In Tunis, on 14 January 2011, thousands of ordinary people packed Habid Bourguiba Avenue in the Tunisian capital. Men and women, students, street cleaners, doctors and lawyers at the massive doors of the powerful Interior Ministry shouted together for then President Ali to step down.
A demonstrator said: “We hope that this is the beginning of democracy. We hope that we can elect our president, not someone parachuted from outside. We don’t want food, we don’t want jobs, we want him out, just get out, him, his family and these people. That’s it.”
The day before, Ben Ali had promised to leave in another couple of years, but the people would not have it. He slipped out quietly then, fleeing the country on the afternoon of the fourteenth, a refugee of his own making, taking his wife with him to Saudi Arabia.
When he posed for a photo at the hospital bedside of Mohamed Bouazizi, the president didn’t imagine the young vegetable seller burning himself to eventual death would sign the end of Ben Ali’s 23-year mis-rule. Police harassment had driven the first martyr of the revolution to the desperate act which triggered the national uprising.
The Arab Spring, as it came to be called, would bring 300 Tunisian deaths, and 700 people would be wounded, according to the UN.
In the workers’ neighbourhood of El Kram El Gharbi, near the Palace of Carthage, 15 fell. Compensation was promised the families but many of them have yet to see the 10 000 euros.
That is the case for the parents of 23-year-old Atef Leabaoui. They want his killers to face justice.
“Someone came to tell me he’d been hit,” his mother said. “What do mean hit? Hit where? Don’t worry, he told me: he was hit in the foot. His younger brother went to see, came back to me, said he was hit in the heart and was dead. I ask for reparation, that justice be done. Justice is more important. Reparation later. I will follow this case till my dying breath.”
Mohamed Boughamni, 38, wounded by a bullet, received 1,500 euros in compensation, but he spent 6,000 euros on two operations. He could not pay for any more. He is also angry.
Boughamni told euronews: “If we hadn’t been there, no one would have got out of prison! If we hadn’t been there, those who were in exile wouldn’t have been able to come back to the country. When they returned, the job was already done! Those in power now must know: the president and prime minister Jebali. If they don’t give us our rights there will be another revolution. The last revolution we did with stones. This time there’ll be more! I’m telling you!”