Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How revolution turned sour in the birthplace of the Arab Spring

Kim Sengupta returns to the Tunisian city where a street trader's self-immolation changed the course of history

The Independent

"....When I visited Sidi Bouzid in the aftermath of the dictator Zine Al 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 with a steady stream of visitors. A female municipal official accused of slapping him – a final act of humiliation which led to him setting himself on fire – was vilified, her relations facing daily abuse.

Eight months on there are now deep doubts among many about the course of the Jasmine Revolution and the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, its iconic sacrificial hero, is enmeshed in accusations and recriminations. 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 that the slap never happened and that she was made a scapegoat. She has since been freed from prison, with all charges dropped, to cheers from a crowd gathered outside the courtroom.

As the elections in Tunisia, the first among the newly democratic states of North Africa and the Middle East, approach next month, Bouazizi is increasingly seen as a footnote rather than the catalyst of the uprising. And Sidi Bouzid, for its part, 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 official corruption......"

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