Tunisian cradle of Arab Spring marks ‘real’ anniversary of revolution

By Sidi Bouzid and Natalia Román Morte

Tunis, Dec 17 (EFE).- Tunisia on December 17 will for the first time celebrate what president Kais Said calls the “real” National Day of the Revolution.

Although Tunisia’s national day has so far been marked on January 14, which commemorates the flight to Saudi Arabia of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – who was in power for 23 years – for Said, the trigger for the first of the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept the Middle East in 2011 was December 17.

Said, who took power in July, accuses the country’s political elite of appropriating the popular movement.

On December 17, 2010 in the city of Sidi Bouzid (center), 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in desperation after the police had confiscated his small street stall’s merchandise – fruits and vegetables, the only source of income for his family – because he did not have a license.

His death triggered protests among his neighbors, who had grown sick and tired of the lack of hope and personal freedoms. The unrest soon spread throughout the country and, shortly afterwards, the people of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain joined the protests.

The local government added a monument of a push cart in tribute to Bouazizi, the revolution’s first “martyr”, in the main square that bears his name, says Nordine Jleli, an electronic engineer unemployed for 12 years.

“All the projects, the development and the fight against unemployment that we were asking for have been reduced to this,” he says glumly as he points to the stone memorial.

“The president is capitalizing on Sidi Bouzid because we all know that the revolution started here. I am unemployed, so whether I get the day off on the 14th or the 17th, it is all the same to me. I want to eat, to be able to live,” says Jleli, who admits to being disillusioned having voted for Said in the 2019 elections and seeing that his economic and social program is “non-existent”.

To the cry of “we have the right to bread, we have the right to work”, Zouhour Frigi, chants with his companions to protest against the president’s recent decision to repeal “law 38” which obliged the state to recruit 10,000 graduates who have been unemployed for at least ten years for the civil service.

The bill, approved in August last year and ratified by the head of state three days later, is now dismissed as “illusory and misleading”.

Once a week for the past five years, Rebah Zafouri, an employee of the Ministry of Health, has marched alone with a large banner along the Avenue de la République, the main artery that runs through this town of 50,000 inhabitants, to remind the authorities of the promises they have failed to deliver on.

The construction of a university hospital, a highway to connect the central and southern regions and the opening of the Meknesi phosphate mine to create numerous jobs, are just some examples of those broken promises, says the human rights activist.

“People have been tired of complaining for all these years, but I can’t”, he says, calling on the government to take advantage of “this historical, revolutionary and political moment to activate these projects”. EFE


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