SIDI BOUZID – Red and white balloons, banners, flags, and slogans decorated today the city of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, where a frustrated fruit seller immolated himself and started a series of popular uprisings across Tunisia. On the second anniversary of Mohamed Bouazizi’s death, many of the local inhabitants expressed their dissatisfaction with what they see as sluggish economic and social progress in the region.
Reflecting the general atmosphere of the revolution’s anniversary, a banner read, “Let us not satisfy our thirst for freedom from the cup of hatred and bitterness,” while a black one read “No to Celebration.” About five thousand people gathered in the street to attend the opening act of today’s festivities, which included raising the flag and 17 gunshot salute.
Wided Afi, a high school professor, who was out with her children to take part in the public commemoration, explained that even though little has changed since the revolution, the festival has brought new life to the city of Sidi Bouzid that was once forgotten.
“The city gets animated around this time of year, it becomes more lively.”
When asked about changes in the economic situation, Afi complained of the numerous strikes and sit-ins that have been taking place since the revolution. “I think there has been a misuse of freedom of expression. Too many protests, too much freedom,” she continued.
Children were present in large numbers along the main street of Sidi Bouzid, where most of the day’s activities took place. 12-year old Mohamed Aziz Nari showed enthusiasm for the occasion. “I’m glad we got rid of Ben Ali. We are celebrating our revolution today. Things are better than they used to be.”
However, others did not share Nari’s optimism. A few political parties from the opposition, such as Ettahrir party and the Popular Front, set up tents and held anti-celebratory slogans.
“We are against this festival. Nothing has changed: no development, no employment. The revolution’s goals are yet to be met. They’re still mere slogans,” said Nejib Bayaoui, coordinator of the regional office of the Popular Front.
Hedi Bouazizi, who claims to be Mohamed Bouazizi’s cousin, said, ”We brought this freedom, but those in power [in the government and the National Constituent Assembly] are the ones enjoying it and not us.”
During their short visit to the region this morning, interim President Moncef Marzouki and Head of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar held a meeting with members of families of the martyrs of the revolution that was followed by a speech addressing the frustrations of festival’s attendees.
“I understand your legitimate and illegitimate anger and fear… But we are dealing with an aftermath of 50 years of dictatorship that we cannot fix in 12 months only,” Marzouki appealed. He added that in the first year the interim government has established a “diagnosis” of the problems facing Tunisia, and is now trying to solve them.
As Ben Jaafar addressed the crowd, cries of “Dégage” (French for “leave”) were heard. Following his departure, a few protesters threw stones on the stage expressing their anger. Security forces, whose presence was significant, intervened to prevent any further incident from developing.