Protest as a commemoration. It has been ten years to the day since the revolution in Tunisia began. The death by self-immolation in the centre of the country, in Sidi Bouzid, of a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, led to an unprecedented uprising that led to the fall of Ben Ali. The government is keeping a low profile on how it will mark 17 December, but the day looks tense given the lack of improvement in the daily lives of Tunisians over the past decade.
From our special correspondant in Sidi Bouzid
The extent of the disappointment is particularly palpable in the interior regions of the country. Sidi Bouzid embodies this distress, unlike the more prosperous coastal areas. Demonstrations are planned in several cities to remind leaders of the slogan of the time: “work, bread, freedom and dignity”. Since that breath of hope, prices, especially those of basic food, have doubled while wages have stagnated, awakening nostalgic memories now commonplace.
Recent modern infrastructure exists, of course. There is a new prefecture, brand new football pitches, faculties, recent roads, but the inhabitants feel clearly forgotten, especially economically. Unemployment is rising while the region is the breadbasket of fruit and vegetables in the country, but processing plants, for example, are located in other regions. There are no large companies to employ a workforce, diplomas accumulate without perspective. So the 10th anniversary of the revolution is clearly not an event that the inhabitants think about and many believe that “Mohammed Bouazizi died for nothing. The capital has stolen our revolution.”
In Sidi Bouzid, early revolutionaries are calling for this day to be remembered as the day of the revolution instead of January 14, 2011, when the deposed president fled. This Thursday, it is a music festival that will mark this tenth anniversary, but the head of state will not renew his visit last year. Kaïs Saïed, in a statement, promised to visit soon and mentioned urgent obligations to justify this withdrawal. It would seem unofficial that he is not welcome.
Previous displacements of high-ranking politicians have been met with stone-throwing, illustrating the rejection of the political class by the population. The president, whose popularity has waned but remains very real in the cradle of the revolution, prefers to give up. Activists there, however, say they would not be surprised to see him make a quick visit despite the palace’s statement.
A country on the brink of social explosion
The enthusiasm of the early years generated a deep disillusionment. Faced with the gloom of an economy at half-mast, an unemployment rate of 16%, and a loss of confidence in the political class, the country seems to be on the verge of a social explosion as the indicators are in the red. A series of general strikes in Jendouba, Kairouan, Béja and social protest movements in Gabès, Gafsa, Kasserine and Tataouine have reminded leaders of the urgent need to take economic measures to improve the lives of the inhabitants.
The young democracy continues on its way and the emergence of a new ruling class, a new balance of the executive remains the greatest popular hope. But disillusionment and disenchantment are tangible, challenges exist. In other words, the flame of revolution is not dead.