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Six years on: Tunisians remember their revolution

The popular revolution across Tunisia saw the fall of dictator Ben Ali [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 January, 2017

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Tunisia marked the sixth anniversary of the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali without fanfare, after official recognition of failures on economic and social fronts.
Tunisians marked on January 14 the anniversary of their epoch-defining revolution against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which inspired the Arab spring revolts that subsequently shook the region.

The immediate spark of the revolution was lit in December 2010 when Tunisians erupted in anger after the death of Mohammad Bouazizi, a young fruit seller who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid in protest at unemployment and police harassment.

The popular revolution across Tunisia that quickly followed saw the fall of dictator Ben Ali.

The shock at seeing a long-established and all-powerful ruler flee in the face of popular protests inspired citizens across the Arab world to take to the streets against dictatorial regimes. 

As Tunisians gathered to mark the sixth-year anniversary of the uprising, many feel that it opened the doors to change in the country. 

Yet despite more than half a decade having passed since the death of Bouazizi and several different governments coming into power in the country, questions remain over the extent to which the revolution brought real social or economic change for people in Tunisia.

"The revolution, which rose against an unjust system and spread itself across borders, has affected many aspects of the state today, including security, media and the economy," Mokhtar Lamouchi, member of Islamist Ennahda party told The New Arab.

"The uprising had little strategic plans but drew endless crows of protests and achieved a large part of their demands despite a few deviations," he said.

Tunisians erupted in anger after the death of Mohammad Bouazizi [AFP]

Lamouchi's Ennahda party, led by a long-time opponent of Ben Ali, Rachid Ghannouchi, formed a government in the first parliamentary election after Ben Ali's departure in 2011, but stepped down in October 2013 after protests led by leftist and secular parties.

The retiring of Ennahda and the promulgation of a new constitution in January 2014 facilitated a rare peaceful transfer of power to the current government in August 2016.

Lamouchi says that the uprising succeeded in many things, including "not turning into a bloody revolution that would have washed away the ambitions of many Tunisians over gaining a state of law and institutions founded on the constitution".

He says the revolution also succeeded in giving Tunisians new freedoms, including "elections where people can have their say in political governance regardless of political differences", adding that "with that came democratic institutions and local authorities".

But, Ghazi Chaouachi, general secretary of the Democratic Current party, which was founded after the revolution in 2013, disagrees.

Chaouachi sees that Tunisia's march towards real democracy has stalled.

"The country failed in achieving dignity for people and a real democratic transition," Chaouachi tells The New Arab.

"The biggest failure was in getting justice for those who died or were injured in the process, and whose cases remain stalled between military courts, instead of getting redress and protection, and allowing justice to take its course," he said. 

Chaouachi sees that "six years is not enough to allow us to evaluate the outcomes of the January 14 revolution, as we still do not have a clear picture of what has been achieved for the people."

He adds that Tunisia is still suffering from "a crippling economy despite many promises".

Low-key protests

The sixth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution went without fanfare on Saturday.

Crowds gathered on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the presence of political and civil society groups, but local media said no other ceremonies appeared to have been organised elsewhere in Tunisia.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed acknowledged on national television on Friday night that authorities had so far failed to address the grievances of the Tunisian people that had fuelled the 2011 revolution. 

"If we want this democracy to become strong and resistant, we must achieve the economic and social objectives of the revolution, namely the economy and dignity," he said.

"Today, we are not achieving this because unemployment and social inequalities have increased," said Chahed. 

Dozens of jobless demonstrators in Sidi Bouzid, a town in central Tunisia and birthplace of the anti-Ben Ali uprising, chanted "Work is a right, bunch of thieves" and other slogans from the revolution.

Similar demonstrations were staged on a road to a nearby town, with protesters burning tires, and in Meknassi, also close to Sidi Bouzid, where a general strike has been declared in protest at a lack of development.

Six years on and it seems that authorities in Tunisia have struggled to restore the economy and reduce youth unemployment - particularly among new graduates.

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