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Where Tunisia's Revolution Began, A Deep Chill Settles In On Arab Spring

A file photo Sidi Bouzid
A file photo Sidi Bouzid
Elodie Auffray

SIDI BOUZID – In town to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire two years ago, Moncef Marzouki and Mustapha Ben Jaffar were greeted with stones and tomatoes.

The President of Tunisia and the Head of the National Constituent Assembly had to leave the stage that was set up for them in the center of Sidi Bouzid. "I understand this legitimate anger," President Marzouki told the crowd. "But the government has diagnosed the problem. In six months, a stable government will be in place and will provide the remedy to heal the country's problems."

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, head of the Islamist Ennahda party, did not attend the ceremony due to a "sudden flu."

Two years after the revolution, the disenchantment between Tunisians and their new political leaders – both in office and in the opposition – has grown deep.

"We have achieved our mission: to get rid of the regime. We have handed the power to those who have experience, but they have not done anything for the Tunisian youths. It is even worse. They are only serving their own interests," says Béchir, 22, one of the many "café residents."

A lot of them even say they “regret having taken part" in clashes with the police. Nizar, 24, has become cynical – he even goes as far as saying that "he preferred Ben Ali's regime over Ennhada's."

"Everybody is depressed because there is still no development," adds Hichem Hajlaoui, a young university graduate.

The situation is bleak, in Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi's sparked the whole Arab Spring movement by lighting himself on fire in protest. Prices have skyrocketed and milk, for instance, has been nearly impossible to get these past weeks. The police are slightly nicer but tend to intervene too late when there are clashes – like last September, when the last bar in town was ransacked. Unemployment has grown, although to be fair it is starting to decrease. In Sidi Bouzid, one third of the population is still unemployed. Half of people with college degrees are jobless.

“Counting on ourselves”

Selling contraband fuel, moving to Libya or getting "chantiers" jobs – jobs that are subsidized by the state and often fictitious, obtained through bribes – are usually the only option. The investments promised in the first months after the revolution have not materialized yet.

Amara Tlijani, the sixth governor of the southern city of Kebili since the fall of Ben Ali, says he “spends most of his time trying to solve individual social problems instead of taking care of safety, administrative and economic growth issues."

“Since the election, we have heard a lot of speeches but have not seen much action. Confidence has dropped," notes Fahima Noury, a young worker from a development NGO.

“Until now, we haven’t done much,” admits Faouzi Abdoulli, one of the regional Ennahda party representatives. He adds: “we don’t have a magic wand.”

"We can’t rely on politicians – only on ourselves," says Hamida Hamdi, in front of a job center that is overcrowded with young Tunisians. This young textile worker wants to open her own workshop and employ 60 people. She has had this idea in mind for quite while but the revolution "has given her the courage to give it a real go," she says.

Like most people, she lacks funding. The overwhelming red tape can cause young people to lose their momentum, says Akila Hamdi, from microcredit NGO Enda. "Some say that if things are not changing, it is because of instability and lack of initiatives," Hamdi says. "But that’s not true, young people are doing their part. Unfortunately, they don't have the means or the support." Between 220 and 300 projects are believed to be currently on hold.

Frustrated with politics, young people are turning to organizations. A couple of hundred of them were established after the revolution. But there, it’s also a struggle to get things done. This is the case of Abdewaheb, who is a member of hip-hop collective. He wanted to create "a place dedicated to contemporary dance" but can’t even seem to find a room at the local youth center to hold performances. "It is always the same. There are so many things we want to do, but it’s a struggle."

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