Cradle of Tunisia uprising is ripe for fresh revolt


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The Independent Online

Not a day goes by for Manoubia Bouazizi when she does not think about her son. "He was a dutiful boy, he had a long life ahead of him, he martyred himself for justice, for Tunisia," she said. "People cannot forget that."

The 26-year-old street trader, pictured, has been lodged in the world's memory, too, after his unhappy life and terrible death by self-immolation became the symbol of a nation's suffering in the hands of a dictator's brutal regime. The act of despair, goes the narrative, triggered the uprising in Tunisia and the Arab Spring.

When I visited Sidi Bouzid in the aftermath of the dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali's flight from Tunis, I found residents exulting in their home's status as the cradle of the revolution. They chanted the name of Mohammed Bouazizi; the family home had become a place of homage. A female municipal official accused of slapping him – a final act of humiliation – was vilified, her relations facing daily abuse.

Eight months on there are now deep doubts among many about the story of Mohammed Bouazizi. His family has left Sidi Bouzid amid the animosity of neighbours; a plaque put up in his name in the town has disappeared and graffiti praising him painted over. The municipal official allegedly responsible for "the slap which rang around the world", Fedya Hamdi, has claimed it never happened. She has been freed from prison with all charges dropped.

Sidi Bouzid now has new martyrs – a 14-year-old boy shot dead during a demonstration, a man killed at a police station after threatening to expose corruption. Manoubia Bouazizi and her family are in the firing line after leaving town. "Who paid for them to go? Who put them up in expensive hotels?" asked Fatima Um Mourad. "They made a lot of money out of all this; now they live in luxury, in a big villa."

Another former neighbour, 18-year-old Seif Amri, maintained: "They made their fortune and they left. But things here are as bad ever."

It is true that Mrs Bouazizi and her six remaining children have moved to the seaside at La Marsa, a suburb of the capital, Tunis. They now live in a medium sized $200-a-month apartment. "I know some people are telling lies about us," Manoubia said. She shook her head. "When he died, people came to me and said it was not just me who had lost a son, the whole village has lost a son. Now they say this!"

Samia, 20, one of Mohammed's sisters, said: "We have not made a fortune. We had to move because the other house was too small."

"I heard we were given a lot of money by Ben Ali: $ 15,000 some people said. They also said we sold Mohammed's vegetable cart to a movie producer. That is not true. They are angry because things are not improving fast. That is not our fault."

That anger led to fresh outbreaks of violence in Sidi Bouzid in August. Faith in the electoral process ahead of a vote next month has also dissipated, with less than half of those eligible registered. While Western observers wonder about Islamists dominating parliament, the crucial issue in Sidi Bouzid is stark. "It is about jobs so we can at least feed our family," held Ziad Ali Karimi. "And if the politicians can't provide that there will be another revolution."