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Discontent Continues in 'Birthplace' of Tunisia Revolution

  • Lisa Bryant

Umm Zine Nceri, the mother of 36-year-old Adel Hammami, who threatened to expose fraud within Tunisia's old ruling RCD party and was brutally killed, cries as she holds a photo of Hammami, in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, August 2011

Umm Zine Nceri, the mother of 36-year-old Adel Hammami, who threatened to expose fraud within Tunisia's old ruling RCD party and was brutally killed, cries as she holds a photo of Hammami, in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, August 2011

The central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid is considered the birthplace of the North African country's historic January revolution, which triggered copycat protests across the Arab world. But as Tunisia prepares for its first democratic elections in October, discontent remains high. A July demonstration in Sidi Bouzid turned violent, killing a young boy.

There isn't much to see in Sidi Bouzid... a few government buildings, a small market where men sell fruit and Tunisia's strong, sweet red tea.

And a taxi stand that 41-year-old resident Ridha Bargougui shows visitors. It was here where an angry, 26-year-old vegetable seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire. His act triggered Tunisia's uprising that kicked out long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine ben Ali - and the broader Arab Spring uprising that followed.

Seeking justice for Hammami

Today, Sidi Bouzid has another local hero, 36-year-old Adel Hammami, who threatened to expose fraud within the old ruling RCD party. He died in February after being summoned to a police station.

At the family home a few minutes drive away, his mother, Umm Zine Nceri, sobs and kisses Hammami's picture that she clutches to her chest.

His sister, Monjia, said the family retrieved Hammami's body from the local hospital, burned beyond recognition. Four police officers are now on trial in connection with his death.

Monjia said the family has asked the Interior Ministry to launch a wider investigation - but so far, nothing's happened.

Desperate for development

Other Sidi Bouzid residents also are frustrated, though for different reasons. Bargougui, who showed us the courthouse, lost his job as a history teacher in 1998. He's still unemployed.

Bargougui said nothing has changed since Tunisia's revolution. Everything is blocked.

Local activist Mohamed Sghaier Noury said many of the problems fueling Tunisia's revolution remain - not only in Sidi Bouzid, but across the country.

"There has been no local development. No involvement of the people into any decision process - whether it's political or economic or social," said Noury.

Unemployment remains high. Jobless college graduates paste their diplomas on municipal buildings here.

Mapping out a plan

Noury has founded a local non-governmental organization called Madrassa. The group has developed a blueprint for grassroots change in this rural region - starting with agricultural development.

"We need two things. One is give good signs, clear signs, visible, that local development is starting. And second, this gives hope to the people that the future will be better than what it has been," said Noury.

Noury's group has presented its blueprint to the government in Tunis. He said the initial response has been good. But Hammami's family is still waiting - for justice to be done.

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