Much has changed since the fall of Ben Ali in January 2011. But the relationship between citizens and the state remains disturbed, say activists.
The commemoration of the fall of Tunisia’s long-term ruler Ben Ali ten years ago is taking place in camera. Because of a sharp rise in new corona infections and overcrowded intensive care units nationwide, Health Minister Habiba Zehi Ben Romdhane has ordered a four-day lockdown starting Thursday. All events planned for Jan. 14, the anniversary of the revolution, have been canceled.
There was particular disappointment Wednesday among a group of protesters who have been meeting for days on the street outside one of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s offices. The initiative, which calls itself “Injured of the Revolution,” is using its sit-in to demand that it finally be officially recognized as victims of police violence in January 2011. After the events of that time, the authorities had put the number of victims of the so-called Jasmine Revolution at 338 dead and 2,147 wounded. The police and army had fired live ammunition at the mostly young demonstrators, especially in the provincial towns of Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid.
After the self-immolation of vegetable merchant Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010, hundreds of thousands of Tunisians had taken to the streets demanding freedom of expression, jobs and democracy. In the years that followed, Tunisia was spared civil war because of its political opponents’ willingness to compromise. A new secular constitution in 2014 made the country of 11 million people a model of success for the Arab Spring. But little changed in the judiciary as well as in the police because of the constant threat of terrorism.
Victims of the uprising on the Avenue de la Liberté, or Street of Freedom, in Tunis complain that no official has yet been charged for the violence against protesters. Political activist Wissam Shgaiger believes that the chorus spirit of the Ben Ali era still prevails in the Interior Ministry and that numerous attacks by Islamists have prevented reforms and thus a reappraisal of the 2011 events. “I support the protesters’ demands for official recognition of their status,” Shgaiger says. “This is about the still troubled relationship between citizens and the state.”
Some of the 100 or so people outside the prime minister’s office are leaning on crutches. More than a dozen are carried up the stairs in wheelchairs to a press conference at a nearby hotel. The reason for the protest is that the State Commission for Human Rights and Freedom recognizes only 129 dead and 634 injured as victims of the revolution since October 2019.
Some of the protesters have brought glass bottles filled with gasoline. They don’t say it out loud, but the threat is in the air that someone in the group might set himself on fire – as Mohamed Bouazizi did ten years ago. As a protest against the confiscation of his goods, the then 27-year-old greengrocer had bought gasoline at a gas station, doused himself and set himself on fire.
by Basit Abbasi – HN