Monday, December 19, 2011

Sidi Bouzid: Some hope in the heart of the Arab Spring

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece in Al Masry Al Youm, which can be viewed in full here:

Locals in unfurl a banner of local hero and "Arab Spring" figure, Muhammad Bouazizi, in downtown Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia on December, 17, 2011, the anniversary of Bouazizi's self-immolation.

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia — Many have called Sidi Bouzid the birthplace of the Arab Spring after vegetable seller Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest his humiliation and extortion at the hands of local police. Bouazizi’s act served as the spark that ignited the country, with protesters forcing the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Popular uprisings followed throughout the region.

However, one year after Bouazizi’s act, many Sidi Bouzidans insist that nothing has changed.

“We all love Bouazizi. I can’t describe this day — it’s like I entered paradise,” says Hisham Laife, a 24-year-old vegetable seller who says he and Bouazizi had been friends since childhood. Yet, as over 10,000 Tunisians hold celebrations — blocks away from the vegetable seller’s cart — honoring the one-year anniversary of when Bouazizi burned himself alive, Laife remains pessimistic.

“Not a thing has changed since the revolution,” he says.

A neighboring vegetable seller, a 60-year-old by the name of Rabah Rabihi, nods his head in agreement only a few steps behind Laife.

“There haven’t been any changes. They need to solve unemployment,” says Rabihi.

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