Sidi Bouzid: Hardship bites where Arab Spring began

Sidi Bouzid: Hardship bites where Arab Spring began
From Al Jazeera - January 13, 2018

Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia - Akram Hamdi says he has sent out nearly three dozen resumes.

But the 25-year-old is still unemployed, nearly two years after he graduated with a bachelor's degree in business economics from the University of Sfax, on the Tunisian coast.

"It destroys me psychologically," Hamdi told Al Jazeera from a dimly lit cafe in Sidi Bouzid, where at 1:30 in the afternoon, he was having a coffee alongside two friends.

Of the three young men, only one currently has a steady job.

"The situation since the revolution is worsening. [The government] destroyed us, they destroyed the country," Hamdi said.

This is where the Tunisian revolution began, when 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in protest against the harassment and indignities he faced daily.

His act of desperation pushed thousands of Tunisians into the streets, forced out long-time Tunisian President Zinedine El Abidine Ben Ali and led to a series of popular uprisings that toppled leaders across the Arab world.

But exactly seven years after Ben Ali stepped down on January 14, 2011, Sidi Bouzid remains in the grips of severe economic hardship.

For other people maybe things changed since the revolution but for me, nothing changed

Ismail Aloui

In fact, many people say things are worse than before.

"Sidi Bouzid should be moving forward. It was the spark of the revolution, but other cities progressed and Sidi Bouzid stayed the same," said Zaineb, 22, who only gave Al Jazeera her first name.

"We used to have three classes in society, but now there will only be the rich and the poor," added her friend, Houiem, 25.

Neglected region

Located in the centre of Tunisia, Sidi Bouzid has long been economically neglected, far from cities on the coast or the capital, Tunis, which have traditionally benefitted from more economic development.

The national unemployment rate among university graduates sits at around 30 percent, according to United Nations figures. But in Sidi Bouzid, that number has recently been estimated to be closer to 45 percent, if not higher.

Frustration among unemployed graduates has been growing in recent years and protests demanding more public sector jobs and other employment opportunities are common.

At least 7,000 university graduates are without jobs in Sidi Bouzid alone, a student union leader in the city told local media in 2016.

"Statistics show that the level of poverty has been increasingthere is despair, mainly among youth, who represent about 25 percent of the whole population," explained Massoud Romdhani, president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

Romdhani told Al Jazeera that "social justice and dignity were the key demands" of the Tunisian revolution. People in the country's interior towns, in particular, who had "been neglected for such a long timefelt that it was their time to change things".

But the economic model that prevailed after Ben Ali's fall did not lead to any real development in the central region, he said.

"There is no language of hope on the part of the government or on the part of the opposition," Romdhani said.

"I know that the expectations are high and the stakes are high, but we need also a certain type of leadership that gives a bit of hope to these young people."

Prices going up

Hajer Laifi, a 32-year-old primary school teacher, said the revolution made little difference in people's daily lives.

"Instead, [the situation is] worsening. Prices are getting very high," she said, clutching a plastic bag filled with leafy green vegetables from the market.

There is no language of hope on the part of the government or on the part of the opposition

'Nothing changed'

People are losing hope younger. They think they should stop studying because they have no hope" to find employment.


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