8 years on, Tunisians say revolt gave them ‘freedom’ but not ‘dignity’

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Young Tunisians speak to an AFP journalist in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Tunisian youth Omar (C) rehearses for the role of a peer who dreams of migrating to Europe, at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Young Tunisians watch as their colleagues rehearse for a theatrical performance at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Young Tunisians watch as their colleagues rehearse for a theatrical performance at the house of associations in the commune of Douar Hicher in Tunisia's province of Manouba, on the western outskirts of the capital Tunis, on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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8 years on, Tunisians say revolt gave them ‘freedom’ but not ‘dignity’

DOUAR HICHER, TUNISIA: Young Tunisians say the revolution they staged eight years ago to oust their longtime dictator has failed to restore their “dignity” and ease the North African country’s economic woes.
“Since the revolution we have freedom but still no dignity,” says Sofiene Jbeli, an unemployed computer technician who lives in the working class satellite town of Douar Hicher west of Tunis.
Like many of his compatriots Jbeli says he does not regret taking part in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that shook the region and forced out veteran strongmen like Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
But he feels bitter.
“If the system does not change in 2019 (when presidential and legislative elections are due to take place) the revolution would have been for nothing,” says the 35-year-old.
Sociologist Olfa Lamloum of the NGO International Alert shares some of Jbeli’s assessment but disagrees that the revolution failed completely.
“The revolution’s slogan was ‘work, dignity and freedom’ but the first two were not achieved,” says Lamloum.
While Tunisia has been praised as a model of democratic transition, wealth and control of the economy remain concentrated in the hands of a small elite despite economic growth.
The country is grappling with an inflation rate of 7.5 percent and unemployment stands at more than 15 percent, with those worst hit being young university graduates.
In May, Tunisia held its first free municipal elections with more than 57,000 candidates — half of them women and young people — running for office.
The quotas for women and youth candidates in the polls — touted as another milestone on the road to democracy — “allowed a large number of young people to be elected to municipal councils,” says Lamloum.
And yet, she says, “nothing has been done to improve the lives of young people... Socially, their situation has really deteriorated.”

One thing the revolution did achieve, according to Lamloum, is to allow politicians, researchers and non-governmental organizations access to impoverished areas like Douar Hicher.
This, she says, has created space for debate, although politicians did not clearly use the opportunity to look into the problems facing the population to try and find solutions.
For Jbeli and other young Tunisians this has not been enough. They point to numerous hurdles, beyond their economic hardships, that are stifling their daily life.
Following a series of deadly jihadists attacks in 2015, authorities have prevented some citizens, mainly men and women under 35, from traveling to certain countries without parental permission.
“Based on official statements, the measure is part of efforts to prevent people from joining extremist armed groups abroad,” according to Human Rights Watch, calling it “arbitrary.”
Sofiene said the measure was one of several “humiliations.”
“We launched a revolution in order to become full-fledged citizens but for me the only thing I got out of it was freedom of expression,” says high school student Hamza Dhifali.
“Before (the uprising) I could not express myself freely, now I can. It’s great, but no one listens,” he adds.
Issam Elhali, a 31-year-old father of two, says the promises made by the revolution that toppled strongman Ben Ali and forced him to flee on January 14, 2011 were “only on paper.”

Elhali says authorities have proposed loan programs to help young people set up projects.
“I borrowed 7,000 dinars ($2,400) to set up a small hardware store but the interest rate is fixed at 21 percent and I simply cannot manage that,” he says.
“The authorities say they are backing the young people but in truth they are ripping us off,” he adds.
“There is no future for us.”
Nevertheless, in Douar Hicher young people — scouts, dancers and would-be stand-up comedians — are keeping busy preparing a show to mark the eighth anniversary of Tunisia’s uprising.
Others like Elhali work in community groups tasked with keeping their town clean.
“We are the rare few to still have some hope. Others feel let down and while the time away by just sitting in cafes,” says Elhali.
He also took to task the country’s politicians and the political struggles that have recently emerged between the prime minister and the president.
“We are in a boat whose captains are having a dispute while watching the boat sink,” says Elhali.
“I want to save myself and leave the boat” and build a new life abroad.
Seventeen-year-old Zeinab Rannen agrees and hopes that by successfully passing her high school exams she will be able to rescue her “dignity.”
“I believe the way out, here or elsewhere, is through education,” she says.
“But most of all I would like to go abroad in order to win the respect and dignity I will never have here.”


Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

Updated 18 June 2019
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Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

  • Ali Haddad was earlier arrested in possession of two passports
  • Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire

ALGIERS: Algeria’s top businessman Ali Haddad, a key supporter of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was jailed for six months on Monday for holding two passports, in the first conviction in a string of corruption probes.

The business tycoon was arrested in late March on the border with Tunisia in possession of two passports and undeclared currency, days before Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests.

Haddad, who owns Algeria’s largest private construction company, is the first high-profile figure with ties to Bouteflika to be jailed since the president stepped down on April 2 after two decades in power. He was found guilty of the “unjustified procurement of administrative documents” and also fined 50,000 dinars ($420), state television reported.

Described by Forbes as one of Algeria’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire.

The businessman, a key election campaign funder for Bouteflika, had denied breaking the law and said he obtained his second passport legally after seeking an interview with then-Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

The ex-premier and Haddad are among many businessmen and former politicians caught up in a separate anti-corruption investigation launched since the president stepped down.

Earlier this month Haddad’s lawyer, Khaled Bourayou, decried a “political trial” and told journalists the passport case had no legal basis.

The sentence is significantly lower than the 18 months term and fine of 100,000 dinars requested by the prosecutor.

Hassane Boualem, then-director of titles and secure documents at the Interior Ministry, was given a two-month suspended sentence and fined 20,000 dinars for issuing Haddad’s second passport in 2016.

He told the court he was following the orders of his superiors — Interior Ministry head Hocine Mazouz, Sellal and Algeria’s current premier, Noureddine Bedoui — who were not investigated over the affair.

Last week, a judge placed in detention two former prime ministers, Sellal as well as Ahmed Ouyahia, who served four terms as premier.

An investigating magistrate on Sunday conditionally released former Finance Minister Karim Djoudi as part of the corruption probes. Karim Djoudi, finance minister between 2007 and 2014, appeared before the supreme court’s magistrate in connection with the disappearance of public funds and abuse of office.

The supreme court is the only judicial body with jurisdiction over offenses committed in public office by government members, local officials and high magistrates.

Former Transport Minister Amar Tou was also conditionally released after appearing before the investigating magistrate.

Djoudi and Tou are among 12 former Algerian officials subject to preliminary probes for alleged criminal offenses.

Former Trade Minister Amara Benyounes has been detained in El Harrach prison, in an eastern suburb of Algiers, and former Public Works Minister Abdelghani Zaalane has been conditionally released.

Army chief General Gaid Salah, the key powerbroker in post-Bouteflika Algeria, vowed Monday that no one would be spared from the corruption probes.

The judiciary must “bring to justice all the corrupt regardless of their function or their social rank,” he said. “The fight against corruption knows no limit and no exception will be made to anyone... it’s time to settle accounts,” Salah said, adding it was “time to clean up our country.”

The graft probes have also seen a dozen Bouteflika-linked businessmen placed in preventative detention.

Demonstrations have continued since the ailing head of state stepped down, as protesters demand the fall of regime insiders and the establishment of independent institutions.