Tunisians gloomy in town that launched Arab Spring

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia (Reuters) – In Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia, there is little enthusiasm for a looming election that would not have happened without the revolutionary spark this desolate town provided one year ago.

“No, no no! I will not go to vote, elections do not interest me! Sidi Bouzid has become nothing more than a market for the propaganda of political parties,” said Mabrouk Kedri, an unemployed English graduate, sharing a coffee shop table with unemployed friends. “I just want to work and live in dignity.”

Last December Mohamed Bouazizi, a resident of Sidi Bouzid, set himself alight in protest against government corruption and unemployment. He later died, but his last protest set off the Arab Spring, a series of revolts that swept away Tunisia’s then-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the of leaders Egypt and Libya.

Ten months after Ben Ali fled, this North African country is preparing for its first free elections on Sunday to form a special assembly that will prepare a new constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.

In the cities along Tunisia’s affluent Mediterranean coast, the political elite are growing increasingly concerned about the rise of an Islamist party which is the front-runner in the vote.

But in the impoverished interior the dire economic situation is the main concern, and many say it has got worse.

“Nothing has changed in Sidi Bouzid. The situation is catastrophic. There has been no impact in terms of investments in the city, contrary to all the promises,” said Monji el-Aifi, a 50-year-old farmer.

“Frankly, we are not enthusiastic about the elections — but we are excited and ready for a second revolution.”

Tunisia’s revolution was driven by the frustration of huge numbers of young people, like Bouazizi, who had university degrees but no jobs to match their aspirations. Ten months on, their lot has not improved.

Hafez Abdouli, who holds a philosophy and archaeology degree, said he was still living at home. “I am 35 years and I still get a daily allowance from my mother to buy cigarettes.”

Party leaders have poured into Sidi Bouzid since campaigning began to win votes. The Islamist Ennahda, seen as the party poised to emerge as the biggest winner on Sunday, sent its leader Rachid Ghannouchi to launch its campaign here.

Some residents sounded a positive note. “Yes, the election is important for everyone and I will be giving my voice to those who deserve it,” said Fathia Nasiri, a mother of two.

But anger and disillusion dominated the conversation in cafes and markets around the city.

Walid Thari, an unemployed 27-year-old with a computer studies degree, complained that police had moved in to stop fresh protests in recent weeks.

“We are very disappointed,” he said. “After the revolution we are seeing the same system of dictatorship again. Freedoms are still suppressed.”

This entry was posted in resistance and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.