Geopolitics

Why The Birthplace Of The Tunisian Revolution Has Turned Against The Family Of The Martyr Who Started It All

Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest last December, launching the Arab Spring from the small Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. Now his family has moved away, facing the scorn of locals who say they’re cashing in at the city's expense.

A Jan. 18 rally in Sidi Bouzid
A Jan. 18 rally in Sidi Bouzid
Isabelle Mandraud

SIDI BOUZID - The small, traditional house with its water spigot in the yard is sealed shut. Its occupants have left and locked the door, moving far away – 265 kilometers north – to the capital of Tunis. At the end of the street, the graffiti that was drawn in memory of the "martyr" has been painted over in gray, with indignation. "We're angry because they have made themselves rich and abandoned us," a neighbor explains. "It's as if the revolution has gone to Tunis."

In Sidi Bouzid, nothing is left for the Bouazizi family, who were victims twice over, now suffering from a fame that was as overwhelming as it was sudden. This is where it all started on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the governor's office situated at the heart of this poor, drought-stricken agricultural city. A street vendor of fruits and vegetables, the 26-year-old had one too many altercations with municipal officials who wanted to confiscate his cart.

His desperate (ultimately suicidal) act lead to an angry local protest, and then another. The popular uprising moved to the neighboring cities and towns before finally spreading rapidly throughout the whole country. Less than a month later, on Jan. 14, the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fell after 23 years of dictatorship. Mohamed Bouazizi became the icon of the Tunisian revolution.

After him, dozens of youth attempted to set themselves ablaze, some successfully, in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt. His portrait could be found everywhere. On posters, calendars, stamps, and books. In nearby Ben Arous, the burn victims hospital where he died on Jan. 4 was renamed Mohamed Bouazizi Hospital. A street in Paris will eventually be named after him as well.

In the center of Sidi Bouzid, the symbolic monument of the old regime, a "7" marking the date (Nov. 7, 1987) that Ben Ali came to power, is hidden by a huge picture of a smiling Mohamed Bouazizi, as well as two smaller ones belonging to other "martyrs."

Journalists from all over the world visited the family. "Caravans of thanks' converged on Sidi Bouzid. Even Tunisian politicians made the pilgrimage to this small town. There were also interviews with key figures. The oldest dates back to Dec. 28, 2010, when, after visiting the bedside of Mohamed Bouazizi at the hospital, the former president Ben Ali met with Manoubia, his mother.

Mohamed's sister, Leila Bouazizi, 24, was at the meeting with the president. "It didn't even last ten minutes," she recalls. "He said, ‘The doctors are taking care of him, everything is all right, he will recover." But we could tell by his facial expressions that he wasn't a kind person." Two weeks later, Bouazizi was dead. The most recent visit took place on March 23 when Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, passing through Tunis, wanted to meet and speak with the family.

But soon after, rumors started to spread that the family had somehow exploited their plight for gain. "They became rich with the donations from all over the world," accuses a Sidi Bouazizi resident, sitting on a palm tree of the main square. "They sold the cart for 16,000 dinars $11,500," the neighbor claims to know.

Compassion has been replaced with resentment. "The government took the family and settled them in La Marsa a suburb of Tunis to keep the journalists from coming here. They are simple people, and they have been manipulated," says Taoufik Sniha, member of the Revolution Counsel of Sidi Bouzid that was created on March 11, at the same time that the family left the town.

The victim's older brother, Salem, 27, works as a carpenter in Tunisia's second largest city Sfax. The mother, Manoubia, Leila and her sisters, Semia, 19, Basma, 16, and the two younger brothers, Karim, 14, and Zyed, 8, live at the edge of a working-class neighborhood of La Marsa. "Until today, the government has given us nothing except 20,000 dinars $14,500, just like the rest of the families of martyrs," Leila says.

But Sidi Bouzid jealously guards its revolution, as evidenced by the banners and flyers on the walls that accuse Tunis of seizing the status as the uprising's true home. "The revolution of freedom and dignity is December 17, not January 14."

The departure of the Bouazizis was seen as a desertion. "We left because of the pressure, so that things would calm down and because mother was very tired," protests Leila. "There were rumors that journalists paid us 5,000 dinars $3,600, and then when we saw Ban Ki-moon, people said that he gave us money, but it's not true."

And the famous vegetable cart? It was "hidden" by the older brother, Leila says, "because everyone wanted to buy it," citing rumors that Gulf countries offered 160,000 dinars $116,100 to acquire it. "Maybe they spoke with Salem, I don't know…" Just above a whisper, she adds with difficulty, "We were not expecting all this, it's a catastrophe."

About 20 kilometers 12.5 miles from Sidi Bouzid, in a cemetery situated in the home village of the family, the pole planted in front of the grave has disappeared. But the Tunisian flag laid on the grave catches your eye at first glance, a solitary splash of red in the dusty green fields covered with cacti.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - magharebia

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

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• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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