TUNISIANS on Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of the revolution that toppled strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked a mass wave of protests across the region.
Despite a strike among workers in the transportation sector, hundreds of Tunisians found their way to Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the city centre – the same spot where protestors massed exactly four years ago, putting an end to Ben Ali’s 23-year-long dictatorship.
The UGTT trade unions played a large role in the revolution and recent elections which brought in a secular president, Essebsi.
An official ceremony also took place at the Presidential Palace.
‘This revolution opened doors of hope before Tunisian men and women, and enabled them to stand out among their counterparts in the world,’ said the recently-elected President Beji Caid Essebsi during his speech.
‘The revolution is a free media, an elected president and a civil society,’ he told the crowd. “Passing the constitution and (having) elections led to the advancement of the democratic transition.’
But the event came to an abrupt end when families of the victims began protesting against the president’s decision to only formally honour the relatives of high-profile political assassinations – calling it a neglect of the revolution’s ‘martyrs’.
‘Where are the martyrs’ rights? We are just used as an instrument to serve the government’s purposes. This ceremony is all mere protocol,’ the mother of one of the victims told Tunisia Live.
‘This is a sham,’ Majbouba al-Nasri, a widow whose husband was killed in 2011, said. ‘We didn’t come here to hear a pompous speech – we came to honour, symbolically at least, those we have lost.’
The country reached a political deadlock in 2013 following the assassination of opposition MP Mohammed Brahmi – only five months after the murder of fellow leftist politician Chokri Belaid.
Essebsi responded to the loud outcry by saying that ‘all martyrs’ will eventually be honoured. Failing to calm the protestors, he left the ceremony.
Tunisia’s revolution left at least 219 protestors dead. The demonstration came days after a Human Rights Watch report found that Tunisia’s judicial system had ‘failed to deliver justice for the victims’ of the uprising.
Fifty-three people, including senior officials and Interior Ministry politicians, have been tried before military courts for their role in the violent suppression of protests.
However, according to the report, ‘legal and investigative problems’ marred the trials, which resulted in acquittals or lenient sentences. After the ceremony ended, Essebsi’s office released a statement admitting that families of the dead had been let down by the system.
According to the statement, Essebsi ‘understands’ their protest, explaining that ‘some aspects of their situation have remained unresolved in the last years’.
Outside the Presidential Palace, separate protests organised by different political factions broke out in the streets of the capital, which were the scene of heightened security on Wednesday.
Several demonstrations took place in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis on 14 January to mark the fourth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution, National Tunisian TV reported on the same day.
The report described the events as ‘a mosaic of activities and demonstrations’. It noted that the slogans raised in the demonstrations varied depending on which political party or civil society organisation raised it.
The report showed video footage of various demonstrations. These included a demonstration calling for the release of two Tunisian journalists kidnapped in Libya, another demanding justice for assassinated Tunisian leftist leader Chokri Belaid, and another raising the logo of the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which called for the establishment of a caliphate.
Another demonstration, organised by the ‘Union of Unemployed Graduates’ protested against international banking organisations.
On the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, National Tunisian TV aired live a speech by the newly-elected Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in Carthage Palace on 14 January.
He stressed the importance of national unity, the prevention of terrorism and the elimination of the economic differences among Tunisians.
Essebsi recognised the sacrifices of Tunisians during the revolution and paid tribute to the officials who had been killed since then.
He specifically mentioned Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia’s Call) regional official Lotfi Nagdh and MPs Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
‘Regarding the journalists and Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, we do not yet know … their families and Tunisians are still hurting because their killing and martyrdom remains vague,’ he said.
He also added: ‘It is the responsibility of the Tunisian people to lift this mark of dishonour so we understand what happened.’
Essebsi further emphasised that the top priority is to ‘support security forces and the army in their war against terrorism’.
‘The war against terrorism means that we cannot forgive those who justify or encourage it. This also means that all the nation and society’s general and specific capacities should be devoted to this end,’ he said.
Essebsi encouraged national unity as a priority, saying that: ‘We should all trust in ourselves, our capacities and the future of our country. We should stop doubting our elite and leaders because doubt and fear do not lead to any good.’
The president also tackled the economic problems that led to the 2011 uprisings. ‘We should resist poverty and unemployment and the obstacles to comprehensive development … national unity will not be possible without equality between different sides and without reducing social differences,’ he said.
Essebsi stressed that the revolution ‘is not exclusive to a single idea, or party or personality … there is no fear except from those who want to claim sole ownership of it in order to divide Tunisians and abuse their consciousness’.
‘The president of the republic should be a symbol of unity among Tunisians. He should respect the constitution and maintain the independence and continuity of the country,’ he said.
Essebsi responded to a journalist who had asked him whether he would keep his promises by citing a Quranic verse about the importance of fulfilling one’s commitments.
On an international level, the Tunisian president stressed the importance of supporting regional and global causes while upholding international law and the regional balance of power.
He specifically pointed out that, ‘at the top of the list of such causes is the case of the wounded and dear Palestine’.
Essebsi ended his speech by saying: ‘We are all collaborating together to build a democratic modern state for a people that is Muslim in its vast majority, and that upholds its origins and strives to keep up with developed nations.’