29 December 1983 – 6 January 1984: “Bread riots” break out

Thursday, December 29, 1983

Popular protests broke out following the government’s decision to lift subsidies, leading to the rise of prices on basic goods. Mobilisations began in the southern region of Tunisia and rapidly expanded to the rest of the country. Usually depicted as “spontaneous” and “ephemeral” protests (Walton and Seddon 1994) linked to material suffering and communicating material demands, the bread riots constitute a violent and often underestimated face of the material consequences of the introduction of structural adjustments plans (SAPs) in Tunisia (Dakhli 2021).

29 December 1983: A “bread riot” takes place against the removal of subsidies on basic products in southern Tunisia

On 29 December 1983, a popular protest began in the weekly market of the city of Douz (southern Tunisia) against the price hike of basic products. Massive protests followed shortly in the rest of the country leading to violent confrontations between demonstrators and the military. The official toll was 84 dead and almost 1,000 injured. The Tunisian bread riots followed the decision of the government to remove the subsidies for basic commodities, in line with the IMF’s recommendations and conditions for funding. Similar riots took place in several Arab countries between the 1970 and the 1980 following the introduction of neoliberal reforms leading to the removal or the suspension of subsidies on basic products (Dakhli 2021). 

1 January 1984: Price of bread is doubled

Following the removal of subsidies on basic goods, the price of bread doubled on the 1 January 1984. Protests in the city of Douz persisted. The first casualty is registered during the clashes between the security forces and the protesters: Belgassem Belayed, aged seventeen, becomes the first victim of the bread riot that would soon expand to the national level (Dakhli 2021).

3 January 1984: The southern “bread riot” expands all over the country

On 3 January 1984, the bread riot that had been mostly confined to the southern areas of Tunisia spread out at the national level. Greater Tunis is particularly concerned with mobilisations involving young people and students of popular areas. In the days that follow, security forces murder dozens of people, arresting several hundreds of protesters. President Bourguiba imposes a curfew and increased security measures. The latter were removed on 6 January 1984 after the protests ended. In the following months, people in prison are tortured and sentenced to long prison terms (Dakhli 2021).