Opening up Tunisia

Sidi Bouzid was unknown to the rest of the world until the events of last year. In this small town in central Tunisia, about 200 miles south-west of the capital, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor, sat down in fury and frustration and poured petrol over himself, setting himself alight and starting, unintentionally, the wave of protests that swept across Tunisia, to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Morocco in what came to be known as the Arab Spring.

The citizens of Sidi Bouzid, a year after the Tunisian revolution

Bouazizi was protesting at the corruption of local officials – they had demanded bribes from him, then confiscated his goods when he refused to pay; his appeal to the governor had been ignored – and his desperate act reflected the widespread frustration of the Tunisian people at the lack of personal and political freedoms, unemployment and bad living standards. He died from his injuries just a year ago, on January 4 2011. Ten days later, the Tunisian government fell and President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

A giant poster of Mohamed Bouazizi now hangs over the road near the entrance to the governor’s office, at the place where he immolated himself. One year on, Sidi Bouzid has many of the same problems of unemployment and social unrest, but today it is the “capital of revolution”. Nidal Salem and Doha Zinona both participated actively in the protests, while the former’s rap band MAFIA76 have a roster of songs that came out of the revolution. The fruit and vegetable sellers still have their barrows in the market where Mohamed Bouazizi used to work. Two weeks ago, when the newly elected president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, attended the celebrations for the first anniversary of the revolution, Bouazizi’s mother addressed the crowds. There is a feeling that, though things haven’t changed much yet, everything is to play for.

Davide Monteleone is an Italian-born photojournalist based in Italy and Moscow. He is currently working on a long-term project about the Mediterranean Sea. He is a member of the VII Photo agency.

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