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Fuel shortage, long queues anger Tunisians

Tunisians are growing angry amid successive crises, most recently a fuel shortage, while the government sits idle.
Tunisians line up with their vehicles outside a gas station, Tunis, Tunisia, Oct. 13, 2022.

TUNIS, Tunisia — A fuel shortage in Tunisia has sparked public outrage and anger, amid conflicting statements by officials regarding the reasons behind the crisis, which stirred fears about the government’s inability to import energy supplies.

At one of the gas stations at the entrance to the capital, Tunis, Tawfiq al-Hamdi is standing in a long queue of vehicles, waiting for his turn to fill up his car.

“The last thing we need is a fuel shortage crisis. What makes the situation even worse is that this is coinciding with the start of the new school year, which increased pressure on gas stations as well as means of public transportation such as metros and buses,” Hamdi told Al-Monitor. 

Marwa al-Alawi denounced the situation as very dangerous. “We are witnessing this crisis at a very sensitive time as schools have just started,” she told Al-Monitor. “We are already dealing with a shortage of basic commodities in the markets, while the government is not making the slightest effort to remedy the situation and is not even providing an explanation for what is happening."

Alawi said she has been waiting for four days now to fill up her car with gasoline. “Officials are talking about a shipment arriving in the port of Bizerte, in the north of the country, but nothing has been confirmed so far,” she added.

Car and taxi drivers across Tunisia are protesting the deteriorating situation by honking their cars. Tunisia has been battling a collapsing economy amid a severe political crisis, with small protests being staged in some areas.

As the crisis culminates, rumors are spreading and officials are issuing conflicting statements

The head of the Union of Oil and Chemicals, affiliated with the Tunisian General Labor Union, Silwan Samiri, said in an Oct. 10 statement, “The shortage of gasoline at gas stations is due to the decline in the strategic stock of fuel from two months to just over a week.”

He warned, “The shortage of fuel supplies could continue if the government fails to secure the needed cash to pay for the upcoming shipments.”

Khaled Bettine, CEO of the state-owned National Company of Oil Distribution, denied any shortage of Tunisia’s strategic gasoline reserves.

He told Al-Monitor, “Gasoline is now available. It is true that there are queues at gas stations since Tunisians are still flocking there, but the crisis is over. I don't think this scenario will be repeated in the coming days. The government is able to pay its dues for shipments coming from abroad, contrary to all rumors.”

The fuel crisis unfolds at a time when Tunisian authorities have yet to resolve the depletion of basic goods in the markets, such as sugar, milk, coffee and oil.

Tunisian President Kais Saied, who is preoccupied with controversial political and constitutional amendments, has long denied his liability for the crises plaguing his government, accusing his opponents of fabricating them.

Meanwhile, Tunisia is witnessing economic collapse. According to an Oct. 4 report by rating agency Moody's, “Tunisia's large fiscal and external imbalances and elevated refinancing risks represent significant credit weaknesses for the government.”

The Tunisian government is betting on a $1.9 billion rescue package with the International Monetary Fund to salvage its collapsed economy.

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