Cradle of Arab Spring celebrates first anniversary
Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:49pm GMT
* Throngs fete start of Tunisian revolution in Sidi Bouzid
* Self-immolation of food vendor in town ignited uprising
* Tunisia's revolt triggered others across Arab world
* Joy tempered by discontent over continued poverty
By Tarek Amara
SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people packed
a provincial town square to celebrate the first anniversary on Saturday of
Tunisia's democratic revolution in the place where it began, unleashing a
tide of popular revolt that has transformed the Arab world.
The festive mood in Sidi Bouzid was tempered somewhat, however, by reminders
that democratic change in Tunisia has yet to ease poverty and high
unemployment - bread and butter issues that preoccupy many Tunisians and
have triggered rioting.
The fuse for "Arab Spring" uprisings was lit when a jobless unemployed
university graduate in Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire in despair at police
who had confiscated his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart. He died later
Mohamed Bouazizi's death took the lid off simmering anger about poverty,
joblessness, corruption and repression. Protests erupted across Tunisia,
forcing autocratic President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country
less than a month later.
Tunisia's revolution inspired other Arabs to rise up against entrenched
authoritarian rulers. They were overthrown in Egypt and Libya. Yemen's
leader has stepped aside for a reformist transition while Syria's president
faces a spreading insurgency.
In Sidi Bouzid, tens of thousands of people rallied joyfully in the central
square, dancing to the rhythms of popular songs despite cold weather, and
flags and photographs of Tunisians killed in the uprising decorated the
A ceremony was held, attended by the new president and his prime minister,
to unveil a giant status of Bouazizi, who has become a national hero in the
North African country.
"It's a day of joy; Sidi Bouzid has long suffered from neglect and today it
has become the capital of the world," said a dancing young man who
identified himself as Emad.
"On December 17 last year, the Arab world began a new page of history, this
is really a source of pride," he said.
Celebrations will run through the weekend with some leading international
figures on hand, including the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yemeni opposition
activist Tawakkol Karman.
But Manoubia Bouazizi, Mohammed's mother, conveyed the underlying concerns
of many by urging Tunisian authorities to parlay the revolution into a
better quality of life for the population, especially the young.
"(My son) set himself alight to grant liberty to Tunisia and the Arab world
... I ask government officials to pay attention to poor areas and provide
jobs for young people," she said.
"ONLY JOBS CAN RESTORE OUR DIGNITY"
Moncef Marzouki, made president this week as part of a governing coalition
installed after Tunisia's first democratic vote, paid tribute to Tunisians
who defied Ben Ali and in some cases paid with their lives to see through
"Sidi Bouzid, which has suffered from marginalisation, restored the dignity
of all Tunisians," he said. "We have pledged to restore the joy of life to
Tunisia's revolution has brought democratic freedoms for the first time
since independence from France in 1956.
But it has not so far tackled poverty and rampant joblessness. In fact, the
revolution has set back the economy by frightening off some tourists and
Popular resentment over economic woes has boiled over into rioting in
several towns in recent weeks. Protesters set fire to some public buildings
and clashed with security forces.
"Honoring Sidi Bouzid is good but we need to work, only jobs can restore our
dignity. People here need bread, not a musical instrument to entertain
themselves," Nabila Abidi, an unemployed university graduate, told Reuters
in the town.
"The new government must understand the message well and take care of us and
improve our conditions. If not, the revolution will return," said Mansour
Amamou, another resident.
Tunisia's gross domestic product growth is forecast to drop to about 0.2
percent in 2011 from 3 percent in the last year of Ben Ali's rule. However,
officials expect it to bounce back to 4.5 percent in 2012.
Unemployment, at 13 percent at the end of 2010, is now at 18.3 percent,
according to central bank figures. The jobless rate among young people is
Voters in October handed victory to the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. A
cabinet line-up is expected to be announced in coming days. The new leaders
will hold power for a year while a new constitution is drawn up and fresh
elections are prepared. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Dec 17 2011 - 17:13:37 EST