by Tunisian security forces who were reportedly shipped over in large quantities from the mainland to deal with the unrest.
The immediate cause of the protests, which commenced in early April, was widespread disillusionment with Petrofac, a self-defined “oilfield service company, supporting clients across the oil and gas asset lifecycle”. Registered in the English Channel island of Jersey (renowned for its tax haven status), Petrofac inserted itself into the Tunisian scene in 2007 and conducts operations at the Chergui gas field concession on Kerkennah in cooperation with Tunisia’s national oil company.
According to islanders I spoke with, Petrofac’s contributions to human and other lifecycles in the area have been less than stellar. A number of the protesters were unemployed university graduates displeased with what they view as the company’s insufficient provision of jobs and resources for the local community. Other common complaints - denied, obviously, by Petrofac - include an increase in pollution and attendant negative side effects on marine life, upon which Kerkennah has traditionally depended for sustenance.
Of course, anti-Petrofac agitation is merely symptomatic of much deeper problems, and protests quickly escalated. Tied up in public discontent are Tunisia-wide allegations of a lack of transparency regarding state revenues from corporate operations, which many suspect are being unjustly funneled away from host communities that are already suffering from economic malaise. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.