One year after Tunisian revolt began, little has changed, residents say
The self-immolation of vegetable seller Mohammed al-Bouazizi on Dec. 17, 2010, did much to set off the Arab uprisings; but Tunisians in his town say the regime has changed in name only.
Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia
It was supposed to be a day of national pride, the anniversary of a shocking self-immolation in a sleepy Tunisian town that kicked off the Arab Spring.Skip to next paragraph
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But behind the banners, Tunisian flags, and impromptu street celebrations, there was a growing sense of disappointment and frustration over a revolution that despite shaking the Arab World to its core has yet to deliver on basic demands of economic equality that fueled the Arab Spring.
One year since vegetable vendor Mohammed al-Bouazizi’s set himself aflame in a dying act of protest against the regime of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, residents of the agriculture-dependent town, situated at the crossroads of Tunis, claim they have yet to see the benefits of a year of protests and political change.
IN PICTURES: Tunisia protests
Authorities have yet to extend electricity to many of the villages surrounding the city of 50,000, unemployment still hovers at 40 percent according to unofficial reports, and rather than university, many youths resort to selling vegetables from wooden carts like Bouazizi before them, residents say.
Kader Shibali, one of Bouazizi’s neighbors in the town’s congested Hay Al Noor neighbourhood said that despite political freedoms, the central region suffers the same chronic economic ills that faces most of Tunisia: a centralization of resources, lack of job creation, poor public services, and a brain drain of young residents who go on to the capital or abroad for better economic opportunities.
“Sidi Bouzid in 2011 is worse than Sidi Bouzid in 2010, and we believe next year is going to be even worse,” Mr. Shibali said.
Al Kader Mansour, headmaster of the Zuhra primary school that Bouzizi attended for several years, said the school continues to suffer the same problems that plagued the education system during the Ben Ali era: overcrowded classrooms, outdated learning materials, and understaffing – challenges that he says pose an uphill climb for Sidi Bouzid’s future generation.
'Hope cannot fill the stomach'
“We have hope for the future,” Mansour said on the sidelines of a day marking the sacrifice of the school’s most famous pupil. “But hope cannot fill the stomach or educate our children.”
Amidst three days of festivities that included concerts to candlelight vigils, signs of broken promises and a rising sense of frustration were ever-present.
A few meters from the very spot where Bouzizi lit the match which inflamed a revolution, some two-dozen unemployed Sidi Bouzid residents carried an open-ended sit-in to protest a lack of economic opportunities into its second week.
Crouching in tents packed with mattresses, protestors said that although they are able to assemble publicly without the harassment of security forces – something unheard of in the Ben Ali era – their efforts have had limited results.
“Through the death of our martyrs, we have earned the freedom of expression,” said Sidi Bouzid resident and former professor Najem Jabli.
“But without officials listening to us, this freedom is empty.”
Without work, that corruption is robbing Tunisia of future economic opportunities.
“They changed the names, they changed the political parties, but our president might as well be named Ben Ali,” said Mohamed Shabali.
Naziha Rajiba, a prominent Tunisian journalist and human rights activist, said there is a deepening sense among Tunisia’s young revolutionaries that one year after they unleashed decades of pent up democratic aspirations, their work has only just begun.
“The revolution was not a single event, but the start of an ongoing process,” Ms. Rajiba said.