Somber Tunisia marks 10 years since revolution in lockdown


TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Tunisia commemorates the 10th anniversary of the flight into exile of iron-fisted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ousted from power by a popular revolt that heralded unrest and civil war in the region , known as the Arab Spring.

But there will be no festive celebrations marking the revolution in this North African nation, which has been condemned to lockdown to contain the coronavirus.

The tree-lined avenue Bourguiba, the main artery of the capital Tunis, which has become the center of the uprising, may well be deserted if citizens respect the order to stay at home. Protests and gatherings are banned for four days from Thursday, although there is no guarantee that the rules will be followed.

“After the political lockdown, it’s the turn of the health lockdown,” said a trader, Ahmed Hassen, who said with a smile that the situation looks like “the revenge of Ben Ali”.

Ben Ali ruled for 23 years over a system that sowed fear among many Tunisians, deprived of a free press, freedom of expression and other freedoms. He fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011, amid a snowballing rebellion marked by violence, rampant looting and incessant calls to “get out”.

Ben Ali died in 2019 in exile.

The revolution was unwittingly sparked by a desperate act by 26-year-old fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 in protest of police humiliation in a neglected city in the nation’s interior , Sidi Bouzid. His death sparked seething discontent and mass protests against poverty, unemployment and repression. This in turn ricocheted beyond Tunisia, triggering what is known as the Arab Spring uprisings with repression and civil wars in the region.

In Tunisia, joy and revenge marked the start of the post-Ben Ali era, with protesters demolishing ubiquitous Ben Ali posters and invading the luxurious home of the president’s brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi. Tunis train station was set on fire, tear gas flooded Avenue Bourguiba and other areas of the capital, and combat helicopters flew over the city. Over 300 people have been killed. Nevertheless, the chaos was contained.

A nascent democracy was born in the aftermath of the Ben Ali era, but a veil of disenchantment hangs over the country, marked by extremist attacks, political struggles, a struggling economy and broken promises, including the development of inside.

Despite guaranteed rights, many democratic elections, demonstrations flourish, especially in the central and southern regions where the youth unemployment rate reaches 30% and the poverty level is above 20%. According to the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights, more than 1,000 demonstrations were counted in November alone. Months of sit-ins crippled the production of oil and phosphate, a key resource, for months, driving billions of dollars in holes in the budget.

Tunisians have held numerous democratic elections, for mayor, parliament and president, including putting a constitutional law professor, Kais Saied, in the presidential palace in 2019.

Tunisia today “joins the advanced countries” in terms of democracy, said Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party, the main political opposition under Ben Ali.

“The Tunisian people have political rights, but are still waiting for their demands for dignity and work to be fulfilled,” he said, alluding to the revolutionary slogan of the demonstrators shouting “freedom, work and dignity”.

Analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said that what has been accomplished over the decades since …

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